These days, his barbershop functions as an office where White runs all the businesses that have grown around it, including his coffee shop, The Get Down, his new nine-unit apartment building, Camdentown Flats, and a restaurant expected to start construction in 2024.
And White's enterprises extend far beyond his corner of the Webber-Camden neighborhood, through a partnership with Target to sell his coffee beans, clothing line, and new hair and skin care lines.
White has also debuted a podcast and a book, "Culture Making," with collaborator Casie Cook, to explain what he calls his "mixtape" approach to simultaneously building brands and community — and to help others do the same.
We grabbed coffee to talk about archetypes of Black excellence, cultural appropriation, and what eagle watching has to do with entrepreneurship. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Do you cut anybody's hair anymore?
My own! I just buzz it.
Why did you partner with Target?
I want to be a designer who helps to redefine American style from a value perspective. There's a perception that luxury has to be expensive, and I disagree with that. Part of my Midwestern and Southern sensibility is to be smart with money, but I also want to be fresh.
This line at Target allows me not to have to compromise. Growing up, my family used to say, "No matter what we have, we're always going to project our best." I don't believe that just because someone is not of high means they can't be of high style.
You've sold a lot of Black Excellence T-shirts, and in the book, you talk about expanding notions of success beyond "the exceptional Negro" or "the activist."
I'm a relatively unknown designer, but what I have is every auntie, every uncle, every cousin, every young boy's lived experience. So I'm more relatable than someone that's dunking a basketball or singing a song. There's so many more people who can do what I've done, and unlock their own hidden potential than can be Michael Jackson or whatever the heroes of the past were. The heroes of the future, they're entrepreneurs. They're doers. They're innovators.
How can people embrace other cultures without appropriating them?
It's all about the why. To me, St. Patty's Day is a great example of honoring heritage and culture. And very few people, if any, are accused of appropriating when they celebrate the culture of the Irish. That's what I want to see happen, especially in Black culture.
So many of the things that we're talking about — hip-hop, arts, fashion, the soul of America — all that comes right out of Black culture. And so as long as it can be respected — saying, "I honor this part of America that influenced me, so that's why I'm wearing an African print, or wearing a black designer, or drinking Get Down Coffee" or whatever it is — it's restorative justice. Then it's meaningful and it's integrating into people's lives and it's not just, like, an Instagram post.
You maintain that diversity drives business and community growth. How so?
In my opinion, culture may be the only way businesses are going to stay relevant. You have to reshape the culture. There are so many businesses — and the city of Minneapolis and the state of Minnesota, quite frankly — that will not survive, when you look at the fact that among folks that are 15 and under, the majority is now minority. If you're not prepared, you're done. If people want to move to Minnesota and there are microaggressions, and lack of cultural spaces, and lack of Black middle class, and it's cold as hell, they'll move somewhere else.
What needs to happen?
I think the state and business are really going have to humble themselves. Minnesota is a place that's constantly satisfied with itself, but it's not thought of as a cultural Mecca. And there are places that are lapping us because we are unfortunately resistant to what is a foregone conclusion.
The book includes a lot about your personal life, including your seemingly Hollywood-scripted meeting of your wife, Donise, and her unexpected death. How has she influenced you?
It's better to have loved and lost than not to have experienced that at all, so I'm thankful. But it is like I lost it all. So I'm coming to the chance to affect the world from a place of hurting, but turning that pain into purpose.
It was also vulnerable to share the story of your arrest for selling drugs at 14.
I wanted to show that no matter the socioeconomic realities, the allure of things is ever-present. And that there was another way to hustle and accomplish the things that you want to accomplish. Especially for young kids that are going through what I was going through, I wanted to show them that my pivot to cutting hair and to selling products out of my backpack made me feel just as alive and industrious.
You're telling them you've been there, you get it.
I wanted stuff, too. And that's why creating products that are approachably opulent is the core of what I do. Because I want my stuff to be available, accessible, but also thought of as top-tier. To show that it's possible to be true to yourself and not have to risk your life or your freedom in pursuit of the things that you want.
What do you hope people can learn from your experience as an entrepreneur?
It takes sacrifice. If you want to be super-comfortable and have a guarantee, don't start. Don't even leave your house. It's uncomfortable. It's excruciating. It's difficult. But it's extraordinarily rewarding to listen to your inner voice. So I've been watching eagles hunt. ...
[Laughs] Yeah, because I'm so curious: How can something so high up identify and target something in the water, and then the design of its claws are such that it grabs it and it's basically sticky, and then it flies off. If that eagle didn't do that, it wouldn't survive. And it's innate. It's not taught. And that is inside of all of us. My greatest hope is for people to listen to their inner voice and be brave enough to say, "Why not?"