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Ever wanted to see barbershops in action from around the world? Haircut Harry is the barbering world’s version of Anthony Bourdain, an experienced traveler showcasing global grooming traditions on his eponymous YouTube channel. We spoke to Harry to learn about his creative journey, some of his more memorable adventures in barbering (including the one that made him most nervous), and just how close of a shave Japanese metal can give. Get all this and more in our interview!
We understand you started traveling as a teenager and it’s been a passion ever since. What inspired you to travel?
I was always interested in the unknown beyond the limitations of where I grew up. This early curiosity was nurtured over many years as I watched TV shows about travel, people and places around the world. Naturally, by the time I got a passport, I was really eager to use it. I wanted to see firsthand what was out there in the world.
Obviously while traveling the world, a haircut and shave becomes a necessity eventually. Do you recall where your first barbering visit was while traveling?
It was during a trip I took when I traveled through Africa for a few months. This was in the nineties when grunge style was popular. I had grown my hair long all the way down to my shoulders. I decided to visit a local barber in Tunisia to get all my long hair cut off.
The shop was tucked away on a side street not too far from Souk El Blaghgia in Tunis. It was a relatively small shop with about two chairs tucked into the tight space. It was late afternoon and the warm sun was coming though the open door and windows casting yellow and orange shades across the inside of the shop. The barbers made it a very warm and friendly place to be.
Not only did I get a great haircut, but I also learned about the city and people from the barbers. Got some good tips on where and what to eat like a local as well!
When you started your YouTube channel in 2012, why did you decide to focus on grooming videos in particular? What has surprised you most about viewers’ reactions to your videos?
While traveling I was trying to escape the tourist traps. So I found the experiences within the barbershops to be genuine interactions with the local community. It was a place I wasn’t seen solely as a tourist. Barbers treated me the same as everyone else in the barbershop, and it was inside the shops where I learned so much about the communities I was visiting.
The first barbershop experience I filmed was a small barbershop in India back in 1999, but it was not until YouTube launched that I was able to share this video with a wider audience in 2006. For several years I had just this one Indian barbershop video on the channel.
In 2012 I rebranded the YouTube Channel as Haircut Harry and focused on filming in barbershops as I wanted to share more of these interesting and unique experiences from around the world.
Our viewers are great and really get into the videos by remembering pieces of the barbers conversations and commenting on the many details they see in the shops we visit. One thing we really appreciate is when viewers visit the barbershops then share updates and photos from their visit.
You’ve had haircuts and shaves all over the world. Where is your most memorable one and why is it so memorable?
My haircut and shave experiences have all been memorable for different reasons. One of my more recent memorable experiences is my visit to the historic Seongu Barbershop in Seoul, South Korea.
Mr. Lee, the owner and barber, is in his early 70s and is a third-generation barber. He was born in the family home where his grandfather opened the barbershop in 1927.
When we visited Seongu in 2019, nothing much had changed with the barbershop except for a storm that once tore off the thatched roof. Mr. Lee began cutting hair in the 1960s. He worked with his dad all the way up until the 1970s when his dad decided to retire.
Mr. Lee is a little over 5’ tall so uses a rickety wooden footstool to stand on while working on his customers. He still lathers up his shaving soap on the side of a hot water pot heated on a charcoal stove and uses potato starch in the hair as a visual aid. In the past, barbers used powders that contained asbestos so Mr. Lee switched to potato starch as it is not harmful. He uses watering cans to wash your hair and does a vinegar rinse.
Not too long after we filmed, a very bad storm damaged his barbershop. Therefore, the shop had to be remodeled and it looks very different now. We’re happy we had the opportunity to visit the old shop and film with Mr. Lee.
What are you looking for when choosing a barbershop to visit and film during your travels? Do you choose it ahead of time, or is it sometimes a “I need a haircut/shave now” decision?
I’m always looking for the shops full of history, stories, and collections built up over time. Many are like little museums and typically owned by an equally interesting barber.
We often research and choose shops ahead of time. However, many of the old school shops are harder to find therefore, we rely on local knowledge and searching on location.
Since so many of the old traditional shops are disappearing fast, I have a particular interest in capturing as many of these old school shops as possible. We have already filmed at a few shops that are sadly no longer with us. So our videos have become a documentation of what these shops and barbers were like.
Let’s talk about barbering tools. While you’re the client and not a barber yourself, you must have had a wide variety of tools used on you. What has been the closest/cleanest shave you’ve received?
I feel very fortunate to have had many awesome shaves around the world! Some of the closest shaves have been in India, Korea and Japan as well as North America.
Was there a particular barbershop experience that had you a little nervous?
During my first Indian barbershop experience in 1999, I didn’t know what to expect or what was going to happen. At one point, the barber whips out this pink cream and lathers up my face. Then proceeds to pull out an electric buffer that I had only ever seen used before to polish cars. He starts buffing my forehead working his way down my face and across my nose where the end of the buffer drops off! The barber caught it but for a second there, I had this vision of being filmed getting my nose pierced by the rapidly spinning metal end of the buffer. The whole experience turned out to be very memorable, and this barber will always have a special place in our hearts since we filmed our original video with him!
Have you ever had a razor haircut in a barbershop? If so, what did you like/not like about it?
I’ve had a few razor haircuts. One of the things I liked is how it helped remove some of the bulk from my thick hair.
Let’s talk about Japan specifically. Feather is a world class Japanese manufacturer of high-performance styling and shaving products whose humble beginnings started in Seki, Japan, a well-known area for samurai sword making. You’ve had quite a few experiences in Japan. Do you have any special memories of visiting Japan and the shaves you received there? Did you notice any difference in the razors the barbers used?
We visited Japan for the first time in 2019 and loved it there! While in Tokyo I was able to experience a wet shave with fifth-generation barber and owner of Kitadoko Barbershop, Ms. Chiyo Funakoshi. The shop has a rich history and was originally opened in 1871. On display inside the shop are many family artifacts from the shops past including photos and old barbering tools.
Ms. Chiyo used a rare Yasaka razor for the shave. It was the first time I’d seen one like this before!
You have some familiarity with the Feather brand. Do you have any specific thoughts on Feather products based on your experiences?
It goes without saying the Coronavirus pandemic changed everyone’s travel lives over the last year. How did you adjust the content on your channel?
Our video production greatly slowed down since we had to cancel and postpone the majority of our 2020 travel plans due to the pandemic. Thankfully, we had a series of videos we filmed in 2019 during our travels in Asia. So while staying at home, there was plenty of video editing to do! We released these videos on our YouTube channel in 2020.
Here in the United States, barbershops and hair salons were forced to close for a good portion of 2020 due to Covid-19. As such a strong supporter of the industry, do you have any words of encouragement to the barbers and stylists?
Hang in there and take it one day at a time! Covid-19 has been a major upheaval for all of us around the world. Often during very difficult situations, new opportunities present themselves and it’s a time for personal growth.
Now is a good time to evaluate your goals and how to get there. Learn from your experiences during this pandemic, and plan for the future.
Are there any countries and/or cities still on your bucket list to visit?
I would love to travel to every country! I haven’t traveled to Central Asia yet so would love to visit one of these days!
JATAI provides innovative and professional quality beauty implements with world-class customer service and educational support. To offer great products as a master distributor, we seek out and select only manufacturers who demonstrate superior workmanship, the most advanced technology, and respected business core values of reliability, honesty and integrity. Accordingly, JATAI represents three major ‘workhorse’ brands that dominate within their categories. Feather, Seki Edge and Fuji Paper. JATAI Academy brings beauty tools to creative life. It’s the ultimate professional information resource where Education, Artistry and Trends CONNECT for Stylists and Barbers.