Chasing his dream one trim at a time

8 Apr 2019

By Joel Chan

Raiyan See does not have a mirror, he makes it a point to engage with his clients to make them feel more comfortable. This helped him to improve his interpersonal skills. PHOTOS: JOEL CHAN

Barber shops are typically known for their swanky interiors and chic ambience. By these standards, See’s “barber shop” pales in comparison.

“It does not even have a mirror,” said the first-year Sports Science and Management student with an embarrassed smile.

See, who lives in Hall 3, has been giving haircuts to his customers at the stairwell in his block since October last year. While he works at a barber shop in Bedok on weekends, he decided to offer his services in university as well.

“I was cutting hair every day at a barber shop called Origin’s Studio before school started. Now, I can only work on weekends,” he said.

“By cutting hair in school, I won’t lose touch with my haircutting skills as I will still be doing it on a regular basis.”

He gets around 20 clients in hall every week; most are his own friends who show their support. Some have gone on to recommend him to more people, said See.

His clients are not just from NTU – some travel all the way from the National University of Singapore in Clementi or Singapore Management University in Dhoby Ghaut.

The “barber shop”

See’s “barber shop” is cramp and humid. The lone window does little to ventilate the stairwell and the main door blocks wind from entering.

He spent about $300 on his hairdressing equipment, from his clippers to the cape, and says he will spend more to improve his “barber shop” in the future.

“I am going to get a door stopper, a mirror, a fan and a proper chair,” he vowed. “Customers will find it more comfortable and it will be much easier for me to cut their hair.”

Improving as a barber

While conditions at his “barber shop” may not be the most ideal, See believes that it is the best option available.

“I like to cut hair in peace. It is quiet here, there’s not much human traffic,” said See. “I also think it will be very awkward for both the client and I when people walk past because cutting hair in hall is not something you see every day.”

See also noted that his interpersonal skills – a trait he thinks all good barbers should have – has improved from this experience.

“It is important to keep my clients engaged because there isn’t a mirror. If I don’t entertain them, they will be staring into blank space or the railings for the entire duration of the haircut which is so weird.

“As a barber, every haircut is an opportunity to build a relationship with the client. They cannot think of me as just a barber because I want to be their friend. This helps to build loyalty and trust so that they will return,” he said.

See also learnt to be more efficient as he has to juggle school work and this side job.

“We are all students swarmed with school committments. I had to work on my speed without compromising on quality,” he said.

“I also try to squeeze in as many sessions as possible since most of my customers are my friends and I hate to turn them down when they approach me for a trim.”

With a dream to open his own shop someday, the budding barber sees this as the “perfect opportunity” to build up his customer base. He believes that these loyal customers in hall will be the foundation of his future success.

“Most people find it strange when I say that university is helping me to fulfill my dream of opening my own barber shop. They will think, quite naturally, that I should be spending time in a barber shop instead.”

See explained that barber shops mostly attract millennials because more sophisticated hairstyles, like the pompadour or side part, are in trend and university is where he can find the most number of millennials with decent spending power, he said.

“I won’t be able to open my own barber shop anytime soon, but when I do, I hope all these customers will move with me to my new shop,” he said.

As the majority of his clients have never been to a barber shop before, See puts extra pressure on himself to give his clients the “best haircut experience they will ever have”.

“Hair is sacred. Most people go to the same place to cut their hair because it has been tried and tested. So for them to trust me to look after their hair is big.

“I make it a point to explain what I am doing, or why the sessions take so long, for them to appreciate and enjoy the process. I must give them a reason to come back,” he said.

Apart from building a customer base, cutting hair in school is also a productive way to spend his free time in school and to relieve stress.

“It is fun and something I am passionate about. So while others watch Netflix or play phone games during their breaks, I cut hair to destress.”

See, 22, prepares to cut his client’s hair in his block’s stairwell. His “barber shop” only consists of the chair from his room.

As See does not have a shelf to store his equipment, he lays them out on the stairwell’s window. This means his equipment is easily accessible, and he can change equipment quickly during the cut. Top row: Clipper comb, scissor comb, scissors, blade and a straight razor. Bottom row: Brush, clipper guards and clipper.

See’s client with the finished skin fade, a classic haircut made famous in the 90s by Will Smith in The Fresh 5 Prince of Bel-Air.

See point cuts his client’s hair to add texture and give it a natural look. Instead of cutting the hair straight across, he cuts it in uneven lengths.