Ronnie Gilchrist – 35th Annual Black Excellence Awards Honoree

Minority Business

Ronnie Gilchrist
SerFuture Fashions Hair & Barber Salon

Ronnie Gilchrist traveled to Memphis, Tennessee in 2003 to learn the fire cutting hair technique from his uncle. He is certain he is the only hair stylist in Milwaukee offering the technique and most likely the only one in Wisconsin.

Fire cutting relies on fire instead of a razor and scissors to cut hair. A quick search of the internet reveals a number of different ways in which fire is used to cut hair. Ronnie said he relies on an oversize butane lighter. He said the technique, which he cautions should never be undertaken by someone who has no experience, can be beneficial for people who suffer from split ends.

“This is a technique, not a style,” said Ronnie. He typically does an average of about two fire cuts per week. In order to obtain a satisfactory fire cut, Ronnie said hair must be shampooed twice and conditioner applied afterward. As he performs the technique, he usually plays theme music from the movie “Shaft” which he said was composed by his cousin, the late Isaac Hayes.

In addition to fire cuts, Ronnie offers a full range of service at SerFuture Fashions Hair & Barber Salon. He has been in business since 1980 and at the same location on Burleigh Street for the past 16 years.

Ronnie is the youngest of five children and was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee. He said he initially planned on making a career in the Army, but he was wounded in Viet Nam and honorably discharged in 1965. After his discharge, he returned to Memphis, and began working at Wonder Bread. He left Memphis for Milwaukee in 1970 in order to seek a better opportunity for himself and his young family, which by then included his wife, Minerva, and children Ronnie, Reginald, Echo, Angela and Tremane. Before he opened his own salon, Ronnie said he spent 10 years, first obtaining his degree in cosmetology and business management from Milwaukee Area Technical College and then several years as an apprentice.

“Hair styling was not so much a passion of mine, but it was an excellent way to keep your own hours and to earn a respectable income,” Ronnie said. “Quality of service and punctuality is what keeps customers coming back. I frequently attend trade shows in Chicago to keep current on the latest styles and to share my knowledge with employees who might not get to go.”

Ronnie currently manages a staff of four including himself. At the salon, one is encouraged to ask for “Gill, the owner” if one is interested in receiving a fire cut. SerFuture Fashions Hair & Barber Salon was originally located for 23 years near 49th St. and North Ave. He said he spent a considerable amount of time driving around Milwaukee to find the perfect place to relocate.

SerFuture Fashions Hair & Barber Salon was named after his son, Ser, who was killed by a drunk driver when he was 12 years old. Ronnie said he initially hoped that Ser would follow him into the family business. Ronnie did not return to his business for three months after his son’s death. He credits other siblings for rallying around him during that difficult time.

Ronnie is currently a deacon at Way of the Cross Missionary Baptist Church. He previously volunteered with a church newsletter for 12 years. He was appointed to the Wisconsin Board of Cosmetology by former Governor Tommy Thompson. The Wisconsin Board of Cosmetology is in charge of enforcing laws and regulations through inspections, and investigation into complaints submitted by consumers. It conducts hearings, imposes penalties and enforces actions when deemed necessary. Through education and the enforcement of the cosmetology laws in Wisconsin, the state board ensures the safety, welfare and public health by regulating the salons, schools and individuals who practice cosmetology. The board also issues licenses to individuals who qualify for reciprocity or administration of a written and practical examination to schools and salons.