FARGO—Wil Dort fell in love with cutting hair when he was an 8-year-old living in Haiti. Now, he's teaching his love for the craft to Fargo's next generation of barbers.
"I believe a true gift is to be shared," he said. "It's not to be kept to yourself, and we're trying to share it with the whole state of North Dakota."
Dort, one of the owners of Skill Cutz Barbershop & Salon, 1700 32nd Ave. S., is sharing his gift with more people than ever since the business moved to a bigger storefront, added a salon side and launched a new barber college Sept. 5.
The barbershop now has about 2,300 square feet of room to grow along 32nd Avenue, a more visible spot than its previous location at 2512 7th Ave. S. It's the third move the business has made since opening in late 2008 at 2594 Main Ave.
The staff is also going to grow, Dort said. The shop currently has six barbers, four students and two stylists, with room for up to six students and six stylists at a time.
It's just the latest sign of Dort's plans to build something bigger than himself through barbering, and he said he won't stop here. He'd like to someday own a building rather than lease a spot for the barbershop, he said, and he's considered franchising to open other shops in the region.
Dort's love of hair began when he was a poor kid in Haiti. At the time, he said he just liked to cut hair for free.
It wasn't until after moving to Fargo in 1997 and graduating from Fargo North High School in 2004 that he said he realized it could be a good career choice.
Even during a tough time in his life, when Dort was incarcerated for nine months, it was his passion for hair that helped him secure a better future. He said he spent a winter riding his bike from jail to North Dakota's only accredited barber school, Moler Barber College in downtown Fargo, and one thought kept him going.
"I'm on my way to success," he said he told himself.
He completed his studies in 2007, and he said he was North Dakota's first first black licensed barber and licensed barber instructor.
Skill Cutz opened in late 2008, and Dort, now 32, said he's remained committed to growing the business ever since.
He also realized a decade ago that there could be room for another barber school. North Dakota doesn't have a big population, he said, but it only had one barber college, and the closest other options were in Minneapolis to the east and Denver to the west.
Dort saw another need for training to teach barbers ethnic hairstyles and more advanced cuts than the standard "one hairstyle," especially because of the community's growing diversity and number of African-American residents.
He emphasized that Skill Cutz isn't solely a black barbershop, and he said gets many white transplants to town who are looking for fades and undercuts that they used to get in larger American cities.
"We do the standard, but we take it a little bit further," he said.
That difference in training and focus on ethnic hairstyles drew four students like Reggie Wilcox to enroll in the shop's first barber classes last month.
Wilcox said he's been thinking about for a while—Dort has been trying to talk him into it for the past decade—and he's now finally learning the trade. A month into his studies, he said he's learning the basics as well as more advanced professional methods to hone his skills.
"I want to stay on with Skill Cutz and hopefully open a business of my own soon," he said.
Dort said students pay $9,000 in tuition for their approximately 1,500 hours of instruction they'll get over the course of a year. Once they complete those hours, they become a master barber and are given a North Dakota barber's license that also works in several other states.
He said the new school isn't accredited yet, but he expects that will be finalized within the next year or so.
Dort said being a barber means he gets to work with people from all backgrounds and walks of life, whether it's a doctor, police officer or young adult getting ready for a job interview or first date.
No matter who it is, he said it all comes down to the same thing—making people look and feel good—and that's the path that helped him change from an incarcerated young man to a successful business owner.
"It's so much of a career," Dort said. "People care about the way they look now, and the money's great."
What: Skill Cutz Barbershop & Salon
Where: 1700 32nd Ave. S., Fargo
Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday
Phone: (701) 235-3550