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“It takes a few years to grow it out,” Chris Healy tells me on a call. “Once you have long hair, it’s a part of your identity.”
As the longtime owner of a gorgeous mane, Healy has navigated the pitfalls of that identity. “Up ‘til now you’d have to go to the women’s haircare aisle to find hair ties and other products,” he explains. “It’s a little bit embarrassing. You’re trying to hide the hair ties in the shopping basket with an oil can and a football. It’s an awkward, uncomfortable experience because they’re all really made for women. So we set out to create not just a product, but a community.”
That community is The Longhairs, which Healy, 35, and cofounder Lindsay Barto, 31, started in December 2014. The two have their own digital marketing agency called Round Two Creative Group. A few years ago, they hit on the idea for a new business, which they would call Hair Ties for Guys. Both were in the process of growing out their hair at the time and realizing the trials and tribulations that went along with that. They conceived of and wrote up a commercial before they even had any products to sell.
Since they had no product for which they needed a commercial, they decided to launch a website first, with four blog posts and an inaugural holiday party called “Long Manes and Candy Canes” to celebrate. “Our audience has grown considerably. It started with two, which is both of our moms,” Healy says. The Longhairs now gets more than 22,000 unique visitors per month, and it has a robust email list and a YouTube channel with almost 12,000 subscribers. On the site, Healy and Barto go by the handles El Rubio (the blonde) and El Moreno (the brunette).
Healy, who lives in San Diego, is a bit of an evangelist on the subject of men with long hair. He speaks and writes about the subject with sweeping grandiosity, and while some of his lines are delivered with a smile in his voice, I immediately get the feeling that he’s dead earnest about his topic. “We’re just two guys who really fricking believe in this idea,” Healy says. “If we had to say something about our brand, I’d say it’s genuine.”
First and foremost, The Longhairs is about bonding. Healy and Barto even had cards made up for longhairs to hand out to other similarly-coiffed men they encounter in the wild. On one post entitled “When You See Other Longhairs,” El Rubio suggests giving him a knowing nod and “if you have the means, give him the homie hookup: a discount off his bar tab, free parking, the VIP connection, inside information, the local rate, extra hot sauce, a free beer. Hook a longhair up.”
Education is also an important part of what The Longhairs does. “Women grow up and are indoctrinated into this culture of knowing how to deal with and handle long hair. They’re brushing and braiding each other’s hair at recess and learning as part of their culture,” Healy says. “Most guys are growing it out for the first time as an adult and just don’t know what to do.” So tutorials are a huge part of the site and YouTube channel. The Longhairs’ most-viewed video is called “How to Tie Your Hair – For Men” and has over 180,000 views.
The question Healy gets asked the most is about “the awkward stage.” This is, of course, that period of time, which Healy estimates is about 12 to 18 months long, where one grows out short hair into long hair, thus becoming a Longhair. If you Google “awkward stage hair,” a Longhairs post is the first hit. Healy says it garners thousands of new readers every month. “Parting it can be risky, but worth a shot. You can comb it forward and straight down, but you might look like Lloyd Christmas,” writes El Rubio. “The safest bet is simply going with a ‘messy look.’ It shows you’re not trying too hard, that this is intentional.” The inspirational conclusion: “So be proud. Claim it and rock the shit out of it. Power through the awkward stage with courage and commitment. The Longhairs are waiting for you on the other side.”
Verbiage is important in The Longhairs’ world. Consistent with what we discovered writing about male grooming brands, there’s a certain hyper-masculinity and red-blooded (heterosexual) maleness inherent in the lingo. Flow used as a noun — as in “that dude has an epic flow” — is pretty common. (There’s a small subreddit community, unrelated to The Longhairs, dedicated to men with long hair called “Fierce Flow,” which features a lion with a lush mane as a logo.)
“The flow, the long locks, your glorious mane — there’s a lot of lingo around the whole thing, probably because up until now it has been a topic that had more traditionally feminine lingo,” says Healy. “We use terms like ‘let it ride,’ ‘hair whips and high fives,’ ‘robust head of lettuce.’ It’s just fun. We’re making long hair cool again.”
And don’t even think about calling a man bun a man bun. “You can’t be, like, walking down the street with all your homies and say, ‘Hang on a second guys, I’ve gotta tie my man bun.’ It’s shameful and embarrassing,” laughs Healy. “That is a term that a woman would use to describe a man’s hairstyle. We’re like, ‘Dude, we’re not calling it that.’ That is a men’s hairstyle that is refined and dignified. It has class. It has character. It should be a dignified name, so we call it a highball. Like a fine glass of scotch.”
The highball has variations, like the highball twist, the lowball, and the side part lowball. There are braid styles, too, like the rope, the brave (references to Native American hairstyles abound on the site), the angler, and the reverse double-barrel French revolution. (There’s also a post about cornrows, in which Barto wonders if he feels so uncomfortable wearing them because that’s a style usually worn by black men.) There’s an entire thread for finding these styles all in one place.
A year after the site launched, the duo finally launched their Hair Ties for Guys, which you can buy on the site or through Amazon for $12 for a pack of four. This might be the only situation in which there is not a female markup (dry cleaning, haircuts, etc.). A packet of five similar plain black Goody elastics will run you a mere $5.99 at Target, if you’re willing to wade through a little hot pink branding.
The two started out by reviewing what was already out there on the market. “Man, there’s a lot of shitty hair ties out there,” Healy says. The pair combed through fabric stores and started making prototypes. It took four rounds of development until they had a product they were satisfied with. They also finally made that original commercial that launched the whole idea in the first place. It’s a goofy ad clearly inspired by that viral Dollar Shave Club ad from a few years ago.
The first round of designs, which Healy calls V1, have names like the Shockers (lightning bolts), the Yah Mons (Jamaican-inspired), and the Up All Nighters (drinks). Due to an overwhelming amount of requests from customers, the pair just released a second round of designs that include a pack of plain black bands and other solid colors. Healy says that since they launched the new collections, monthly sales have tripled. The most popular design right now is the Adios Banditos (Mexican-inspired) which has sold out about half its inventory since December. They’ve shipped hair ties to all 50 states and to 45 countries.
Healy says he and Barto are on track to make The Longhairs a full-time job. They have plans to launch a full men’s haircare collection, in addition to the hats they already have that feature their logo, a pair of scissors tied up with a cord. From a bit of a distance, I thought the logo looked a little phallic (or maybe scrotal is a better word), and Healy was a bit nonplussed about this when I brought it up, though admits that a few people have said that. But he loves it, and so do other Longhairs, including one who emailed them asking if it was cool for him to get it tattooed on his shoulder. “We said ‘Fuck yeah, dude,’ and he came down to San Diego. This is not a little tattoo. It’s nine inches long on his shoulder,” Healy says. (Check it out here, along with the rest of The Longhairs’ delightful Instagram, which features images of Chewbacca, Ian McKellen as Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings movies, and other longhair icons.)
While celebrity men don’t seem to be embracing the longhair lifestyle much now, especially since their most visible proponent, Jared Leto, cut off his hair, Healy thinks it’s a growing trend. He points to the increasing number of athletes, especially in the NFL, who have long hair. “Look at the big headliners like Clay Matthews and Larry Fitzgerald. There are dozens of others,” Healy says. “Musicians are a huge segment. And if you look on TV, these shows like Vikings and Sons of Anarchy.”
One regular-guy longhair is Joseph Knowles, a.k.a. Reddit’s best dressed man, who we interviewed here a few weeks ago. He was the one who told me about The Longhairs when I called him to chat about his, ahem, “epic flow.” He’s recorded a podcast with The Longhairs and will be working with them to help increase their social media visibility. He was happy to share his hair routine, as a seasoned longhair.
Knowles, 26, is a full-time physiotherapy student, and he works a series of odd jobs that all allow him to have long hair and a beard. One is on the maintenance crew at a golf course (“I basically dig holes for a living”), and he also works at a youth center with kids who are 13 to 18 years old and call him “Jesus” or “Thor.”
Finding products was a process, and Knowles credits his girlfriend with helping him a bit. He also discovered the joy of salt spray after spending the day at the beach. “I was like, ‘Oh, sea salt actually does stuff to your hair.’ I liked the way it looked and I didn’t even know they sold products like that.” His current routine is to wash with Dove Mens 2 in 1, then spray Got2b salt spray in it, put it up in a bun (he’s fine with the term “man bun,”) let it dry for a bit, and then take it down. He finishes it with a Gatsby hair cream, which is a Japanese brand he buys in Asian supermarkets in his neighborhood.
Knowles’ preferred hair tie is one his girlfriend bought him at a local drugstore called Stylize: No-Slip Grip bands. Presumably, he’ll get to try some Hair Ties for Guys now that he’ll be doing projects with The Longhairs. He says he likes to wear his hair up because otherwise it sticks in his beard “like Velcro,” but lately he’s been leaving his hair down. “It’s about minus ten [degrees], so I forego a scarf and just wear my hair down.” He’s pretty zen about it all and will no doubt have lots of advice for budding Longhairs.
Gen Z is apparently embracing long hair, too. “The biggest indication to me is the number of little guys with long hair that we are encountering. By little guys, I mean under ten years old, or even anyone under 18 — a lot of high school guys,” Healy says. “There are more and more parents who are letting their sons grow out their long hair because they want to.” He says The Longhairs have received emails from at least a dozen moms about their sons’ long hair, with questions about how to take care of it, how to deal with bullying, and just to thank them for information.
“You should be able to grow your hair however long you want and no one should give you a hard time about it. That’s our position,” says Healy. “We also say to guys who can’t grow their hair long, you can still be a part of the longhair lifestyle, what it means and what it’s about. It’s kind of the idea that you don’t really care what other people think. You can still be a longhair, because longhair lives in the heart.”