Trendy barbershops are aplenty but how much do we know about the hipster barbers who run the show?
Not long ago, for men, getting a haircut simply meant walking into your neighbourhood barbershop and calling out a number while taking a seat. The barber or ‘anneh’ to some, may or may not be local and you’d walk away after the trim lighter in the wallet by RM10 at most.
Well, those days are slowly fading with the emergence of ‘super’ barbers – the hip, new age coiffeurs who not only take barbering to the next level, but look the part as well.
“It’s all in the way we present ourselves. With our shops, we (the barbers) make the brand and through that we hope to inspire others to not only look good but to feel good with a little bit of grooming,” says Al, the resident barber at The Burrow, a rustic barbershop hidden within the folds of general store Merchant & Sisters in Plaza Batai.
Indeed, it would not be wrong to say that these young gentlemen behind the reclining chairs are walking billboards for their trade. Their haircuts, along with as their style, need to look as ‘fresh’ as the barbering techniques they offer in order to attract patrons. And these clients, more often than not become regulars to the barber, very much similar to the familial loyalty patrons had towards traditional barbershops.
“People don’t just get a service for the sake of getting services anymore. They want to be associated to a particular kind of lifestyle, they want personalisation. They want to be heard, understood and remembered. They want to feel valued even if it’s a simple thing of a haircut. And at these barbershops, we cater to these needs,” explains Al, who not only looks up-to-the-minute but is also forthcoming with his clients.
A trade that was once frowned upon, barbering has since become the ‘in’ skill to have, right next to ‘barista-ing’ and baking. However, becoming a certified contemporary barber is not easy, as an intensive two-month course in academies go up to RM4000 or more.
And that’s not all that it takes either.
Hipster Barber: Skills, Fashion and Passion
“I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands and being in the service industry. During my university life, I worked part time as a barista for a good two years and that’s when I realised I actually enjoyed being in a shop environment, brewing coffee and serving customers. There’s something very simple and wholesome about interacting with people through a service I can provide. So naturally, I found the next best thing, barbering.”
TL;DR – a new-age barber needs skills, fashion and passion.
The Burrow which Al mans is an extension of The Othrs, a popular barbershop in Subang founded by fellow barber and philanthropist Lex Low. Through barbering, Lex aids underprivileged children to learn the handy skill for their future. After graduating, the kids even have the option of working at the parlour full time.
Another famed proprietor of hipster cutteries is Fiqri Hylmanshah, the dapper gentleman who started Ramlee’s Sport Barbersclub, a sports club-themed barbershop (one of many themed parlours that have emerged recently) as well as the higher-end men’s grooming establishment, Gentlemen’s Tonic.
Grooming Done Luxe
Taking advantage of this heightened emphasis on looking good amongst men in the country are salons such as Gentlemen’s Tonic and Truefit & Hill, the upmarket franchises catering to the discerning gentlemen who seek a single-stop for all their grooming needs. These outlets provide more competition to the men’s-only barbershops and unisex salons with their wider range of services dedicated exclusively for men, from the usual shave to threading and manicures.
This added competition from international names means that homegrown barbershops need that extra edge to set themselves apart from other in the market. The Burrow, for example, prioritises the quality of the services it provides, leaning in on the adage of ‘quality over quantity.’ It certainly helps that the shop’s décor (including its homage to the traditional barber’s pole) as well as the resident barber are both easy on the eyes.
Competition also exists between the barbers, as each barber tends to have their own following. Acknowledging this, barbershops allow patrons to pick whom they want to cut their hair when booking sessions online (yes, booking barbers online before going to the shop is a thing now). This means, the more renowned you are, whether in social media or real life, the more bookings you get.
The fame factor has allowed celebrities to jump in the barbershop bandwagon too, including rapper Joe Flizzow and dapper social media influencer Wak Doyok, who have founded their own men’s-only grooming salons.
Not limited to just services, the new-age barbershops have also begun upping the ante by selling imported grooming goods as well as in-house-developed haircare products, such as the Othrs brand pomade unique to the namesake parlour.
Nonetheless, no matter the direction, Al believes barbershops still have a lot to improve. “We definitely have a lot more to explore in terms of upping our customer service, our cuts, our grooming product knowledge and experimenting with different styles of barbering,” he says.
*Feature image by Othrs Barbers.
*This post has been edited for clarity and brevity.