One look at Jason Dodge, and it’s clear he knows streetwear style. Now, he’s hoping Portland will follow his hip and fashionable lead.
Dodge is wearing a plain t-shirt, artfully distressed jeans, and comfortable New Balance sneakers. It’s what the business owner calls his relaxed “Monday” look. Had it been a Thursday or a Saturday night, he might have donned a pair of Nike racers with a matching jacket, or sported a blazer, button-down, and boat shoes. His hair neatly trimmed, the 29-year-old owner of casual-cool clothing boutique and barbershop Momentum leans back in a barber’s chair. “I thought that there had to be other guys here just like me, who want to get a good cut and to find good apparel,” he says. “Why not do it all at once?”
It’s a business model that’s clearly working. Since opening its doors a year and a half ago, Momentum has seen business grow 900 percent. “The barbers bring in so much foot traffic to the retail side of the business,” says Dodge. “You can’t spread word of mouth quicker than having a service like that.” The shop, where hip-hop beats punctuate the room and graffiti art rests below shelves of baseball hats, is now open seven days a week, up from five, and employs eight barbers, who give anywhere between 300 to 400 haircuts a week.
While standard trims are the bulk of the business, Dodge and his crew like to invoke the barbershop of yesteryear. They offer old-fashioned shaves, which involve a foamy lather, a hot towel, and a straightedge razor, as well as retro-inspired hairstyles such as pompadours and slick-backs. They tend to favor the techniques of scissors and comb, rather than a clipper. “It’s an art form,” says Dodge. “There’s no machine that can automatically do that for you. Our cuts are very handmade, very hands-on, very custom.”
Clients include everyone from businessmen to bachelor parties—even a pair of border patrolmen. But Dodge’s favorite customers are the fathers and sons who come in together. “A couple of generations ago, kids would go with their fathers once or twice a month to go get a cut,” Dodge explains. “Now we’re bringing that tradition back.”
Barbershop customers receive a discount on apparel that includes brands such as Stussy and 10 Deep. “Even though some people may not consider a t-shirt or a hat as being fashion, it is still one part of the spectrum,” says Dodge, who is looking to focus on apparel that’s made either in the United States or in countries that pay a cost-of-living wage, such as Japan and New Zealand. The shop has expanded to include a selection of women’s styles, as many clients come in with their wives, girlfriends, or moms.
That inclusive ethos is mirrored online at Momentum’s website, which is designed to introduce each barber to potential clients. Their profiles resemble a mix of mug shot-meets-baseball card, with stats such as hometowns, specialties, and whether a barber is right- or left-handed. Nearly all the barbers are in their twenties, save for one. Dodge is quick to point out that despite their collective youth, they come from diverse backgrounds and experiences. “There are some old souls in here for sure,” says Dodge. “I think to be a barber, you need to be a bit of an old soul.”
For Dodge, that meant working at a Maine Mall apparel store when he was just 15. There he met his mentor and would go on to assist in opening stores in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Later, as a manager at a home improvement store, Dodge acquired business management skills such as purchasing, turning over product, pricing techniques, and efficiency. “I knew I needed to learn those things if I was going to open my own business, so I was okay with waiting patiently,” he says. He was able to save his bonuses and graduate from Southern Maine Community College’s business program, all while being a dad to his son, who’s now ten. (“He’s the small guinea pig for different hairstyles we play with,” says Dodge. “It’s pretty fun.”)
While getting ready to open the business, Dodge attended Husson University and connected with Portland’s Small Business Development Center. The latter proved to be an invaluable resource for Dodge, as he was set on opening his business in Portland. “It just wasn’t the same anywhere else,” he says. “Here, we support our own. I think that comes straight from the fishing industry. We want to have relationships so that when you walk down the street, somebody will say good morning to you. Where else do you get that?” Recently, Dodge has also been giving back by speaking to students at South Portland High School, from which he graduated.
When he was ready to build out the store—located in a former shoe factory—he enlisted the help of friends and family. The store’s logo, with swoopy, graffiti-style lettering, is featured prominently on the back wall. It references what Dodge considers the most important business lesson of all, one learned while balancing the demands of school and family life. At that time, his business mentor and his mom kept telling him to “just keep his traction going” and “to keep moving forward.” After thinking about it, he realized that the best word for that is momentum. Now, when Dodge goes to work, the logo is the first and last thing he sees, illuminated by a single running light. “It reminds me everyday of what I’m trying to build, of what the purpose behind this whole thing is.”
Dodge has no plans to slow down. He hopes that as his business expands, Portlanders will not only embrace the cut-and-shop experience, but also the fashion-forward wares stocked on Momentum’s shelves. “I would say that Portland needs this,” he says. “Let’s make everybody step up their game.”