When the boys of V76 get together, good—and stylish—things happen.
Anyone who is familiar with the counterculture movement of the 1960s has probably happened upon the unofficial anthem of the hippie regime, “San Francisco,” by The Mamas and the Papas. Within the first two lines of the peaceful song the listener is instructed to wear flowers in their hair if they are planning on wandering over to San Francisco. And while travelers to The Bay Area might have chosen to visit sans blossoms, two men who reside just north of the song’s namesake took that advice very seriously.
Johnathan and Brian, friends since the age of eight, make up the incredibly creative duo that refer to themselves as The Gay Beards. Much like the name suggests, their activity of choice involves decorating their facial hair with various accouterments from rainbow-colored glitter and potato chips to candy corn and ornaments, season depending, and then posting the eye-catching creation on social media.
Their alternative-grooming operation began in 2014, when Johnathan and Brian plucked flowers from their personal garden, stuck them in their beards and had a friend snap some photos. The guys—who had not yet claimed their Gay Beards title—posted the shots on their social accounts and received positive feedback, even though validation was not what they were aiming for. Once they realized how much people were enjoying the images, they started to ponder what else they could fit in their beards. And as the saying goes, the rest was history.
The two best friends believe the world needs more love and laughter, and beard decor is certainly one way to promote that ideal. It’s impossible not to smile, chuckle and share when you get a glance of the most festive facial hair out there. So while the world is turbulent and it feels like society is eons away from wearing flowers in its hair, Johnathan and Brian are here to save us.
Find out how The Gay Beards grew from a one-time activity to a full-time craft that boosts more than 261K Instagram followers and provokes just as many smiles, and how V76 helps the guys groom and spruce before each scruffy shoot.
Give us a little insight into your name, The Gay Beards. Is it just what it seems or is there something else to it?
It is just what it seems, but there are so many ways you can look at it. Yes, we're both gay and have beards, but there is something appealing about taking a word like “beards,” which is generally categorized as masculine, and putting the word “gay” in front of it. It gets people to think a little bit. Some people love the idea, others hate it, and that's the way it should be. Humor has always been at the core of what we do, but at the same time, we want to encourage others not to be afraid of living their lives openly and feeling accepted for who they are.
Is The Gay Beards your full-time gig?
The Gay Beards has actually become a full-time gig for both of us. Neither of us has worked at a full-time job for more than a year. We're both so grateful to be doing what we do, and the fact that it provides a living for us is just the cherry on top.
Did you ever think that this hobby would turn into a career?
Yes and no. We started doing it because it was a good creative outlet for us and we were having a blast. Both of us have always been creative people, and we specifically enjoy being creative together. Finding someone you can work well with artistically can be quite challenging, but we've always had a blast being together and using our minds to be dorky and hilarious.
What did you do before The Gay Beards got big?
Prior to The Gay Beards, Johnathan worked in various retail jobs and as a touring musician over the last few years. Brian was employed at Netflix, but also worked, and continues to work, as a freelance painter and photographer.
How does living in Portland influence your lifestyle?
Portland has always been a very progressive city, full of artists and entrepreneurs. If we lived anywhere else, The Gay Beards might not be what it is today—or even exist! Because we live in such an amazing city, it has definitely played a huge role in our creative lives. Often we are reminded that Portland is a city filled with a higher density of individuals who choose to be their own boss and purely create for a living, whatever it may be.
What has been the most challenging material to decorate with?
Glitter is always the most difficult, post-decorated beard at least. We attempted skittles once about a year ago, and it did not go well. Unfortunately there are no photos, but let us tell you, it was a mess.
... The most fun?
The most fun would probably be flowers because of the endless combinations you can do.
... Your favorite?
A favorite of ours is either the dandelion beards or the moss? Glitter is always a favorite, even though our carpet constantly reminds us of our sparkly past.
You have a massive Instagram and YouTube following. Would “The Gay Beards” even be possible without social media?
Social media is crucial for what we do. If it weren't for social media, we'd both just be taking photos of ourselves, for ourselves, and would maybe show our friends and family when they came over. The whole idea is to put out a positive and loving message on the Internet, which, at times, can be riddled with negativity and hate. There is a lot of room left in this world and it should be filled with things that make people smile when they need it the most. We are just trying to do our part to fill the gaps where we can.
Staying well groomed is important when the focus is on your face/facial hair. Do you have a grooming routine that you stick to?
Having a beard requires a lot more of a grooming routine than we ever imagined. Typically a monthly trim is in order to keep our beards looking dapper. Beyond that, our day-to-day routine focuses on shampooing and conditioning our beards (2-3 times per week), beard oil (to keep them soft), beard balm (to hold in the stray hairs), mustache wax (so we can eat) and the occasional hairspray (if we are feeling fancy). It's great to have products like the V76 grooming and styling Creams and Waxes for when we have a crazy beard day—hey, if bed head is a thing, so is bed beard. We've also started to take more time to make our hair look nice for photos to match our styled beards. Even though we are still learning the tricks of the trade, the V76 products are helping us maintain ourselves much more than we thought possible.
How can V76 help you with your various beard-decorating projects?
Before we take any photos, or put anything into our beards, we always make sure our beards are groomed and shaped properly. It’s important for us to have the proper products to ensure that our beards look the best they can before we attempt any sort of beard decorating! Often we get asked what products we use to keep ourselves looking gentlemanly, and we've recently added V76 to our arsenal of suggestions.
Do you have any beard advise for men who have an on-the-go type of lifestyle?
If you're going to be away from home, always have a Beard Oil or balm—some kind of product with hold in it—on hand. Also, everyone with a beard should invest in a boar-bristle brush, especially if you're worried about your beard losing its integrity. But more than anything, it's important to have a set of products that you feel comfortable with and an order of operation when you hop out of the shower. We've learned to keep our grooming experimentation to the weekends.
Do either of you have a favorite V76 product?
Johnathan is a huge fan of the Control Balm Strong Hold. His hair is often heading in all directions, and it's perfect for maintaining the shape you want for a longer period of time—something he is forever grateful for. Brian has fallen head over heels for the Molding Paste. If nothing else, the smell alone will have his heart forever.
What are some aspirational beard-decorating materials that you would love to explore?
We have an endless list of ideas going, but for a while now we’ve been wanting to work with the possibility of lady bug beards—yes, we would use living ones—or other cute, furry little creatures that won't scare us to death. They could call our beards home for a few photos. Beyond that, who knows what other ridiculous and obscure items might make their way into our facial fur.
What’s next for The Gay Beards?
We have a few things we're working on at the moment, some of which is secret and some that is not. It's been a long-running dream of ours to publish a few items, including a coffee table book and a children's book. These will be happening in the not-so-far-off future, but until that time comes, we continue to create!