In the second part of our stories on Malaysia's new generation of barbers, StarLifestyle talks to Kevin Tan of The Oven Cuttery Barbershop and Ted Lee of Sweeney Ted Barbershop on why they set up shop, their love for barbering and how they make it a good experience for their clients.
A community space
Kevin Tan believes grooming has a lot to do with expression and identity, and hair is a big part of that.
In fact, Tan was known for his pomade concoction, Mentega, before he co-founded his barbershop, The Oven Cuttery, in Petaling Jaya.
“The entire process of cutting hair, using your hands and different tools, seeing how hair reacts to different techniques and watching it all come together is fulfilling and therapeutic.
“Also, it’s the people element involved. Having a person sit in your chair, placing his trust in you and enjoying conversations with them, ” says Tan, who learnt the trade from his mentor, veteran hairstylist Lex Low.
But 29-year-old Tan wanted to create a different haircutting experience for men, starting with a more communal concept.
“When we set up shop, we wanted to make it a place where people can enjoy downtime. Each appointment is about an hour, so that’s quite a bit of time to relax!
“We built this place wanting it to be cozy and comfortable for our customers to hang out, but at the same time clean and minimal so that the working area for the barbers remains tidy and hygienic.”
Running a barbershop isn’t easy and the challenges he faces include rental cost and having to turn down clients due to the limited space.
These days, men are discerning of services and products that cater to their grooming needs.
“Many people in the industry can perform great haircuts, but barbering is also about looking after the client with care and respect.
“Men usually look for things that resonate with who they are and therefore have already made up their minds on what they want, so it’s a matter of whether they can find something that points them in the right direction, ” he says.
A personalised touch
Theodore Lee Thien Tze, 40, owner of Sweeney Ted Barbershop in Petaling Jaya remembers going to the barber when he was a child and the quick haircutting session.
He is on the opposite side of the barber’s chair now, and he spends an hour with his clients.
“Haircuts begin with a consultation, followed by a detailed haircut that ends with teaching clients ways to style their hair, ” says Lee.
“I think my customers choose us because they get a very personal and thorough hair cutting experience.”
Lee offers his customers more than just haircutting. His shop’s minimalist decor is to create a restful space for him and his clients.
“There is a lot of noise in the world and I wanted to create an ambiance that was clean, calm and relaxed, devoid of clutter.”
Men typically get a haircut about once a month, and Lee thinks that they like barbers who listen and get how they want to look. They also want a trusted barber who is consistent.
In recent years, Lee says men have begun to realise that it pays in their personal and professional life to be reasonably well groomed.
Lee loves the process of working with his hands, catching up with clients and making them look and feel good.
“One of the challenges of running a barbershop is finding passionate barber talent that shares similar barbering, customer service ideals and standards. And the biggest challenge is rental cost.”