Do you consider a career as a barber an ‘old-timey’ occupation? Don’t tell that to Faiz Ismail though, who is looking to spin the stereotype on its head. Here’s how this millennial entrepreneur plans to take over the grooming world in Singapore.
After being inspired by the rockabilly movement – and the pompadour and slicked-back greaser hairstyles that came with it – back in October 2013, Faiz Ismail soon realised that while ‘quick fix’ salons are aplenty, there weren’t as many proper gentlemen barbershops in Singapore, so he decided to take matters into his own hands.
Faiz’s solo pursuits didn’t come without its doubters though, especially so when a supposed mentor commented “what makes you think you can fly solo?” after the former voiced out his ambitions of starting his own barbershop. But it was never in Faiz’s nature to quit – four years since his foray into the industry, the 25-year-old is now the founder of a successful grooming business backed up by his all-men team of professionally-trained barbers. And he’s only getting started.
Was barbering something you wanted to do since young?
Actually, no. I was studying Chemical Engineering back in Singapore Polytechnic, but it was during that time that I fell in love with everything rock & roll. I loved wearing leather jackets and began sporting a shorter hairstyle too. I’ve always been fascinated with Alex Turner, the lead singer of Arctic Monkeys, and it was during my tertiary days when he changed his look from long to short hair – aka the ‘rockabilly’ moment – so that was when I started to mould my own look after him. He’s a big inspiration.
How did your family react upon hearing your decision to pursue barbering as a full-time career?
My mum was very supportive and was always there for me, but my dad hated my decision from the very beginning. My business venture was self-financed right from the start, and all I wanted was love and support, especially from my dad, but our differences built up so much over the years that we didn’t talk all that much. It was two years ago that he gave me his blessings after a heart-to-heart talk. He’s now proud to say that his son is a barber, and I’m really happy to be able to provide for my family.
Talk us through your barber certification process in Rotterdam.
It was at The Old School Barber Academy where I trained with the master barbers of Schorem, who are still a big hit in the industry today. My partner and I were the first Asians to enroll into the course and we went there with the intention to learn from barbers who have decades of experience. It was during this time that I learnt how to properly manage the guys working for me and also how to be a proper boss.
Before opening your barbershop, you started cutting hair under a HDB block. What was the experience like?
It was actually outside of my ex girlfriend’s place – her flat was on the ground floor – where I set up my makeshift store. I was still in National Service at that time so I only charged $10 for a cut, but it was really a story of humble beginnings. Along with me, I had a crew of three other guys and everything was from scratch, from our standard of haircuts to our booking system – we actually had 10 to 15 exercise books where we wrote down our clients’ appointment details etc. It was a crazy experience, but I wouldn’t trade that memory for anything else in this world.
Any patrons from your old store who are still coming to you for haircuts today?
Yes! We have around 20 to 30 customers who are still patronising us. And whenever they come, we always talk about the good ol’ times. It’s actually a good thing for me as it helps to keep me grounded and reminds me to not lose sight of what’s important.
Did you ever consider joining another already-established barbershop or did you always have plans to start your own?
I’ve always had plans to start my own barbershop, because sometimes I feel like other people don’t have the same aggression for perfection and progression as I do. I’m a strong believer that everyone has to be aggressive in whatever they do because if you’re aggressive, you will never lose.
What were some of the challenges you faced when you first started your business?
For me, it was more of an emotional struggle as I was only 21 years old when I started the business and I didn’t know how to manage people who were around my age. I was never a team player, so I always thought that I could do everything myself. But when I realised that I couldn’t do it on my own, I had to be more of a leader. Not to mention that everyone on my team came from different backgrounds and has varying levels of understanding when it comes to running a business, so it was a challenge getting everyone on the same page at first.
Negative comments are inevitable when running a business. How does the team deal with it?
Some of them will get really affected, but I never penalise them. In fact, I always blame myself first as I feel like I wasn’t a better teacher. We do have a lot of ARs (after review) where we discuss ways to learn from our mistakes, but at the end of the day, it’s just work – some days are bad, some days are good. I always tell them that you just have to learn from it and move on towards becoming a better barber and a better person.
Moving on, what’s next for you and the company?
My plan is to open a barber academy to help regulate the barber standards in Singapore. However, I’m still relatively new to the industry so I feel that I need at least a couple more years before I’m qualified enough to teach others.
What advice would you like to give those who are looking to start their own business?
Don’t give up, be patient and always be aggressive. Understand your market, your people, and your motives. Most importantly, have a strong belief in whatever you’re doing.
This article was adapted from the September 2017 issue of Teenage.
DeepCuts Barber’s is located at 61 Kampong Bahru Road, Singapore 169368. Visit www.deepcutsbarbers.com to book your appointment today. PS: Do you know someone who has an inspiring story to share? Tell us in the comment section below, or drop us an email at [email protected]!
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