Maker City KC

Cutting edge: How KC barber Tahki Bannister got a ‘Queer Eye’ gig and his own studio

Tahki Bannister wasn’t born with a clippers in his hand. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay area, he wanted to be a businessman like his father, who was a pilot for 45 years.

“My dad was an industrious businessman. I would hear his hard-soled shoes on the floor when he came home from work and the sound of his attache briefcase hitting the table,” Bannister says.

His father took great pride in shaving and grooming himself and taught Bannister the importance of having a dopp kit full of combs, brushes, razors, toothbrush and paste.

Bannister gave his first haircut at 12 years old. His client? His dad.

During high school, Bannister excelled as a running back and recalls he was the team barber of the San Mateo Bearcats football team.

“I cut all the guys’ hair,” he says. “Probably saved the team a bunch of money.”

He moved to the Midwest to attend Fort Hays State University on an athletic scholarship for football. He graduated from Fort Hays with a Bachelor of Science in Business Communication and a Minor in Leadership. Bannister knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur. But before those dreams came true, he made a career in hotel management.

“Connecting and networking with people has always been my forte,” he says. “I wanted to be a barber years before I became one. It just took some time for me to gravitate towards changing careers.”

When he left the hotel industry, his dad’s business advice echoed in his head.

“What can I do that I know will sustain me?” Bannister thought.

He enrolled in Ea La Mars Barber College at 12th & Brooklyn in Kansas City. After he graduated from barber school, he took his first position at Rick’s Barber Shop in 2009. Next, he concentrated on making beards and moustaches look good.

“I was so nervous to use a razor, but I eventually mastered it and became comfortable in my technique,” he says.

Bannister decided to take a chair at a barber shop in Lawrence because he wanted to learn how to cut and style other textures of hair. After working at Watson’s in downtown Lawrence for a few years, he joined Silver Screens Salon. As he built up his experience and mastered his technique, he was ready to follow his dreams.

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Kevin Townsend

Having the tools to branch out on his own, Bannister realized he could now sustain a small business. He started My Cuts Travel after seeing a need for a premium grooming experience.

“If you ask me what I am inspired by I would say the future of men’s grooming,” he says. “I have seen a huge resurgence of men understanding the importance of taking care of yourself. We have come a long way from ‘metrosexual.’”

With his dad being a pilot and all the traveling he did growing up, Bannister envisioned himself as a barber in constant motion. His reputation for helping people stay fresh by seamlessly fitting into their busy lifestyle and bringing his service to them is where My Cuts Travel began.

Soon after growing a loyal clientele, he was approached by the producers of the Netflix show, Queer Eye. They had heard about his skills and online reputation and wanted him to be part of Season 3 and 4, which were filmed in Kansas City.

“It was a great and humbling experience,” Bannister says. “Working with other professionals in the movie industry has given me a broader understanding of how to be successful in the barber industry. It also helped me get my studio.”

Bannister appeared in a moving episode of “Queer Eye” that featured Kansas Citian Wes Hamilton, the founder of Disabled But Not Really. Hamilton had not had his hair cut since he was shot and paralyzed from the waist down seven years earlier. When Bannister cut Hamilton’s hair on the show, it was like a weight had been lifted.

As luck (and talent) would have it, after his “Queer Eye” episodes aired, Bannister was approached by a building owner who leased him his very own barber studio at 1800 Central. It has evolved into not just his studio but also a creative space where he can highlight local makers’ work.

Kevin Townsend, a local artist and educator, recently worked with Bannister to create a mural in the studio. Townsend spent 24 hours meticulously marking the black wall with white chalk marks. Because Bannister’s clients sit in his barber chair for one out of 24 hours, the mural aligns from the viewpoint of the person sitting in the chair. It puts the client first as time melts away. The two wanted the mural to mirror the idea that it’s humble to work with our hands and over time, something larger than the work takes place when you are sharing life with another person for that one hour.

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“The one thing I love most about Kansas City’s makers movement is being involved with a community that works with their hands providing goods and services,” Bannister says. “I love networking and connecting with individuals I’ve never met.”

“My advice to up-and-coming movers and shakers is: Continue to follow your heart and passion doing what you love to do and it will always lead you to the right place.”

My Cuts Travel is a gentlemen‘s grooming lounge by appointment only for individuals who want the highest quality service in men’s care at 1800 Central in the Crossroads Arts District. You can also find Bannister giving beard trims and touch-ups at Troostapalooza from noon to 7 p.m. Saturday, September 21 at 30th and Troost. Troostapalooza is a community celebration featuring live music, food trucks, family-friendly activities and more than 100 artists and businesses.

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