It’s official: the beard is over and it’s time to shave.
Gone are hipster, lumberjack-style beards. A cut-throat razor shave, with a short back and sides, is the new trend.
And the barber shop is coming back big time as a result.
Over the past five years employment for barbers has risen by 5.8% and is expected to remain relatively steady through 2017 to reach 66,600 jobs, according to data from Open Universities.
With a bit of help from popular culture, such as the TV show Mad Men, a spike in male-only barbers has also caught the attention of educators.
The traditional route to become a barber in Australia was via the hairdressing industry, requiring an apprenticeship combined with a certificate III in hairdressing through TAFE, paired with work experience at a barber shop.
Now institutions, such as TAFE Sydney, are offering a barber-specific course, designed and tailored just for barbering students.
Barber v Hairdresser
Business Insider spoke to Jane Trewin, assistant director of service industries at Sydney TAFE, who said the course was born from industry demand and people seeking men’s grooming-specific skills.
“In the past barbers have had to go to training school and follow general hairdressing skills, learning things that weren’t relevant to barbering,” she said.
“The training package it didn’t specifically say it had to be ladies or men. So what we did was that we customised the units to suit a barber shop rather than hairdressing salon.
“Face shaving to fading, to pattern work that is all the trend at moment, we do everything that wasn’t in the general course.”
TAFE’s Petersham training facility is a fully functional barber shop, converted from a hairdressing salon.
“We’ve changed anything that was female orientated,” said Trewin,”but even hairdressers want to get in on the skills taught there”.
Trewin estimated that the course has increased 40% since started since 12 months ago, to more than 100 students, and they are currently preparing for another intake.
Even though the course is not yet available nation-wide, the TAFE is working towards making its online resource accessible across Australia.
Trewin said she also hopes that the Industry Skills Councils will soon introduce a nationally accredited barbering course.
“Hopefully in the not too distant future there will be a standalone course but these things don’t happen overnight. There are a lot of steps in process. It could take a good 18 months. But barbers are already very appreciative of education being developed,” she said.
Enrico of Annandale, whos been a barber for more than 45 years, says the industry in Australia has never been more “mixed up”.
“Men who go to the hairdresser shop, they don’t belong there,” he said, “It’s a joke.
“Men go to men’s, ladies go to ladies. It’s a basic thing. And a lot of hairdressers aren’t comfortable trimming beards.”
One of Enrico’s customer’s who has getting a trim while we spoke piped up at this, adding: “The reason I come to the barber is because I’m just about to ask Enrico to trim my eyebrows. When you get to a certain age you don’t want to look like a made professor and hairdressers don’t do that.”
“Yeah, and it’s a spur of the moment thing, you know?,” Enrico continued. “If you’re just walking past and think I need haircut, drop in!
“If I’m free, jump in. First in, first serve, no appointments. Come in and relax. Five, 10 minutes. No worries, enjoy the moment. That’s what it’s about because when do you stop, you know? We’re always in a rush. Enjoy the moment.”
Enrico is a well-known and ebullient character. His traditional method and eccentric shop with its old school posters of Pavarotti and Andre Botticelli, as well as his prized photo collection of Home and Away stars, is a blast from the past.
He’s had his shop in Sydney’s inner west, for about 20 years. He’s been barbering since age 15, when his father taught him the trade in his hometown of Rome, Italy.
Despite fluctuating trends in men’s grooming, Enrico always stuck to traditional styles of barbering: “basic hair treatment, mostly short.
“But it’s got to be very accurate or it doesn’t look good,” he says. “Short back and sides is coming back. That’s why we are coming back too.”
And it’s not just about the cut.
Enrico says the service a barber provides their customer plays a big part the experience too.
“You have to make them feel like somebody, feel special. At the end of the day it’s a therapy.
“I say if you’ve got a problem don’t go and see a doctor, come and see me. Absolutely!”
This extra TLC is a defining aspect of a barber visit, largely untapped by other industries.
From beer and bar snacks to espresso coffee and the morning paper, it’s a defining experience of barber shop visits.
A men’s social club
Barber-turned-equipment supplier Roddy Donegan, who started his business BarberCo in 2012 off the back to the industry boom, says the barber shop is the new men’s social club.
“It’s somewhere to hang out, not just get haircut and leave,” he says.
“It’s a social thing that is happening now. Have latte and chat and hang out for half an hour.
“There’s nothing better than going into a barber shop and getting nice hair cut and talk with a man, have laid back conversation.”
Donegan said his business has grown 50% on last year’s results and is expecting his turnover figures to be even more this year.
“Most businesses incur losses for first three years and we’re definitely on the right track,” he said, adding that he’s “riding the wave” of the increasing number of barbers popping up in Australia.
“Thirty years ago barbering slumped, it was seen as old-fashioned and out of vogue. But now it’s come back in a huge way. It’s the biggest wave of popularity and focus on barbering I’ve seen in the last five years.”
Although he admitted he thinks a significant proportion are hipsters are just following the latest trend.
“Some guys are just wanting to be a barber, young guns on Instagram hashtagging #barberlife. Everyone wants a piece.
“They might have the look: hipster, trendy and tattoos, but that doesn’t mean that they provide a good service.”
Similarly to many of the traditional barbers who have been in the business long enough to recognise the genuine deal from sheep, Donegan agrees that an improved focus on barbering education needs to be made in Australia.
“There’s nothing stopping you waking up in the morning and opening up a barber shop and calling yourself a barber. There needs to be another look at the apprenticeships and courses… to keep the standard high, otherwise it will fall over and go back to a slump,” he said
“It would be great to maintain this wave of enthusiasm.”
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