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Claudia & Mirko Djurovich: “No man is an island entire of itself”

I may be in the minority, but my view of the world and society hasn’t really changed. I’ve never believed the world to be a utopia, but a changing entity with immeasurable moving parts. This crisis has definitely made me look at ways in which nations and societies can band together to fight what is […]

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I may be in the minority, but my view of the world and society hasn’t really changed. I’ve never believed the world to be a utopia, but a changing entity with immeasurable moving parts. This crisis has definitely made me look at ways in which nations and societies can band together to fight what is a global peril where the enemy is everywhere and can’t be fought nation by nation. The threat of nationalism and isolation will always be there, but their voices cannot be made to drown out common sense. We are all in this together and to think that by banning one nation from the international community, or by thinking that we can stop this virus without international strategies and consensus simply won’t work. The world won’t go backward to a bunch of nation-states. World economies are too interconnected to think we can undo the past generation of international cooperation and trade. Sure, there are economic imbalances that consistently need to be addressed, and human rights violations that need to be brought forward, but the world today needs more harmony, not less, and that has been my view for a long time.


As part of my series about people who stepped up to make a difference during the COVID19 Pandemic I had the pleasure of interviewing Mirko Djurovich.

Mirko is a former high school teacher who became a serial entrepreneur with successes in diverse fields of business including the automotive, lumber and garment sectors. After marriage and the birth of his two children, he and his wife decided to launch the men’s grooming line Keepit Handsome. The couple has enjoyed spreading the message of the brand throughout North America and now Hong Kong.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?

I grew up in the small mining town of Flin Flon, located in Northern Manitoba. My parents were immigrants from the former Yugoslavia. We grew up very closely knit and I remember my parents working many jobs to support their four children despite limited knowledge of English. Flin Flon is mining town tough and we learned we had to hold our own or we could get swallowed up pretty quickly. Despite that, it was a great place to grow up and in fact, I returned there to teach high school English for five years. I lived with my parents and it was great. I ended up leaving because I wanted to explore the world more, but I carry the memories with me all the time. The majority of my friends are from there, spread out all over North America and we keep in touch all the time.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I recently read Grit by Angela Duckworth and found it to be a fascinating read. She really delves into what “grit” is and I love how she charts and quantifies the progress of individuals with “natural abilities” to those who exemplify grit. Further into the book and what I found particularly appealing is how people are not necessarily born with grit and can actually develop it at any age. We have young children and I constantly read them phrases or give examples from the book to highlight how work ethic, discipline, and perseverance can shape their lives.

The book resonates because most of us fall into that spectrum of talent and grit. It’s how we can look at ourselves and make the necessary adjustments to better ourselves, our relationships, and our mission. The philosophy of Keepit Handsome is similar in that we really want to be a brand that makes one examine themselves and find what their “it” is. Grit reinforced some of the messaging we are trying to achieve. We all have much to offer and we can certainly use reflection as a tool to dig in and make ourselves and our communities better. We’ve had a lot of obstacles thrown our way during the course of our brief business journey and we are persevering. My wife, Claudia, is the inspiration of our business, and her men’s hair salon was operating at 97 percent capacity before things changed. Now her shop is closed and she misses her clients and they miss her.

We also launched an Amazon store in January, doubled our sales in February, and were on our way to doubling February sales in March. We landed a great distributor in the northeast and then bang, COVID-19 hit and it set everything back. It was a perfect time to read the book as our team doubled down on effort and imagination. In early May we partnered up with an eCommerce business in Hong Kong and it’s going very well. We expect to also be on platforms in mainland China come late summer or early fall. Our Amazon business is also starting to see a positive shift. The world is struggling now, but life and business won’t wait till everything is perfect. We are doing what we can to not only survive but thrive, personally and professionally.

Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

My dad used to tell me “no one appointed you judge,” and instilled in me at a very early age not to judge people quickly and to understand that things aren’t always as they appear to be. Unfortunately, it took years for this to sink in and I was too quick to judge. I sometimes scorned those around me, dismissed their perspective, and misunderstood what caused their words or actions. I remember as a basketball coach cutting a player. He threw a tantrum and I thought he was an immature, spoiled brat who didn’t want to work hard and thought a place on the team was a given. It took another teacher to pull me aside to let me know that the student in question was abused and had been in and out of foster homes. The place he was in was vastly better and even though he was very upset, he was a good kid. I had forgotten my dad’s lesson and had judged his actions too quickly. I realized he needed the structure of a team environment, I appointed him manager, and he was the best manager I ever had.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact movement that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

What we are trying to address is really a mindset. Our social mission statement is found in our name: Keepit Handsome, with the operative word being “it.” We think social impacting starts with the individual and spreads to a community, and then hopefully further. Our branding centers around finding your “it” and then keeping that “it” in a respectful place, hence the handsome. At the beginning of our journey, we emphasized an anti-bullying message with the phrase, “Fight Ugly Keepit Handsome,” which is our way of saying fight the ugly in the world. With this generation’s exposure and access to social media platforms, there is a lot of vitriol, bullying, and anger out there. In a small way, we are trying to spread the message to combat that instinct to hurt and humiliate, and replace it with a more positive approach which as mentioned above, starts with the individual. We are not a passive brand and want individuals to think before they act to “fight ugly,” which exists in all of us and can permeate society. In this COVID-19 time, we think our message is more relevant than ever. The feelings of frustration, isolation, and hopelessness set in this pandemic are real and need to be addressed. That’s why we started our Fight Ugly Friday Giveaway on Instagram. We are searching for the positive during these trying times and are encouraging people to share their individual stories on how they are fighting against these feelings the pandemic is inflicting upon us; and how they are trying to stay kind and help each other. We are hoping that in a very small way, our messaging will encourage our audience to find a way to think and be positive and be handsome in outlook and approach.

In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?

I think one of the things that will come out of this pandemic is how we define and look at heroes. Before, I think it was safe to say that a hero was an ordinary person doing extraordinary things. I really find that a hero can now be defined as an ordinary person doing what they do every day. My two great heroes are my father and mother, and they did ordinary things daily that were heroic. They provided shelter, food, a feeling of safety, and above all, love. Look at all the doctors, nurses, police officers, teachers, firefighters, grocery store workers, etc. who are still active and risking their lives to do things they have done their whole careers. They have always been rightfully applauded for their actions and their actions today are even more appreciated. I think of all the stay-at-home families who are struggling financially and emotionally, yet are trying to do their best to look after each other. To me, that is the definition of a hero. Someone who does the ordinary every day with no thought or need of recognition.

In your opinion or experience, what are the five characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.

I think of a hero as being loyal, determined, having an innate sense of right and wrong, being selfless, and being a fighter. Loyalty is a prized quality in all of us, at least it should be. It’s relatively easy to be loyal to your family and close circle of friends. However, it’s much more difficult and sacrificing to be loyal to a cause or a principal. An example we encountered when we started out in business was finding a supplier who would provide us with great service and prices even though we were a startup and couldn’t commit to a large volume of production. Our manufacturer did just that. He gave us great service and prices because he had faith in us. As we grew, competitive manufacturers reached out to us and offered us better pricing than we currently have. We didn’t even consider them because to us, our manufacturer really was a “hero” and was loyal to our needs, and we certainly reciprocated that loyalty. It wasn’t a difficult decision because we were loyal to the principle of being there for those who have been there for us when it wasn’t easy.

Another quality of a hero is being determined and being a fighter. Not giving up and staying the course is a fundamental aspect of being a hero. There are countless examples of ordinary people who, despite disadvantaged circumstances, emerge as leaders in their fields and have helped countless people. I think of the late boxer, Joe Frazier, who grew up a sharecropper’s son, but eventually became the heavyweight champion of the world and provided inspiration for countless youth to be determined and fight their way out of poverty. I think of Steven Jobs and Steve Wozniak working on an idea in a garage that would revolutionize the world and being determined and fighting to keep their vision alive and inspiring a generation of entrepreneurs. Most of all, I think of Nelson Mandela who changed a nation’s history by staying determined and fighting for the cause of justice and equality despite being imprisoned and persecuted most of his life, yet emerging as a world-respected symbol of hope and respect.

Being selfless and having an innate sense of right and wrong is a quality many heroes have. Think of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy Jr. One was a seamstress, one was a minister’s son, and the other, the son of a multi-millionaire. These three people from such different backgrounds changed American history by being selfless and knowing right from wrong. It was wrong for people to have to sit on the back of a bus because of the color of their skin and it was wrong for them to not have the same rights and privileges of every person. Parks, King, and Kennedy were at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement that showed society the consequences of such bigotry, and educated society on knowing the obvious “right from wrong.”

If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?

I would almost take issue with the question’s premise. I think all of us are extraordinary. The step toward becoming a hero is knowing who you are. Often it takes a challenge or a crisis to bring that out in us, but we all have it. Heroes are people who strive to do the right thing when it matters most. Some react quicker and in more noble ways than others, and some do tend to stand out. When you look at the pandemic today, we cannot underestimate the number of people who have risen to the occasion and risked their lives to help all of us. It took this pandemic for them to show off their heroism that was always there.

What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?

I think we chose to get more actively involved once the pandemic really started to isolate everyone. We have always tried to have a strong anti-bullying platform because we believe that if a person can really empathize with the person they are making feel bad or they are physically intimidating, they can alter their behavior. Bullying has life-long consequences. We all have been bullied in some shape or form and I guarantee you we all remember those who did the bullying. In today’s social media, bullying is much more anonymous and thus more people feel they can hurt or intimidate more freely. It’s very personal to me because as I mentioned, bullying can last a lifetime. Ironically, it has stayed with me because I did more than my share of bullying when I was in high school and my early years of university, and that has haunted me since. The remorse and shame I feel because of that has motivated me to really try and make a difference. It’s not just the victims of bullying who are affected, but also those who do the bullying. As we grow older and our conscientiousness grows, we are exposed to humanity in different settings. I feel our empathic skills improve and we are the ones to bring those to the forefront by getting people to think and act “handsome.”

This pandemic and its feelings of despair and loneliness can cause people to lash out through a feeling of hopelessness. We transitioned our message to include COVID-19 as a type of bully that we need to stand up to and fight. Hence, we started Fight Ugly Fridays so that people can reflect on the good most people are doing and give everyone a small platform to share how they are keeping it handsome and trying to fight this COVID-19 bully that has affected us all.

Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?

My heroes will always be my parents. They came to a strange country not speaking the language, raised and educated four children, and gave them every opportunity to succeed. They always made us feel rich and special and we never lacked for anything. It was only when we reached a certain age where their sacrifices became evident. Those values and lessons of hard work and generosity will always stay with me. My heroes today are the frontline care workers who are battling to save lives at a great personal cost. They sacrifice their health, time with their families, and their emotional wellbeing to help treat and save lives.

Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?

What frightens me most about this pandemic is the divide it’s creating between those who have divergent views on how to treat the virus. There are those in the “social distance and quarantine” camp who want to wait until the virus has been more contained and those in the “let’s open and get on with our lives immediately camp.” There is no easy answer to that. No one can understand all the competing perspectives, but that division can and must be bridged. Hatred and bigotry are byproducts of division and we must try and find a way to allow competing points of view to be shared civilly and with less antipathy towards the other side.

Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain why you feel that way?

One of the emerging facets of this time is that people have been able to take stock of themselves and their families and reevaluate what’s important to them. Families have grown closer and a number of charities have been set up to help those who have been financially and emotionally impacted the most. We are great believers that the good in people will win out in times of a crisis and we feel if more attention is brought to the people who are doing good to the community, then that’s a small contribution we can make.

What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?

The disappointing aspect is trying to force blame on a particular group of people or a particular country. COVID-19 is the result of the world being more homogeneous and it was an inevitable consequence. To place blame on a particular group seems naive. Globalization has unintended consequences, but the fact of the matter is that more people have been brought out of poverty and live longer, more fruitful lives. The world will get past this and we must be better prepared for the next major crisis, but we can’t forget the role economic diversity plays in the world.

What has inspired us the most is the way people are adapting to new realities and coming up with creative ways to solve everyday problems. A small business making masks and gowns to get to the frontline workers, volunteers are trying to reach the less fortunate with food banks and clothing, and organizations are sprouting up to have fundraisers to raise money and bring people together. Isolation doesn’t necessarily have to lead to loneliness. The greatest inspiration we have seen is that we can be apart but still fight together.

Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.

I may be in the minority, but my view of the world and society hasn’t really changed. I’ve never believed the world to be a utopia, but a changing entity with immeasurable moving parts. This crisis has definitely made me look at ways in which nations and societies can band together to fight what is a global peril where the enemy is everywhere and can’t be fought nation by nation. The threat of nationalism and isolation will always be there, but their voices cannot be made to drown out common sense. We are all in this together and to think that by banning one nation from the international community, or by thinking that we can stop this virus without international strategies and consensus simply won’t work. The world won’t go backward to a bunch of nation-states. World economies are too interconnected to think we can undo the past generation of international cooperation and trade. Sure, there are economic imbalances that consistently need to be addressed, and human rights violations that need to be brought forward, but the world today needs more harmony, not less, and that has been my view for a long time.

What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?

I would love to see task forces established to see who has suffered the most from this crisis and how we can address these inequalities in the future. Permanent infrastructure to address emotional and mental health issues that will arise from this would be a great start. Our elderly care institutions have to be looked at and corrected. I would love to see crisis management become a full-time concern at local and state levels. The need to have a revolving apolitical team manage critical inventory and have the autonomy to make decisions that seem financially imprudent at times, but are vital for long term sustainability.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I would tell them, “give a damn!” It starts from there. Find the truth in yourself and take that truth to others. My favorite quote is from a John Donne poem:

“No man is an island entire of itself;

Every man is a piece of the continent…

Any man’s death diminishes me,

Because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.“

I really believe if we can get people to understand those words, we would be in a better place.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I don’t know how much influence I have, but I really believe that the Fight Ugly, Keepit Handsome narrative can be a positive social movement. The phrase itself is thought-provoking. When people first think of the term “fight ugly” they may think of fighting dirty or fighting unfairly. However, with the right messaging we can quickly discover that fight ugly means fighting the ugly in the world and keeping that world handsome. The phrase is so individual yet so universal it can really galvanize people to act individually and as a community. We started as an anti-bullying platform where we wanted the individual to think handsome and fight that ugly that exists in all of us, but it is so much more now. When I talked to Andy Nulman who was one of the co-founders of Just For Laughs and I told him about our story he pointed to the awesome looking chocolate dessert I was having at the time. He said, “See how beautiful that looked on the plate?” And then he said, “What if I threw it on the ground and left it there? That same dessert would look ugly and you have to fight that.” He captured our philosophy succinctly. Fight Ugly, KeepIt Handsome means taking control and being active. People should not be passive and should follow Martin Luther King Jr.’s example of fighting injustice, but fighting without violence. That’s the movement we would love to see. Let’s fight ugly: pollution, bigotry, bullying, and social prejudice, but do it by keeping it handsome.

Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S., with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?

I would pick the last two full-term presidents of the United States: George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Two men with totally divergent points of view, but who had an aura of civility and dignity about them that transcended politics. I would love to see them discuss their philosophies and why their positions are more informed than others. I respect that there were few instances where they made differences personal, and I would love to see how they handled contrary points of view but listened to opposing viewpoints. In the end, I would love to see if the other was convinced of each other’s viewpoint, even in a minor way.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


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