With all the changes to the world over the last twelve months, that 2016 was the first year men's hair was searched for online more than women's hair has probably went unnoticed. Yet there's no doubt that barbering is a trend that has grown over the last number of years, and last week South West College welcomed two of the leading figures on the Irish barbering scene, Ryan Cullen and Conor Taaffe, who gave us a few insights as to why.
Ryan and Conor came to South West College Omagh as part of the Great British Barber Bash, and throughout the event, which involved live demonstrations and hands on workshops, the pair talked through various hairdressing techniques and shared some advice on what they consider the key elements of barbering, including everything from the trickiest techniques to perfect, to basic efficiency when it comes to running a shop or salon.
It’s become cool to be a barber. Young men want to be a barber, because they see Ryan doing shows and working for Liverpool footballers.
Conor explained the rise of barbering over the last few years. He said, ‘barbering as a whole has become a real subculture in the last number of years. It’s become cool to be a barber. Young men want to be a barber, because they see Ryan doing shows and working for Liverpool footballers. Although it has to be said that the shows are the reward of the hard work.’
For Ryan and Conor, the hard work started at a young age. Ryan describes himself at University, where he admits ‘I was always sitting there thinking “I’m doing the wrong thing”. I decided to leave. I left two years in and got straight into hairdressing, and from that day I can remember the feeling of “I am doing the right thing, I am doing something I love doing”.
Similarly, Conor's parents encouraged him to go down the university route, but he resisted the idea and instead followed his own ambitions. He explains, ‘I said no, I’m going to give it (hairdressing) a go. I invested in some good equipment, and started doing more of my friend’s hair and stuff. I was a client of Ryan’s at the time and he seen me grow and recognised my passion for it, and when he opened up his own shop he was kind enough to offer me a job straight away. I’ll be forever grateful for that opportunity.’
It’s like anything in life, you’ll find that if you want to improve and learn new things you have to be prepared to go outside your comfort zone.
The changes in Barbering of late have come in several ways, with more men looking for trendier haircuts and a greater expectation when it comes to things such as customer service. In this environment Ryan says you have to be willing to push your boundaries and even be prepared to work under pressure and embrace the idea of trial and error. He says, ‘a client once came in and asked me to do a star design as part of his haircut. I’d never done one before, but I couldn’t wait to try it. I said I’d do it, and when he left I was really proud of the job I’d done. It’s like anything in life, you’ll find that if you want to improve and learn new things you have to be prepared to go outside your comfort zone.’
Trying new things can lead to what Ryan calls ‘Instagram haircuts’. He says, ‘these aren’t your normal, standard haircuts which make up sixty percent of my working day. There are the Instagram cuts which are a bit more stylish and where I’ll ask the man afterwards if I can take a picture, and then put it up online that night.’
The advantage of this can be huge, and much of the publicity of modern barbering is down to social media. Conor explains how it has been a brilliant tool for him, and as a free form of advertising has given him most of his big opportunities. Ryan agrees. ‘I was working in a small shop down an alleyway, so without being on show I was depending on word of mouth and general customer reviews. Social media helps spread your name and promote the business.’ He added, ‘I’ll never forget the first time someone drove two hours to get a haircut in my shop. He took out his phone, showed me a picture from my Facebook page and said “can you do that?” I recognised he had a different accent and asked if he was down visiting family, and he said no, he was just here so I could cut his hair.
When these customers come in Ryan says good customer service is vital. 'Make it an experience. It’s nice to have a chat and a bit of craic to help form a relationship with them and build trust. If you can tell a gentleman a simple tip on how to style his hair, they’ll think you’ve opened up a whole new universe, and as a professional it’s your job to give them that insight.’
Both these young barbers have achieved success, and it's clear that it comes from a passion for what they do. Addressing the audience in Omagh, Ryan says, ‘one of the reasons we’re all in this industry is because we’re into fashion, into art and creativity, so push your boundaries and see what you can do.’ The Great British Barber Bash has helped this. Ryan says, ‘the Barber Bash is doing great work for barbers. It's providing a platform for us, and you gain connections everywhere. Some of the best barbers I’ve seen are involved with it.’
As for trends in style, Ryan says this is harder to predict. ‘People always ask us what’s going to be the big trends this year, but it’s probably impossible to say. Anyway, whatever becomes a trend over here, will be different elsewhere. Whatever we do in Ireland and the UK, will be different to America, Germany or Australia. Either way, it's an exciting time to be involved.'