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Detroit Salon Finds New Ways To Use Old Hair

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

The Detroit city council reached a deal this past week to take back control of the city's day-to-day operations from emergency manager Kevyn Orr. He'll stay on to help navigate the final bankruptcy proceedings, but then Detroit hopes to be on sound financial footing. Meanwhile, Detroiters are finding their own ways to invigorate the city, like Sebastian Jackson, who owns the Social Club Grooming Company. It's a barbershop with an unusual twist.

SEBASTIAN JACKSON: We identified 16 different uses for hair clippings, one of which is using it in compost as a fertilizer in a park here in Detroit. For about every 12 pounds of hair that we cut, we can provide the nitrogen content for the compost pile which results in about 10 trees being planted.

WERTHEIMER: That's amazing. I mean, how much hair do you produce?

JACKSON: Roughly 240 pounds a year which translates into approximately 200 trees.

WERTHEIMER: I'm sort of stuck on the idea of 240 pounds of hair.

JACKSON: Right. Right. That's not a pretty sight.

WERTHEIMER: Well, now, something else that I've read is a focus for you is trying to hire a diverse staff at your store in Detroit. What do you mean? What are you doing?

JACKSON: Detroit is a place where a lot of barriers exist, right? Being from certain neighborhoods means that you should dislike other neighborhoods. And I think that exists in a lot of places, but it's really apparent here in Detroit.

So with me being from Joy Road in Detroit - and that's not a very fun place at times. I've seen, you know, extreme poverty, and I've also seen wealth. And so a barbershop is kind of an intersection of a lot of different types of people. I realize that we can attract all those people by hiring people that look different from one another. And they find out that they're more alike than they think.

WERTHEIMER: Now you're doing all this in the middle of a city which is, in many neighborhoods, in ruins - right on the edge of coming out of bankruptcy with a whole lot of problems. You sound so optimistic, so positive in what you're doing. But what about the city around you? What do you think is happening?

JACKSON: You know, Detroit is made up of a lot of people that don't complain because the barriers to entry are so low here, right? I own a space that's 1500 square feet, and what I'm paying for it would be a lot different in New York. So I can play ball here in Detroit, and I can learn my craft. I can learn business here. And then I can scale it out to impact the rest of the company, if not the world. And I think that's what people see here in Detroit. We see opportunity versus destruction.

WERTHEIMER: Sebastian Jackson joining us from his business, the Social Club Grooming Company. It's in Detroit. Mr. Jackson, thank you very much.

JACKSON: Thank you, Linda. I really appreciate you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.