It’s More Than Hair at The Social Club

For a decade, the husband-and-wife duo behind Detroit-based barbershop The Social Club have been building a national enterprise rooted in quality cuts, community, and culture.
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Sebastian and Gabrielle Jackson, co-founders of The Social Club Grooming Co. // Photograph by Josh Scott.

2022 marks 10 years of business for The Social Club Grooming Co., a barbershop with two locations in Midtown and downtown Detroit.

Throughout that time, founders Sebastian and Gabrielle Jackson have created a business that takes the traditional barbershop experience to the next level — an experience that has attracted the likes of Big Sean and Mike Posner, Forbes, the NFL and NBA, and even a U.S. senator.


The Social Club offers haircuts, shape-ups, and beard treatments for adults and children. Aimed at catering to all hair types, the barbershop services people with straight, wavy, curly, and coily hair.

The Jacksons opened The Social Club’s first location in 2012 on Wayne State University’s campus, followed by a downtown location in 2018.

Barbering has been a part of Sebastian’s life since long before his six-figure business came to fruition. In 2002, he was just a 15-year-old cutting hair in his parents’ garage (he’d charge $5 for folks who came to his house and $8 if he had to come to them). A decade later, Sebastian had mastered the clippers and was known for giving cuts from his dorm room at Wayne State.

Ten years, three renovations, and countless clients later, The Social Club’s flagship location in Midtown is still going strong. // Photograph by Josh Scott.

He’d long seen the need for a barbershop on campus, so when a salon at the university shut down, he was determined to take over that space.

“I convinced Wayne State — after four business plans being declined — that I was the right entrepreneur to operate in this space,” he says of opening The Social Club’s first location, which serves as the business’s flagship.

Sebastian and Gabrielle, who met while attending the university and wedded in 2010, used $27,000 of their savings to get The Social Club up and running. The couple sourced their own tradespeople and acted as general contractors. (“I wouldn’t recommend this approach to any aspiring entrepreneur needing to build out physical space,” Sebastian says.)

During that first year, The Social Club planted roots in its community — literally. Through a yearlong partnership with Palmer Park in Detroit and students under the then School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan, the barbershop donated its hair clippings, which were then used to make compost to plant 200 new trees around the city.

In 2013, a year after opening, Sebastian and Gabrielle collaborated with Ponyride co-founder Phillip Cooley to deconstruct a blighted home in Corktown, using materials from that space to renovate The Social Club.

The community space at the Midtown shop serves as a waiting area for cli- ents by day and a sitting area for Shop Talk events by night. // Photograph by Josh Scott.

Gabrielle, who has a background in quality control engineering and operations, joined The Social Club full time in 2014 as its president.

She streamlined the business by narrowing its services to strictly haircuts and beard treatments (The Social Club originally offered braiding, nail, tanning, and massage services, too), raised their prices to match the quality of their services, and created a better experience through the physical design and functionality of the shop.

Since then, The Social Club has only grown, and so have the Jacksons as entrepreneurs.

The barbershop’s Midtown location has undergone three renovations — one of which was funded by retired professional basketball player Jon Robert Holden, a client of theirs. In 2019, Sebastian participated in a yearlong entrepreneur-in-residence program through Rock Ventures, and he and Gabrielle are finishing up two accelerators (these programs provide funding, mentorship, and training for startups) this month: Visible Hands’ Visionaries Accelerator and the inaugural Techstars Detroit Powered by J.P. Morgan Accelerator.

The couple have raised nearly $1 million in pre-seed capital to fund their national expansion goals. And to add on to their philanthropic work and sustainability efforts, The Social Club also sent hair clippings to the Gulf of Mexico to help mop up the BP oil spill. (Sebastian says they are also researching ways hair can be used as a carbon source to create lab-grown diamonds.)

Customers can charge up their electronics and get work done at the phone booths near the shampoo stations. // Photograph by Josh Scott.

“I think one thing that is true about entrepreneurship is that it’s incredibly difficult. And being a Black entrepreneur is even more difficult. And being a Black woman entrepreneur is even more difficult than that,” Sebastian says. “There’s no reason why there shouldn’t be a Black-owned barbershop chain as big as Supercuts or Sport Clips or any other discount chain. We’re not a discount chain, but you have all these other brands that have built massive enterprises, helping create a lot of wealth for their partners. And so, I think the vision of creating a brand that can empower barbers and communities alike is [The Social Club’s] main differentiator.”

The Jacksons also want The Social Club to be viewed as a cultural hub for the city.

Historically, barbershops and salons have been a safe space for Black people to connect and collaborate. Sebastian and Gabrielle aim to continue that legacy while also providing an inclusive atmosphere for everybody coming to The Social Club, which they both say they do through the folks they hire.

“When somebody walks in our barbershop, I never want to tell them, ‘We can’t cut your hair,’” Sebastian says. “So I think that’s how we’ve been able to be inclusive as a brand, a Black-owned brand, in a very Black city, operating a very Black business, but also having a diverse community of staff. That’s really allowed the communal aspect of the historical barbershop to work across cultures.”

Another way the Jacksons are fostering community at The Social Club is through its Shop Talk. Aimed at “transforming the age-old barbershop conversation,” Sebastian engages in candid conversations with guests about their professions, current events, and other topics in front of a live audience, while Gabrielle handles production behind the scenes.

Browse and buy a selection of men’s care products near the reception area at The Social Club’s Midtown location. // Photograph by Josh Scott.

Some notable Shop Talk guests include Sen. Gary Peters; actress and comedian Amanda Seales; Sadelle Moore, a founding member of StockX; and Chris Elliott, aka DJ Mo Beatz, who is Big Sean’s official DJ.

The Social Club has presented nearly 100 Shop Talk events in Detroit and around the country to date, and the Jacksons have even taken the event overseas to Salzburg, Austria.

As The Social Club grows, Sebastian and Gabrielle say they’re focused on achieving three goals: growing their digital community via Shop Talk and social media; creating a line of hair and skin care products; and building the largest national barbershop chain servicing folks with curly and coily hair.

“I think this 10th year is really transformative,” Gabrielle says, reflecting on what 2022 has
meant for The Social Club. The Jacksons are also brainstorming membership opportunities, whether that includes discounts to services and merchandise at The Social Club or with partnering businesses.

“I think the first 10 years was a lot of foundation-building, a lot of learning, a lot of vision-setting. And now this 10th year is executing that vision and really transforming The Social Club into the vision that we had set from the beginning. We’ve raised capital this year, we’re in accelerators, we’re working on all the things that we’ve had the vision for but weren’t able to execute because of lack of capital and resources and time. So yeah, I think this year is very transformative.”

Learn more about The Social Club at atthesocialclub.com.


This story is from the December 2022 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.

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