From the window of The Warehaüs, a salon-music venue hybrid on the 11th floor of the Union Centre building on Union Avenue, the Memphis horizon stretches before Mat Brown.
"You see something new every time you look out," Brown says.
A stage sits in the corner of the room, and stylists are working with customers as Brown steps onto it, absorbing the work that he and his business partner Chad Runken have put in since they opened six months ago. During the day, combs, scissors, and hair products line the counters while blow dryers and faucets sound like white noise in the background. But the salon was built according to a multi-faceted vision that Brown has for his business. Tall mirrors are staggered on casters throughout the room, ready to move at any moment. When the sun goes down, The Warehaüs transforms into a D.I.Y. space for local and touring bands to play shows. Brown pays all of them.
"I knew no matter what, if I was going to open a salon, I was going to include music," Brown says. "I thought 'What if we create a fusion between something from the music industry and something from the beauty industry? Maybe we could include some visual arts, like performing and fire spinning, and dancing and painting and maybe graduates from Memphis College of Art could do art shows here, and we could even cut hair on stage while bands play.' It would be something that no one has ever seen before. It's an oasis."
Since opening, Brown has booked at least 10 shows, and The Warehaüs recently hired a booking agent to bring in more bands. Brown is hoping to have at least one show a month, charity events, and more depending on how much momentum they receive.
"Everything has an even flow," Brown says. "I'd like to use the salon as a platform to show people that. I feel these two passions, hair and music, are a good way to bring people together."
The 3,000-square-foot salon isn't walk-in friendly, but Brown doesn't care too much about that. Conceptualizing The Warehaüs, he knew it was an off-the-wall idea, and he wanted a space that captured the Memphis spirit. Turn your neck to the left and you'll see the Memphis Bridge. Peer down, and 150 feet below, you'll see cars weaving their way through Midtown. Directly across, the Sears Crosstown building stands like a beacon to the recent revitalization that many local businesses have felt in Memphis. Brown wanted to plug into that momentum.
"There's millions and millions of dollars that are being put into small businesses just in this area, and that's one thing that rang really true to me," Brown says. "You've got Crosstown Arts, you've got that whole district. We've seen buildings start off as mounds of dirt and become bars, restraunts, and music venues."
At 26 years old, Brown has spent the better part of his 20s bringing his dream to fruition. The Warehaüs is the end result, a combination of the creative outlets that drove him as a teenager: music and art.
As a child, Brown's dad taught him the basics of playing guitar on an old acoustic that was lying around the house, and it stuck. He started a metal band in high school with a friend, and they eventually landed shows across the city. But one bad haircut before Brown had to go on, and he had unexpectedly discovered his purpose.
"I got a haircut that really wasn't great, so I went home and fixed it," Brown says. "I thought, 'I can't go on stage looking like that,' so I fixed my haircut and thought, 'Oh, I could do this. I could pay the bills with this and play music.' A lot of my passion about anything in life originated with music."
Brown graduated high school in 2007 and told his parents he wanted to become a hairdresser, but they weren't supportive. They had preconceived notions that the field was full of "party animals" that "sometimes might not be very successful."
With no direction and without his parents' approval, he explored different avenues, which ended up being dead-end streets. He took classes at Memphis College of Art before enrolling at the University of Memphis and starting on a path to become a math teacher.
Focused more on writing music than attending class, Brown dropped out and got a job helping deaf people with identity theft prevention to make ends meet. He was eventually laid off and later evicted from his home. Once he got back on his feet, Brown became a bill collector, and after having to repossess the vehicle of a man who was in a coma, Brown decided to finally pursue his dream.
"I was really good at what I did, but I was making people miserable," Brown says. "I went to my family and said 'Look, I'm sick of making people miserable. I don't want to be the guy people hate. I just want to do something that I'll be proud of, a creative outlet where I can make money. Everyone will always need a haircut.'"
In 2009, Brown enrolled at Paul Mitchell the School Memphis. With the exception of his acoustic guitar, he sold all of his musical equipment to pay his way through school.
Brown worked his way up the chain. He got his license to cut hair, his instructor license, and his certification as a master educator. Tommy Callahan, the vice president of Paul Mitchell who Brown refers to as his mentor, made him a member of the Paul Mitchell team. The position took Brown to Las Vegas and all around the country, cutting hair and instructing crowds of 300 or more eager stylists-to-be.
Once Brown graduated from Paul Mitchell in 2010, he started seriously entertaining the idea of opening his own salon. He naturally went to Callahan, but, to Brown's surprise, his mentor dissuaded him from doing it.
"I was taken aback," Brown says. "I just heard 'don't.' But then he said 'yet' [and to] 'give it five years.' So, I started business training with Paul Mitchell. I didn't realize I was going to do exactly what he suggested."
Looking around his salon, Brown laughs. "We have a lot of fun, but we're professional up here," he says.
Now, he's a seasoned stylist with years of experience under his belt. He studies his customers and goes into every haircut like a painter approaches a canvas or a musician feels out a melody.
The salon's mission statement is "cut with a purpose," which hits home with Brown. Like many first-time business owners, he spent the latter part of 2014 trying to keep his head above water. But he and his team are calling 2015 "the year of The Warehaüs."