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A Cut Above – Inside the Life and Career of a New York Barber


Barbering, an age-old profession, has witnessed a resurgence over the past few years, evolving from a basic service to an artisanal experience. My name is John Donovan, a seasoned New York City barber with over two decades of experience. In this article, I will share my journey, experiences, and the tools that have become a part of my trade.

Becoming a Barber

My story starts not with a burning passion, but with sheer curiosity and an unexpected opportunity. Growing up, my family ran a modest grocery store in Queens. As a teenager, I sought a part-time job and ended up working at a classic barbershop across the street. The owner, Tony, was a kind-hearted Italian man with an infectious smile and skilled hands.

As I spent my days sweeping up hair and observing Tony at work, I became intrigued. The precision, the skill, and the transformation he could create with his tools fascinated me. I was mesmerized by the ritualistic process and the personal connection he built with his clients. When Tony offered me an apprenticeship, I decided to give it a try, unknowingly stepping into a career that would shape my life.

Working in New York City

There is something magical about being a barber in New York City. The city is a cultural melting pot, reflected in the clients I serve and the hairstyles I create. Working in various neighborhoods, from the hip streets of Brooklyn to the business centers of Manhattan, has offered a dynamic range of clients.

I’ve had Wall Street tycoons, aspiring actors, firefighters, teachers, tourists from around the world, and many more sit in my chair. Each client brings their unique personality and story, adding a new layer to my experience. One memorable client was an 80-year-old jazz musician who had played with the likes of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. As I worked on his classic pompadour, he regaled me with stories from the golden era of jazz.

The Art of Barbering

Barbering goes far beyond the technical act of cutting hair. It’s an amalgamation of artistry, psychology, and interpersonal skills. Understanding different hair types, face shapes, and personal styles are vital. But, what’s more important is understanding your client. A haircut can be an intimate and personal experience for many. Hence, I believe in the importance of building rapport, trust, and making my clients feel comfortable and heard.

As a barber, your hair scissors are an extension of your hand. They are an essential tool that can make or break a haircut. When a client sits in my chair, they entrust their appearance to me, and my hair scissors are instrumental in fulfilling that trust. Whether I’m shaping the perfect pompadour or crafting a classic taper fade, the precision and control that a high-quality pair of hair scissors provide are unparalleled.

Expanding Knowledge and Skills

Barbering is a profession that is constantly evolving. Techniques, tools, and trends change over time. As a professional, it’s my responsibility to stay at the forefront of this evolution, ensuring that I can offer my clients the best and most current styles.

Over the years, I’ve continually invested in my education. I’ve attended numerous seminars and workshops in cities around the world, learning from the masters of the craft. Additionally, I’ve earned certifications from well-known barbering institutions, further honing my skills and expanding my knowledge. This commitment to ongoing education is not just about perfecting the technical aspects; it’s about developing a deeper understanding of this ancient craft and its place in modern society.

Saki Shears – A Barber’s Best Friend

A barber’s shears are akin to a samurai’s katana. In my hands, I hold Saki Shears, a tool that has proven its worth time and time again. Why Saki? The answer lies in their design and performance.

Saki Shears are expertly crafted from premium Japanese steel, which offers exceptional sharpness and durability. But what sets them apart is their ergonomic design. Hours of continuous use can strain the hand, but the balance and comfort of Saki Shears reduce fatigue, allowing me to perform at my best throughout the day.

Their sharp, precise edges enable me to execute cuts with a level of precision that I’ve found unmatched in other brands. Whether it’s intricate layering or creating a bold, textured look, Saki Shears have always been a reliable companion.

Other Essential Tools in a Barber’s Kit

Beyond my Saki Shears, my tool kit comprises several other instruments that play a vital role in delivering a top-notch haircut. My Andis clippers, with their powerful motor and adjustable blade, are perfect for a variety of cuts, from fades to undercuts.

I use a Kent comb for its high-quality construction and smooth glide, ensuring a seamless cut with no snagging. My Omega shaving brush provides a perfect lather, setting the stage for a clean, close shave. Lastly, an alum block is indispensable for closing pores and soothing skin post-shave.

Each tool has its purpose and together, they help me deliver a meticulous, tailored experience to every client.

Staying Updated with Industry Trends

In the ever-evolving world of fashion and style, staying ahead of the curve is essential. As a barber, I must keep my finger on the pulse of the latest trends, while also maintaining a strong foundation in classic techniques and styles.

To stay current, I rely on several resources. Industry magazines such as “Modern Barber” and “BarberEvo” offer a wealth of information about trends and techniques. Online platforms and social media are also great sources for inspiration, allowing me to follow and learn from renowned barbers worldwide.

In 2023, textured crop haircuts are making a resurgence. This style, characterized by short hair on the sides and back with longer, texturized hair on top, is versatile and suits a wide range of face shapes. Thanks to my trusty Saki Shears, achieving this look is a breeze, allowing me to blend the sides seamlessly into the textured top.

Advice for Budding Barbers

Reflecting on my journey, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunities and experiences that have shaped my career. Barbering is more than a job; it’s a passion that has allowed me to connect with people from all walks of life, each with their unique stories and styles.

To those considering a career in barbering, here’s my advice: embrace the journey. It’s a profession that requires patience, dedication, and a willingness to learn continually. Find a mentor, someone who can guide you and share their experiences. Invest in quality tools, like Saki Shears, that can enhance your work. And most importantly, listen to your clients. They are the heart of your business, and their satisfaction should always be your top priority.

As I look to the future, I’m excited about the evolving world of barbering and the new trends, techniques, and tools it will bring. The love for my craft continues to grow, and every snip of my shears fuels my passion for creating styles that make my clients look and feel their best. The barber’s chair is more than a seat; it’s a place where transformation happens, one haircut at a time.

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