Haircuts for ‘bros’ at hipster barbershops

A barber at Othrs giving his client a pompadour haircut. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
A barber at Othrs giving his client a pompadour haircut. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

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KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 10 — Fancy a pompadour or a side-part hairstyle? Visit any hipster barbershop in your neighbourhood and come out looking dapper.

The introduction of these trendy hair establishments, which specialises in giving men the most contemporary hairstyles, has carved a new direction in the evolution of barbershops.

These outlets are fast mushrooming and gaining rapid popularity among young professionals who grew up in the 80s and 90s.

Unlike traditional Indian barbershops where an appointment is unnecessary and a haircut would take no longer than 20 minutes, these new barbershops require up to an hour or so for a haircut and appointment bookings are a must.

Othrs founder Low sticks to his motto — ‘Stay True’. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Othrs founder Low sticks to his motto — ‘Stay True’. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

Without making a prior booking, Othrs founder and chief barber Lex Low said clients would have to wait or would be asked to return another day.

“We rarely have walk-in customers as most of them would call to place their booking a day or two earlier to avoid delays and disappointments,” he told Malay Mail Online.

According to Low, a haircut at his place in Subang Jaya costs between RM30 and RM40, and at least 10 minutes will be spent on speaking to the clients to know his styling preference.

The price, he said, was based on the level of seniority of barbers and the type of desired hairstyle.

“We consider each haircut a craft as we spend a lot of time emphasising on details and listening carefully to what our clients want.

“We don’t rush in on our work and we stay close to our motto, ‘stay true’, which is to be loyal and dedicated in what we do,” he added.

A barber at Othrs giving his client a pompadour haircut. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
A barber at Othrs giving his client a pompadour haircut. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

The difference between a hipster barber and a hair salon, Low said, was that the former used blades and shape beards.

“To shape a side parting, we need to use razor blades, whereas at salons, they only use machines and scissors,” he added.

In Shah Alam, Slick barbershop co-founder Shazwan Nawawi reiterated that focusing on details of a haircut was paramount in getting the best haircut desired by his clients.

“Hence, our clients do not mind paying slightly more than your traditional Indian barbers because not only do we give you the best and latest type of haircut, you will also have the ‘bro-ish’ feel when you step into these kind of barbershops,” he said.

Both outlets that Malay Mail Online visited recently depicted a contemporary setting, but also felt like a cowboy saloon.

These barbershops have a clientele of diverse demographics, while the barbers are mostly young Chinese and Malay adults.

A check also revealed that these hipster barbershops refrained from using chemicals like hair colouring to give a true old-fashioned haircut experience.

Slick co-founder Shazwan started up the business with only three barber chairs. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Slick co-founder Shazwan started up the business with only three barber chairs. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

According to Shazwan, customers who come to his place are young adults, aged between 20 and 40.

This group of people, he said, initially frequented Indian barbershops but chose hipster barbers as their choice of preference after knowing more about men’s grooming.

“Indian or ‘mamak’ barbers are not dying actually — their customers are children, teenagers and the elderly people above 50 years old.

“My guess is that they choose Indian barbershops because they are cheaper and these people prefer not to wait long for a haircut,” he said.

While the main core of a hipster barbershop derives from haircuts and shaves, these one-stop grooming centres for men also sell hair products, which among others include hair pomades and beard oils.

Othrs’ own pomade brand retails at RM35. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Othrs’ own pomade brand retails at RM35. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

Pomade comes in oil or water-based substance, which gives the hair a shiny and slick appearance.

Its primary ingredients are beeswax, coconut oil and essential oils. It is famously used to form the pompadour hairstyle.

The price for pomade ranges between RM20 and RM80 for local and imported products.

“We use pomades to shape hairstyles such as the pompadour and pompadour side-parting and such products are becoming a hit because it contains nothing detrimental to the scalp,” Low said.

At Othrs, Low sells his in-house pomade, which he brews with the help of a chemist cum partner of his establishment.

While it would seem logical to concur that these hipster barbers face stiff competition with one another, both Low and Shazwan, however, disagreed with having to “fight for survival”.

“Yes, there is competition but we do not fight for clients and try to market ourselves as better than the rest. In fact, we are all friends,” Shazwan said.

Low, meanwhile, said he would point his clients to another outlet just a couple of blocks from his place in Subang Business Centre if they were in a rush.

“And vice versa...the other barbershop would do the same if they have a lot of clients because barbershops is about brotherhood,” he said.

As for Oven Cuttery founder and Mentega pomade brewer Kevin Cottie Tan, such barbershops have become an unspoken gentlemen’s club.

And while there is no direct placement to segregate these type of barbershops, Tan said there were about three types of outlets ranging from the elite, middle and affordable.

Two barbers paying close attention in what they do best at Slick Barbershop. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Two barbers paying close attention in what they do best at Slick Barbershop. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

The elite ones, he said, would charge about RM120 per haircut, the mid -range would be between RM35 and RM70, and anything below RM40 for a haircut and shave falls into the affordable category.

“There are some who charge up to RM120 [per haircut], but these are the elite ones where they offer you alcoholic beverages and the barbers are dressed in suits,” he said.

Tan said he considered his outlet in Damansara Utama as in between the average and elite range.

At the Oven Cuttery, a package comprising of a haircut, razor shave with hot towel service would totalled up to RM58.

In terms of the start-up cost of a hipster barbershop, Low said it would require between RM40,000 and RM60,000, depending on the number of salon chairs, barbers, and type of premise.

“Our monthly operating cost is between RM15,000 and RM20,000 since I have nine barbers and we occupy a whole floor of this shop lot,” he said.

Men’s products available at Slick Barbershop. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Men’s products available at Slick Barbershop. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

This, according to Low, was a stark difference from setting up an Indian barbershop, which he said would cost not more than RM10,000 for its initial start-up cost.

As for Shazwan, his paid up capital for Slick was RM30,000 and it was shared among threepartners.

“We only had three barber chairs and we slowly upgraded to seven chairs today,” he said.

Shazwan said he had on average between 30 to 50 clients.

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