Akeem Akway use to cut hair for his high school basketball mates for a small fee and sometimes for free. It was a craft he practiced after he fell in love with basketball when he migrated to Northeast Minneapolis, U.S. from Ethiopia as a 10-year-old.
“I have a lot of love for basketball,” Akway told hometownsource.com. “When you’re young, everybody got that NBA dream. My friends and all that, we would play, and I spent a lot of time inside watching a lot of NBA, especially when I was living in Northeast Minneapolis, I couldn’t play outside much because it was pretty dangerous.”
Akway was following in the footsteps of his older brother in search of a better life when he moved to the United States. “When we came here, first we lived over in north Minneapolis. Coming from Africa to the Northside, that was a big jump,” he told Sahan Journal.
Although Akway started his dream job as a hobby, he got people who advised him to take his barbering more seriously and he did just that. The Fridley graduate has since grown to become the go-to barber for some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment.
His career came with some tough love, Akway recalled. He was fired from his first barbering job for coming to work late.
“I worked for my friend Dominic at Maplewood Mall for about four months,” he said of how he was fired from his first barbering job. “I was only 18 or 19. I didn’t know the structure of the barber world. I thought you could just show up whenever you feel like it. So, I would go out with my friends on Friday night and show up late on Saturday morning.
“Saturdays are the busiest days at a barbershop. After I showed up late one Saturday, Dominic fired me. It was a big wake-up call: You have to start to take this serious. Getting fired was one of the best things that ever happened to me.”
His predicament made him reevaluate the life he was living. And it became so urgent when he had to find money to settle his rent. Akway got hired by Damien’s Sports Barbershop and his work ethic impressed clients.
His new boss described him as the “best” he had ever seen and encouraged him to be a business owner. Akway saved some money while working at Damien’s, and in 2015, he was able to open Akway’s Sports Barbershop in Spring Lake Park.
“I worked for two months straight, no days off,” he said. “I started in May and didn’t have a day off until July 4. So that was pretty hard, probably the hardest time, being up working every day. Once I started getting going I got a couple barbers to come work with me. It got to where, I can’t cut everybody. I brought one of my cousins in and a couple friends.”
Two years later, he moved to a bigger location in nearby Mounds View, creating the largest barbershop in the state. He then opened an “appointment-only, five-chair studio” in Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood. And last fall, he set up another shop at an outlet mall in Eagan.
Today, his celebrity client list includes Minnesota Timberwolves stars such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, and D’Angelo Russell. Several former and current NBA stars and even rappers like Fabolous and the late Mac Miller have also sought his services.
“[Former Minnesota Viking] Jerick McKinnon was the first professional athlete I cut,” Akway told Sahan Journal.”I always knew if one of those guys gave me a chance, it would open doors.”