Starting a Kewanee barbershop is just another step in Harry Russell's journey

·6 min read

Countless heads of family and friends have been snipped and coifed and trimmed in Harry Russell's living room.

But the living room haircut is now a thing of the past for Russell, who recently opened a licensed barbershop, Taylored Kutz, at 207 W. Second St in Kewanee.

"I've been cutting hair for nearly 20 years now," he said. "I didn't take it very serious at first, then I started cutting casually. Then I started seeing people with bad haircuts and thought I'd take it more seriously."

So seriously he earned his barber's license in 2014, and kept using his living room for haircuts as he worked toward his goal of opening his own barber shop.

While he enjoyed the intimate setting of his home, it was becoming more and more difficult to separate his work and private lives. A friend who'd stop over to watch a game on TV would invetibly ask for a trim during halftime.

"After being in the house for so long, it was something that was just needed," he said. "Now I can get out of my house a little more and this building just gives me way more space and more options. We don't have to be cooped up anymore."

Russell, who has made several renovations to the building that include new floors and walls, spent a year looking for a highly visible downtown location. He now happily sits in the downtown business district sandwiched between several high-traffic businesses.

"I'm in a great spot, right in the middle of town," he said. "It's a better opportunity and we've done a lot of work on it."

The barbershop's interior theme is Kewanee athletics, of which Russell has myriad connections. As a single father, he's raised his own two sons, a daughter and an adopted nephew, and has opened his home to several other nieces and nephews over the years. Many of them have played sports on Kewanee teams, he's coached several of them and reffed for others; and he even worked at Central School for about three years, where he made connections with students and coaches.

"They all stayed with me at one point," after family problems left them without a guardian, he said. "It was up to me."

In tribute to that, half of the shop is painted black, the other half orange, to represent Kewanee High School's colors, with photos he's taken of Kewanee athletes throughout. He said he plans to add athlete photos from other area schools as he goes.

Russell is one of those entrepreneurs that you almost need to put a GPS on to keep up with him.

He opened a restaurant in 2011, he's always dreaming up new and unique merchandise; and he is a photographer who specializes in weddings and events. And none of it is a side hustle -- finding niches and room to navigate is what Russell does.

So it's not just haircuts he'll be hawking at the new shop. It will also have an area where shoppers can buy some of the unique gifts Russell makes, like the local Boilermaker-themed TV tray that currently sit in the shop's window, just to name one.

"I feel like I don't sleep, but to get ahead you got to have multiple things to do these days," he said.

He got into the t-shirt business around 10 years ago while searching for a way to show support for his nephew, Dontae, who was on his way to breaking the KHS football season rushing record. Back then, he ordered a different shirt for each week of the season, which cost him $27 each time he had one made.

"I had a shirt for every game," he said. "I would get them and have him sign them. But at $27 bucks a week, I just wanted to figure out how to make my own shirt."

In two weeks, he was in fact making his own shirts and wondering how he could expand that to create other unique, local other merchandise. He now owns two presses that he'll utilize from the back of his new shop.

Russell has also always known the value of a good cut and how it can help make someone look and feel their best.

His first haircuts were done at home by his aunt when he was a kid growing up in Aurora. When he moved to Kewanee at 17 and later became a father, he started cutting his own hair, which led to giving at-home haircuts to his sons and nephews.

It was not only practical, but a way to bond, and the boys also were giving his fledgling haircut business free advertising at school. They wouldn't hesitate to let Russell know when he had done less than a professional job, which kept him on his toes and aware of customer needs.

"He was my billboard and that's how I practiced," Russell said. " I had five models in house."

While Russell specializes in men's haircuts and beard-trimming, he said he's also fully capable of trimming women's styles. He has two barber's chairs and would gladly add another if he could find another barber and stylist to help him expand his shop's services.

Russell admits he didn't pass on his first go at the state licensing test. He was close, but the test included things he knew he wouldn't really use in day-to-day practice as a barber. He said it made him more determined to study harder and pass.

"There was a lot of cosmetology stuff, but I knew I had to learn it to make this happen," he said. "I just worked harder and did it."

When he was dreaming up the barber shop idea with his friend Leon Taylor, they had come up with a marketing plan that centered on the word "Re-mix" to go across the entire brand. The plan was to have the Remix Cuts barber shop and the Remix clothing and merchandise lines.

But Taylor died in 2020, leading Russell to drop the original concept in honor of his friend and rename the shop Taylored Kutz. He wears a special dog tag he created with his buddy's likeness to remind him of that deep friendship.

"If he hadn't passed away, he would have been right here with me," Russell said.

He credits his mom, Charity McKnight, for raising him to be a strong, independent man who cares about others and protects family.

Taylored Kutz can be found on Facebook and Instagram.

This article originally appeared on Star Courier: Starting a Kewanee barbershop just one step in Harry Russell's journey