The Founder of DeepCuts Barber’s opens up about his bittersweet journey towards realising his barbering aspirations in Singapore.
From cutting hair outside a friend’s ground-floor HDB unit to running his own business with his all-men team of talented barbers, Faz Ismail has tasted the bitter seeds of disappointment and the sweet fruits of success.
Here, the 24-year-old Founder of DeepCuts Barber’s shares how he overcame all obstacles to kick-start and grow his company these past three years.
What were you doing before you founded DeepCuts?
I was studying Chemical Engineering at Singapore Polytechnic. At the same time, I was working as a part-time sales associate at Charles & Keith; that was where I developed a love for handling customers and talking to people.
After I graduated in 2012, I had the opportunity to work at Shell, but it wasn’t something that I wanted to do upon completing my National Service (NS). I wanted to do something that revolved around style, fashion and people. For me, that turned out to be barbering.
What motivated you to pick up barbering in the first place?
When I was still undergoing NS about three years ago, I would visit this barber at Far East Plaza to get my regular haircut; it was my monthly routine for about 10 months. As time went by, our relationship grew closer, and I started to develop an interest in barbering.
I just loved the idea of giving someone a good haircut, especially back then when there weren’t that many good barbershops around. When he told me that he was opening his own barbershop in 2013, I knew that it was the perfect opportunity for me to pick up barbering.
I trained under him for about two months. After I was done with my duties for the day, I would leave camp and rush over to his barbershop in Outram to work. I eventually left because we had a falling out; that was when I decided to branch out on my own.
Did your NS experience help you as a barber in any way?
I was with the Singapore Civil Defence Force and worked directly under a Director who dealt with public relations, so helping him in that department was a really good learning experience that’s very relevant to what I do now.
He also taught me the importance of punctuality and taking responsibility for my own actions, and that has helped a lot in running my own business today. We still keep in touch; he’s actually my regular customer now.
How did you kickstart your barbershop business after going solo?
When I first went solo, I marketed myself as Barber Faz and ran my business from a makeshift shop outside a friend’s house. It was on the ground floor of a HDB block in Yishun, and I would set it up in the morning and bring it down before I went home in the evening.
My client base was pretty strong even then, thanks to the support of friends and friends of friends. Some of them expressed their desire to join me in my venture, so I was able to grow a team of four during my five months there. It was a learning process for all of us. I taught them what I knew, and I was able to progress by learning from their mistakes as well.
As time went by, I managed to rent a seat at a barbershop just across the street. I can’t say that it was the perfect setup, but it did become the perfect foundation for us to grow. We were there for a month before securing our own shophouse space on Kampong Bahru Road.
Why did you decide to name your company DeepCuts?
I wanted a name that was easy to remember, unpretentious and spoke for who we are as barbers. I was thinking about how we love chatting with our clients, so I came up with DeepCuts in reference to the deep conversations that we have when we’re cutting their hair.
What were some of the challenges you faced when you moved into your first brick and mortar shop?
Our first brick and mortar space was actually a shophouse attic on Kampong Bahru Road. We went down to see the place after finding it on Commercial Guru and immediately fell in love with it.
Planning where everything should be was a challenge because it wasn’t the most spacious. Over time, we realised that we couldn’t do it ourselves because interior designing is not our area of expertise, so we had to get a contractor and other experts in.
You moved out of the shophouse attic two years later. What prompted that business decision?
The business was growing rapidly and we needed a much bigger space. I also wanted to let go of some bad memories that were lingering around.
People come and go, and unfortunately, some of the more passionate and committed barbers who stood by me for a long time decided to leave. I just thought it was a good time for a fresh start.
Tell us more about the concept behind your current barbershop.
We managed to find a bigger shophouse space further down Kampong Bahru Road. Where the concept behind the interior is concerned, it’s still cosy, laid-back and family-oriented.
We’re still “hidden”; people have to discover us for themselves to know that we’re here. I don’t like the idea of marketing ourselves too much on social media; that feels like hard sell. We want to retain that sense of mystique.
We also have a patio now that comes with an amazing view. We jazzed it up with some plants and furniture from IKEA. Girls usually tag along with their boyfriends, so while they’re waiting for their boyfriends to get their haircuts, they can hang out here to kill time.
How do you remain competitive in this industry?
The guys and I plan to return to Schorem in Holland every year to take up the advanced shaving course. It’s one of the best barbershops in the world; they always have a long queue waiting outside every morning before they’re even open for business.
We went there last year and already got our certification, but I believe that you should never stop learning no matter how good you think you are, so we’ve teamed up with the best in Europe so that we can go back and be the best in Asia.
How would you persuade someone to get a gentleman’s haircut?
The gentleman’s haircut has always been affiliated with style for men, but it only started to become popular in Singapore back in 2013, thanks to media exposure and influences from celebrities like David Beckham or musicians like the Arctic Monkeys.
Right now, more and more Singaporean men are concerned about looking good, and they’re realising that the gentleman’s haircut fits them. It’s classic, timeless and never runs out of style, and I believe that every man should try it at least once in his life.
When a person comes into the store, we sit him down on the barber chair and ask him some basic questions. From there, we can recommend the best gentleman’s haircut that best suits his hair texture, hair length and face shape.
How would you describe yourself as a manager?
As a leader, it’s important for me to never put myself above anyone else. That isn’t to say that the guys here can step over my head. When it comes to work, they have to follow my protocol, although I’ve learnt that to gain respect, you need to give respect.
There are no head barbers here because I want to make everyone on my team leaders too. If this company is a learning platform for them to gain experience before they venture out into their own businesses, why not?
It’s also important for me to build a family here through transparency and constant communication. I value passion, patience and individual character. We’re all misfits here, so I always want them to stay true to themselves while adapting to the work culture.
What advice do you have for those who aspire to follow in your footsteps?
I believe that any entrepreneur should really study the market and do research first. Before you start a business, make sure that it’s actually feasible.
It’s also important to remain humble when you do become successful. Ego kills a man; remember that a business is always about taking care of your clients and the people under your charge first.
Interview by: Arman Shah