Cutting Through Barriers: The Inspiring Story of R&R Head Labs

Introducing James (Jamie) Repenning, the CEO and Founder of R&R Head Labs, a barbershop with a mission. Jamie’s journey to Denver and the creation of R&R Head Labs is a testament to his passion for making a difference. In this exclusive Q&A session, Jamie shares insights into his inspiration for starting R&R Head Labs, the challenges and rewards of running the business, and his vision for its future. Dive into his story and discover how R&R Head Labs is changing lives one haircut at a time.

Two men posing with cheerful expressions in a creative workspace, one seated on a stool and the other standing with a confident stance, amidst construction materials and a mirror reflecting their image, giving a behind-the-scenes glimpse that fits The Scout Guide's exploration of local businesses.
Photo by Sara Ford Photography

Please share your Denver story. How did your journey lead you to create R&R Head Labs?

I’ve known I wanted to live in Colorado even before attending Colorado College. However, I prioritized my career for the first 20 years out of college which led me to just about everywhere but Colorado! Finally, I landed a consulting client in CO- Floyd’s 99 Barbershops. I’d always been an operator at heart, so I jumped at the chance to work for them full-time as President. This also got me back to Colorado!

What inspired you to start R&R Head Labs and focus on employing formerly incarcerated individuals?

The R&R Head Labs story actually starts in 1997 when I interviewed a guy name Angelo for an equipment operator job. When I called him the next day to offer him a job, he said “hang on, there’s something you should know about me before you hire me. I murdered my best friend in a drug deal and have been in prison for the last 20+ years.” Since I’d already gotten a sense of his character without knowing his background, I hired him anyway. Angelo was a great employee, and amazing person, and we remain friends. He blew up my biases and assumptions of what it means to be formerly incarcerated.

Fast forward to 2022. I had recently left Floyd’s, and the only thing I knew for sure is that I wanted to work for a business with a strong mission and sense of purpose. I received this message: “Hi James, you don’t know me but my name is Scott Budnick. I was the producer of The Hangover, Old School, War Dogs, Just Mercy, and I need your help getting the barbers in the CA prison system licensed.” That was the spark that led to the creation of R&R Head Labs.

Can you tell us more about the mission and vision of R&R Head Labs?

Our Mission is to Inspire Personal Growth. We deliver this by hiring formerly incarcerated barbers who have committed to improving themselves and the world around them. It’s easy to assume that we’re just talking about the personal growth of our barbers because they grow every single day, but it takes just one visit to R&R for many clients to realize that they’re growing as well. For many, this is the first time they’ve knowingly interacted with a formerly incarcerated person, and it’s incredibly inspiring to understand how hard our barbers are working to change their lives for the better and have a positive impact in our community. For many of us we suddenly realize there’s a large group of people that we have been discounting, avoiding, and judging without meaning to. That’s personal growth!

What do you love most about owning and running R&R Head Labs?

2 things I absolutely love:

  • I love watching our team help each other. We have a barber who was struggling outside of work. When he came in the next day, the manager said “do you need a hug?”. Yes. The next barber said “do you need somewhere to stay.” No coaching necessary, they look out for each other because that’s who they are as people. They are also learning to hold each other accountable to ensure we deliver a remarkable experience every single time. Our success relies on teamwork.
  • I love seeing the reaction we get when we tell customers about us. The vast majority of people instantly recognize the positive impact we have on people and communities, and take action to help us. If you read our reviews, you can sense what I’m talking about. Customers love our haircuts, our people, our mission.

What are some of the unique challenges and rewards you’ve encountered while running R&R Head Labs?

You’re probably expecting me to say the biggest challenge is working with formerly incarcerated people, but they’re people like the rest of us with their unique strengths, weaknesses, insecurities, etc…. What’s challenging, and would be for any business, is that we’ve committed to providing them resources to help them personally and professionally to a far greater extent than any business I’ve worked for. Finding the right balance of resources and budget impact is a challenge.

More importantly, the rewards of hiring formerly incarcerated people far outweigh the challenges. We have lower turnover and a much greater sense of purpose and belonging than competitors. It’s easy to imagine how these things lead to a great customer experience.

Could you share a success story from one of your barbers or apprentices that has particularly inspired you?

Our Operations Manager, Deb Ramirez, is the biggest success story of all. After learning to cut hair in Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, she hit the ground running 15 years ago and is a great barber, manager, and Mom. It’s fun visiting the prisons in CO with her because it’s like bringing Michael Jordan back to his grade school. The men and women see that she shares a similar background, and has been a great success since earning her freedom. She inspires them to keep going and do the hard work so they can have the same success she has earned.

What trends are you seeing that relate to your business that our readers should be aware of?

Younger generations are more discerning when it comes to social and environmental impact, and they are far more likely to ‘vote with their dollars’ to support businesses that align with their values. I’m excited to see how businesses will rise to this challenge and play a more beneficial role in our community.

How do you see R&R Head Labs growing and evolving in the next few years?

People often ask if we’re training barbers, then sending them out to get jobs elsewhere. NO CHANCE! We’re building a great team and I don’t want to lose one person. Once we fill one shop with great barbers, we’ll build another, then another…. We will keep creating opportunities to Inspire Personal Growth until the prisons run out of barbers.

We want to know YOUR favorite thing about Denver.

  • Season and why: Tough choice in CO, but have to go with Summer because there’s are endless things to do and explore
  • Neighborhood / side of town: East Colfax, of course! I love the combination of grit, locally owned business, and prosperous neighborhoods surrounding it. Colfax has it challenges, but it has so much character!
  • Place for a drink: Bruz Beers on York. Award-winning beers and really cool atmosphere and back patio.
  • Place for Breakfast: Fox Run Café, cozy/cool atmosphere
  • Place for Lunch: Denver Central Market. So many choices in a really cool building
  • Coffee Shop and / or Juice Bar: Savageau Coffee. Locally owned right on E Colfax
  • Day trip: Anywhere deep in the mountains. Try hiking a 13 teener. You’ll have it all to yourself.
  • Road for a scenic drive: Of course the mountain roads are beautiful, but a drive into Eastern CO in the late Spring can be really relaxing.

Jamie Repenning, CEO and Founder of R&R Head Labs | 2260 East Colfax Avenue | 303-586-0428

Discover more local Denver business owners and their stories in The Scout Guide Denver Directory.