There was a time when the men of Manila knew how to dress up. No gentleman dared step out of the house without a suit or barong, polished shoes, and well-pressed pants—maybe even a hat. “No matter how hot it was, no matter if they had to walk outside, they were always dressed to a T,” muses Martin Warren, co-founder and general manager of the iconic Felipe and Sons. For Warren, those days are not long gone. The modern Manilan has not lost his swagger—he just has to rediscover it.
Barberdashery Felipe and Sons—named to represent the “sons of the Philippines”—is the perfect launch pad for such a mission. Or should we say, bachelor’s pad? With its warm wood-and-brick finishing, clean black and white lines, and well-placed accents (a leather arm chair here, a midnight blue throw rug there), that’s exactly what it looks like.
The desire for a modern man-cave like this was the spark that started it all. “We were looking for a place where we could just hang out and relax, and the whole barbershop experience is something that all of us really enjoy,” says Warren, referring to his founding partners Marco Katigbak and Paolo Canivel. He and Katigbak wanted to start a barbershop as a side business, while Canivel had always dreamed of opening a haberdashery. They decided to join forces when the space they were eyeing was too large for one business.
“Initially, we were thinking, ‘Okay, you rent this half, we rent this half, and we’ll just split the rent.’ But as we talked more, we realized, why don’t we just put the whole thing together? The two concepts marry well,” Warren recounts. So in 2013, they opened the first barbershop/haberdashery on San Agustin St. in Salcedo Village, Makati.
It was a breakthrough affirmed again and again. The business grew enough for its founders to quit their day jobs and focus fully on it. And it grew even more, with the successful opening of branches three, four and five, all within two weeks of each other in the tail-end of 2016.
In a capital crowded with salons and neighborhood barbershops, how was Felipe and Sons able to carve out its sizable niche? As its loyal customers attest, it’s all about the experience.
The carefully designed touches help, yes—the polished interiors, the barbers in crisp white polos and smart vests, the glass of scotch while waiting. But it’s the service that stands out.
“We greet our customers by name, we learn their preferences, and we’ve elevated ‘kwentong barbero’ to the art of consultation,” says Jonas Tamayo, marketing officer of Felipe and Sons. He recounts how satisfied customers have incorporated their barber fix into their routines, or seek help in planning outfits for week-long conferences. One even asked his outfitter to help his son get ready for the prom! “We build trust. We strive for a holistic experience, and are aware of who we are as a brand,” asserts Tamayo.
It’s a mindset that permeates all aspects of the business, especially the personnel. “Everyone, from the barbers to the outfitters to the concierge, gets trained to guide the customer’s experience. They know how to be gentlemen, and how to answer questions, from style to pomade choice,” Tamayo adds.
Striving for exceptional experience benefits the customers, but it also has a positive impact on the workforce. “I think we can safely say that we’ve given our employees a better life,” says Warren. “It’s something we wanted to do from the onset, really elevate the profession of being a barber and a tailor, showing them that if they pay close attention to what they’re doing, and treat their customers right, they can make a good living and be proud of what they’re doing.”
Felipe and Sons is about looking after the Philippines and her sons, after all. Wherever the barberdashery opens, men look a little more polished, a little more confident, a little more genteel.
A suit, a shave, a snip at a time, Felipe and Sons is fulfilling its mission to #reviveManilaSwagger. “When we say swagger, it’s not negative,” Warren clarifies. “For us, it’s a quiet confidence that we want each of our customers to have after they come out sporting a new haircut, or wearing a new suit or shirt. It’s something you don’t have to boast or brag about. You’re just confident. You feel good, you look good—that’s what we wanted to bring back.”
Photographs by Mark Ches Ang
Discover more on how Felipe and Sons started their business on Asian Dragon’s April-May 2017 issue, available for download on Magzter.