The best leaders are those who do not yearn for the spotlight or seek glory. They are the men and women who step up to the plate when necessity demands and are resilient in the face of all obstacles.
After Colorado Governor Jared Polis issued emergency orders to shut down nonessential businesses during the spread of COVID-19, many small business owners struggled to make ends meet. Some even had to close their doors forever, unable to survive without a steady stream of revenue for two months.
But one Colorado business owner refused to sit back and watch as his community suffered grave financial losses.
When the state passed an unconstitutional law giving COVID relief funds only to minority-owned businesses—a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment—Etienne Hardré was called to action.
Now, he’s taking on the State of Colorado in court to preserve his right to equality before the law.
Colorado has since amended the law to give preference to minority-owned businesses, instead of allocating the funds solely to these businesses, but this is still a violation of the constitutional guarantee to equality before the law.
Etienne Hardré has owned Locals Barbershop & Salon in Colorado Springs, Colorado, since 2014.
Wanting it to succeed, Etienne, who had extensive experience in the business world despite never actually owning a business, was hell-bent on turning the barbershop into a thriving company.
Focusing on branding and what it was that made his shop unique, he asked himself, “What is it exactly that my business is selling?”
“Haircuts” seems like the most obvious answer, but any salon or barbershop can give you a haircut. Etienne and his service sell confidence. In fact, the shop’s tagline is “We don’t sell haircuts, we give you confidence.”
Elaborating, he said:
“Everything that we do is about giving what it is people are really buying from us, that feeling, and it’s not the haircut. This whole idea of confidence can be planted in all of our messaging, it can be planted in all of our imagery, it can be planted in the way we design the interior, it’s planted in the way we train the staff, it’s planted in the way I manage, it’s planted in the products we choose. I mean, it’s everything.”
“If you need that confidence in your life, in your family, in your leadership, in your corporate career, then you’ve got to come to us, because we’re the only ones that sell confidence.”
His own confidence in his business model helped lead to his success. Two and a half years after buying the barbershop, the business was thriving—doubling in revenue.
As the company grew, Etienne had plans to start franchising the business.
Then COVID hit.
Navigating the shutdown
Instead of focusing on turning his business into a franchise, his priorities shifted to keeping it alive.
Etienne is not one to sit around and wait for a problem to solve itself. He called the governor’s office, members of the U.S. Congress, several state senators, county reps, and city council members, and even contacted the Small Business Association district manager, explaining the challenges small businesses were facing, asking how long the shutdown would last, and inquiring what resources were available to small businesses.
Community driven, he rallied other local businesses and offered support, asking what he could do to help.
As a natural-born leader, Etienne became a mentor for other small businesses, helping them apply for loans and grants that would help keep them and the local economy afloat for as long as possible.
He also helped his employees. When he was forced to lay them off, he helped them navigate the process of filing for unemployment. He spent countless hours tracking every law, making sure he used every tool at his disposal.
Etienne believes it was his relentless efforts that helped keep his business alive. But there is no doubt his confidence in his ability to overcome the situation played a role as well.
A lifeline … almost
Even with the support he managed to receive, the company was still hanging by a thread.
When Colorado passed legislation providing relief to small businesses, he was shocked to learn he didn’t qualify for anything. The $4 million in relief funds was allocated only to minority-owned businesses. And although Colorado amended the law after Etienne filed his lawsuit, the new law still gives a preference to minority-owned businesses.
Equality before the law
Equality before the law is a vital part of our Constitution. The government is forbidden from discriminating against individuals based on arbitrary classifications like race, religion, and gender.
Yet, because Etienne was not a minority, the state denied him funds that would have helped both his employees and the local economy.
As a strong believer in our Constitution, Etienne decided to stand up for the Fourteenth Amendment right to equality before the law.
“It’s the Fourteenth Amendment. If I was Black, and the racial requirements were flipped, that’s wrong. A man should be judged by the content of his character, and not by the color of his skin. This is not new information. We’ve fought wars over this. We’ve walked to Washington, to the Mall, over this. We celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, every single year. I’m shocked.”
“You didn’t ask to be Black. I didn’t ask to be white. God made us that way, and there’s no difference between us. All of these businesses have suffered. Let’s help, with the public funds that came from all of us. Let’s make those funds available for everyone.”
Taking it to court
Etienne and his wife have four sons, ages seven to 13, all of whom are actively involved in the business. The lawsuit has moved his family into the public eye, something neither he nor his wife were prepared for.
Since filing the suit, the barbershop has received angry phone calls cursing at his team and calling them all kinds of racial slurs. Some people have left negative reviews online.
Etienne has handled the pressure well, confident that he is doing the right thing. “You’ve got to take a stand at some point. If it doesn’t cost you anything, then was it really worth anything?”
When his attorneys suggested he reach out to PLF, he hadn’t even heard of the organization.
Speaking of his discovery of PLF, he said:
“That was the most encouraging thing that I’d heard in a long time. That there are groups like you guys out there, that you are paying attention to these kinds of things. Even the little things we were doing here in Colorado somehow made it onto your desk, and you thought it important enough to call us, and say, ‘Hey, we want to be in your corner.’ That humbled me.”
When asked what winning this case would mean to him, he said,
“Winning this case would mean that our republic still exists. It would give me hope that the mechanics that our Founders put into place so long ago, at such a great cost, still exist in some form. Winning would say, ‘We’ve still got something here,’ America’s still a good country with strong mechanics in it.”
“There is no difference between us, the blood that comes out of us is the same color. Right? Many better men than I have made that argument. I just happen to agree with them, and I want to see that upheld.”
PLF is defending Etienne free of charge.