Paul Hewitt and Bradley Cowen of HBAD Barbershop and AONO, UK urban streetwear are the team behind Pop-Up Barbershop, a concept of Barber Life, and I had an opportunity to speak with both of them. A pop-up barbershop is an interesting, but simple, concept: it is like a stall you might see at a convention or fair equipped to provide barbering services. Outside the doors to the London tattoo convention, I managed to pull these two aside for an interview.
While they might look like an unassuming pair, many are aware of how successful the two have been by introducing this concept. They’ve hosted their pop-up barbershops at events ranging from Brighton Tattoo convention, which was their very first pop-up some five years ago, to the AONO x Monster Pop Up Barbershop at last year’s Sonisphere. It is easy to make the assumption that these guys are out to get to millionaire status and have already gotten it.
However, Paul and Brad gave me the truth behind their status as the Pop-Up Shop Kings.
When asked about what the idea behind the pop-up barbershops originally was, Paul responded that he and Brad had been discussing it for six months on social media and that the idea was to take everything that they were doing inside their shops and bring it to the outside world. I asked them if they knew if they were the first to implement the idea of a pop-up barbershop, and the conclusion the two seemed to settle on after some back and forth was, “they believed they were the first in their area: the UK, possibly even in Europe, but they doubted they were the first in the entire world.” “I definitely think we were the first to take on the idea in our markets,” Paul clarifies, “You had some doing similar things but not when it came to the hardcore or punk shows or events that appealed to that culture. Of course, we went out there to reinvigorate our own craft, inspire ourselves and to find people to just sort of hang with – we wanted to capture people’s imaginations.”
From their start at the aforementioned Brighton Tattoo convention, Paul reminisced about how that first pop-up lead to having AONO X VANS Pop-Up Barbershop stationed at Citadium, Paris for the entire month of September, three years ago. Brad tells me that they were looking to find a way to reinvigorate and inspire themselves outside of the shop, to find a whole new vibe, and that would come to eventually incorporate other barbers. “From an advertising standpoint, the way we saw it was that the pop-up barbershop was the way to get us out there without risking people bypassing it. You can put out ads in magazines, on television – whatever, but there’s always that risk that they’ll thumb right past it or change the channel. If we’re out there, that’s a way to talk to them directly and get our message out there.”
“People see you at events like these and think you must be raking it in,” Paul added, “but, at first, we were totally naïve about what we were doing.” In fact, both agreed that each event is something of a huge financial gamble. “People are always astounded,” Paul told me, “but when we got started, we were honestly quite naïve. These things cost thousands of dollars each, we never knew what we were getting into.”
He pauses and smiles a bit, “It’s always a gamble.” He and Brad go on to talk about an event at the Brighton seafront that they had a few years prior. “We had done it the year before,” Paul shrugs, “and we got a lot back from it. But this next year the seafront gets hit by one of the worst storms in years! That’s one of the things that is always a gamble about investing in outdoor events – you’re at the mercy of the weather, and if you try to turn to the organizer and ask for your money back because of some rain…well, it’s just not going to happen.”
“I prefer not to live in regret,” Paul concluded on the experience. “We went out there to just do what we were wanting to do, and maybe even bring on like-minded individuals…People see us out there now and we try to make it clear that this isn’t a marketing plot. We go out there and say “we are the same as you, and we care a great deal about it”. So, yeah, despite the huge financial risk involved with each event, you sort of have to look at a loss and say f*ck it, at least I learned something for next time and I had fun.”
“Business is all about relationships,” Paul added. “At every event we booked, we still had to pitch our idea every time and build up relationships with the people who attended, the folks who organized it. Those relationships are priceless and have been one of the things we’ve discovered have grown the more events that we host.” The phrase “business isn’t about what you do, but you know” does reflect nicely here, doesn’t it? Of course, had these two not known what they were doing, their events wouldn’t have proven nearly as popular as they have been. And who do they know? Even from the first convention in Brighton, Paul and Brad have had the chance to work with such incredible names in the barbering community as: Julius Caser, Shane Nesbitt, Brain Burt, Razor Sharp Chief, Dane Hesse, David Thomas, Frank Rimmer, Colin Petrie and SB Barbers, and that is only naming a few.
When thinking back on the events that stood out to him, Brad adds, “There were two that stand out to me -The first event that we ever did at the Brighton Tattoo Convention will always be one of the most memorable because it was the very first one. We had the tiniest little booth – Paul and I hadn’t even met in the flesh until the night before and nothing like this had ever been done at a convention before. So, there was a possibility for disaster, and we got and had the most fantastic weekend.” He laughs. “That was the start of it all, there was no expectation of what was to come. We were there because we wanted to work together and showcase the kind of work that we do in the way we do it. I will never forget that one – it changed everything.”
The moment that they first actually got paid to fly in and host one of their events, Brad tells me, was unreal. “It was only eighteen months or so after that first event and suddenly, we’re getting asked if we’d like to fly into this event in Italy on the beaches. We agree, of course, and as we are walking on the beaches of Italy, we just sort of looked to each other and asked “What are we doing here?”. From there, it’s been a crazy adventure,” Brad laughed. “We’ve gotten to travel to so many places,” Paul added.
“We were flown out to work with Vans,” Brad tells me. “That was incredible. That was the beginning of us traveling the world together. I got to meet some of the professional skaters whose careers I had followed for years, and having them come into through the barbershop and see what we do was great. Most of these guys both of us still have them as good friends now-it was just a life, and career changing moment for me.”
“I commuted twice a week, Wednesday and Saturday, to work in Paris – myself and Brad loved every minute,” Paul laughs. “The biggest for me was having the AONO X MONSTER Pop-Up Barbershop city at last year’s Sonisphere.”
He goes on to tell me, “Italy, Spain, Belgium,Germany, Slovenia, LA, and NYC have been just some of the destinations we’ve set up pop-up barbershops …I never thought barbering would have taken me around the world…”
Paul estimates that he will be taking seventy-five flights this year alone; talk about a frequent-flier!
“We have done events for Vans shoes at their Spring Classic competition, which is held in Italy every year,” Brad adds. “At Bright, which is a trade show for the streetwear and skate industry held in Berlin twice a year to coincide with Berlin fashion week, The BeStreet Weekend Urban Festival, which is held in Paris once a year, and also the Groezrock Festival that is held in Belgium every spring – we’ve just been so many crazy, amazing, places!”
These two are setting out to reach people within their own demographics, and openly those people what they can do – they aren’t in it for fame or glory. “Glory has never been that high a priority. If anything, it was more out of desire to give something back to the scene(s) we came from,” Brad notes.
“Last year’s Barberlife Expo just showed me that there’s so many like-minded barbers willing to travel from all across the globe to work side-by-side – no egos, no BS, just barbers who want to cut hair, hang out, learn, teach and soak up the energy over the weekend,” Paul told me, with Brad smiling, “It’s something I will continue to push.” With the events growing, and the amount of famous barbers who have come out to join in their events, it is clear that pushing for that goal has created something wonderful.
The two continue to work on their own goals individually. Paul has taken his AONO brand of urban streetwear to new levels, partnering with companies like Electric and Mishka. As well as opening his new shop. He has AONO poised to delight anyone who takes an interest in the fashion-side of barbering, and has continued to push it as a brand that brings people together. “The interior design was my main focus”, Paul admits on. “I wanted it to represent what I’m all about and display that urban fashion-side of barbering. I wanted it to be an environment that people could talk out on the floors – I’ve had amateur skaters sitting next to professional skaters before, cops sitting next to crime lords; it’s all common ground, and that’s what I wanted to bring to the new shop, that sense of community”.
Brad has also opened a new shop with an interesting twist: Epicly Taper’d. Teaming up with his good friend, Dave Allan, Epicly Taper’d is a traditional barbershop that offers well-done traditional and modern cuts to their clients in a social environment. Brad has also admitted that he is interested in moving into the educational side of barbering and helping teach others techniques for barbering and business alike. It goes without saying that these two are going to both continue to push for success, as a team, and as individuals.
When it comes down to it, Paul and Brad represent the spirit what the barbering community is all about, and one that I am proud to be a part of. Their recollection of their journeys and adventures, with the ultimate conclusion that they did it for glory and out of love for the barber life, served as a reminder of my own journey to where I am now.
Traveling the world to learn about hair clippers would be what gave me the drive and idea to develop the Frequency60hz so that fellow barbers and clipper enthusiasts could enjoy the quality of American hair clippers without having to suffer through reduced performance or loud complaining from the clipper itself.
Like Paul and Brad, I am excited to see where else the adventures and desire to hear the stories of barbers from all over the world. That’s part of what being the Barber Man is all about – living the barber life!
My sincerest thanks go out to Paul and Brad for telling me their incredible story and for reminding me what the barber life really means.
For more information about their organizations and events, check out their Instagrams here: @aonoxxx and @hbad.
For any questions, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I also invite you to follow me on Instagram @larrythebarberman.
USEFUL BARBER LINKS
Barber’s Resource: https://www.instagram.com/barbarvoo/
Barber Videos: http://www.barbers.tv
http://www.larrythebarberman.com ( My Online Store )
Barber Blogs: http://www.frequency60hz.com/blog
Hair Clipper Converters: http://www.frequency60hz.com