More than just a shop

CHOP" Levon Maeder, left, and Criss Hathaway, doing the hair of Ben Scott, are business partners operating Hello My Name is Barber.
CHOP" Levon Maeder, left, and Criss Hathaway, doing the hair of Ben Scott, are business partners operating Hello My Name is Barber.

Historically, barbershops have been places of social interaction, debate and public discourse.

And, while fashions for male grooming and an influx of men to the city have boosted business, owners say their premises are more than just a shop.

At Hello My Name Is Barber, Criss Hathaway cuts hair like he tells stories: rapidly and with enormous enthusiasm, wild from a distance, but up close each clipper movement and narrative twist is fairly precise.

"There's always a story at the barbershop," Hathaway says, concluding a yarn about how he lassoed the stag on the wall with number 8 wire and electrocuted it through an electric fence.

"It might be the real one, might be the made up one. But you'll get the best story I've got." He pauses, reflects.

"But we'll tell you the truth about your hair, that's for damn sure."

In a city that's lost many communal gathering points, shared space for a yarn remains a valuable commodity, and Hello Barber is a hub for its Sydenham corner.

Hathaway and co-owner Levon Maeder are locals - Maeder has lived in this neighbourhood his whole life.

"Locals just come hang out, have a chat. It's a destination for the community," he says.

"Everyone's welcome. Whether they're a scummy former gang member or a multi-millionaire bloody business owner."

"You get people here in suits, talking to the guy who's picking up butts out of the gutter. They have a conversation, they realise they have something in common."

Hathaway has cut hair for 16 years and his reputation makes the shop a destination for a cross-section of the city.

Like many small businesses, they survive through hard work, long hours and fiercely cultivating customer loyalty. Almost a third of hairdressers are sole traders, and 66 per cent employ fewer than five workers.

At the beginning, both Maeder and Hathaway worked 12-hour days, seven days a week.

"It was brutal. But it was worth it," Maeder says.

They now employ three fulltimers and two trainees, and say the barbershop is taking off.

With salons prioritising expensive women's cuts, the men's market has been neglected, Hathaway says.

There's also plenty of economic motivation to start a barbershop. Chris Terry of New City Barbers says the influx of rebuild workers means business is booming.

Hair is big money in New Zealand, turning over $600 millionevery year - but men make up just 8.5 per cent of hairdressing students.

"There's definitely a resurgence of barbers, but I think there will be even more, to cater for the sheer volume of guys in the city," Terry says. "Men don't feel comfortable in salons. Barbers have always been a safe haven."

His sentences are punctuated by the thud of darts hitting cork at the rear of the shop.

"Let's face it, Christchurch is a sausage-fest at the moment. You may as well make a buck off it."

My Father's Barber founder Matt Brown started two years ago, cutting from a backyard shed in Aranui. He specialises in hair art - shaving detailed designs onto heads - and started to make a name for himself.

"I went from cutting for boys in the hood, gangsters, drug lords or whatever, to cutting league players, businessmen, lawyers, accountants. They were coming to the shed in Aranui too," he says.

Two years later, Brown has his own shop, and is one of the leading hair artists in the Southern Hemisphere.

But Brown says barbering isn't all about hair.

"I grew up in a violent, abusive family, and I was never taught tools of how to deal with certain issues. Most men, when the s... hits the fan, we turn to our boys, we start drinking. Turn to everything other than talking," he says.

"But when I started cutting, I saw the barbershop was a place where men could come, be themselves, and talk to their barber. We hear stories they've never told their partner of 30 years."

His vision is a space for men to come, talk, and belong.

"You walk into the barber, hopefully you feel the love. Hear us boys mock each other, be honest, real talk. You might even see a guy cry."

The Press