When I caught up with Sofie Pok A.k.A Staygold31 at the International Beauty Show, it was hot off the back of an incredible achievement: being named BarberCon’s “Best Female Barber of the Year.” All the more remarkable is this L.A.-based artist won the coveted prize after just seven years working exclusively with men’s hair.
Every barber has to fight to make it to the top, but as a minority within the industry, female barbers find an amplified struggle. I’ve met many formidable women barbers, each one unique. Sophie’s tale is a fascinating blend of heart, creativity and hard work. I am delighted to share more about this delightful person, so let’s get to know Sofie!
Barbering: Something that makes you want to wake up in the morning
Sofie started as a hairdresser in Los Angeles but found the field didn’t generate the excitement and creative sparks she was seeking. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard this from both men and women barbers. I wanted to know more about what motivated her jump from one side of the hair styling industry to the other and how she felt about the journey.
“I started doing hair about seven years ago, the first year I got into cosmetology,” she says. “Going through that first year was a little bit tough because I couldn’t find that feeling where you’re just excited to get up every day.”
“So, the second year I thought, ‘ before I give it all up, let me try men’s hair and see how that works.’ I jumped into a barbershop, “she said. Sofie is an incredible presence, an Asian American with magnificent blondish hair and a fantastic scheme of tattoos covering most of her visible skin, many of the inspired by her Cambodian heritage. Despite the power of her look and personality, she says entering a barber shop “was probably one of the most uncomfortable and intimidating moves I’ve done, working by myself as a female, with all guys who had way more experience.”
But Sofie had found her calling, and went for it hard. “Pretty soon it developed into a passion where it was challenging, it was fast-paced, and it made me want to go to work and keep learning. And my main focus was just to do what I could and try to make it work – because it was fun and I enjoyed it.”
Sofie was soon discovering the creativity for which she is becoming so well known, crafting exceptional haircuts. “You have to!” she said. “We are the minority of this entire industry in just the barbering world alone, so we’ve got to cut twice as hard. That helped me separate myself from everyone else”.
While reflecting on her barbering roots with me, Sofie was still expressing amazement at her BarberCon achievement. She says it was a total shock, not least because her only intent in going was to showcase her work. So how did it feel to be told she’d won a huge barbering prize so suddenly?
“I was completely speechless,” she says with a smile. “To be recognized after all these years of knowing how hard it is first of all to be a barber, but then to be a female which made it extremely difficult in the beginning”.
At my prompting, Sofie shared a theory about why she was selected for the honor, telling me what she puts out is very real, never sugar-coated, and she loves connecting with others who are still coming up, offering advice, inspiration and the energy to keep going.
The rise of female barbers
Seeing a woman cutting hair on the barbershop floor used to be rare, but the growth of the industry has gone hand-in-hand with a very welcome rise in diversity, Sofie said.
“Now, I see growth in a lot of States where women are not afraid anymore. They are coming into this world and trying to hold their own. It’s starting to change where people aren’t just saying, “Oh, you’re good for a girl.” No. “You’re good, period.” And that’s what it should be. It shouldn’t be segregated. “You’re OK for a chick.” But those little things that have pushed me to where I am now; you’ve got to find those moments that drive you even further”.
Sofie is finding ways to help people find that drive, including a YouTube channel of how-to videos: “I think it’s important to show people that you’re not just taking shortcuts and making it look nice,” she said. “I represent BaByliss for barbers, and it’s important for me to show that I’m actually using these tools to do things.”
Sofie’s message is that tools connect you to your work…and bring out your creativity. “People want to feel like it’s real and attainable,” she said. “I want to break it down and make it easy because I know what it’s like to just be handed a pair of clippers and not really know the specs or what is out there,” she added. “I break down tool knowledge because it’s important for us to understand why we’re using it so we can do it better.”
Sofie’s Instagram – staygold31- is home to many of these videos and I encourage barbers everywhere to follow her not just for the videos, but for her inspirational posts and background on the BaByliss products she reps. Picking up an ambassador role for an excellent product line is a big dream for many barbers, so I asked how Sofie landed the job:
“A lot of companies are looking for people who can already sell themselves,” she said.” The first four or five years I’ve built my page off of things that I enjoy. You have to find what’s pure to you and that’s how you’re going to build an audience because people want to follow real people.”
She said she was initially skeptical of going into product promotion, but BaByliss tools are a real part of who she is and what she is doing. “I took the risk and I’m so glad I did,” she smiles.
BaByliss has grown in credibility recently, and it’s great to see barbers embrace another set of tools -after all, the more diversity in your clipper collection, the more opportunities for you to provide different styles. For Sofie, this means getting up on stage and showing what these clippers can do, a role she is clearly good at and enjoys.
The final element to Sofie’s work is building her personal brand, with a range of Stay Gold apron pins for barbers. You can check these out on Instagram right now and her new website, coming soon.
She’s also focusing on building her photographer chops. “It came with cutting hair,” she told me. “ I used to use an iPhone, but with higher quality photography you can not only put your work out there better but also study your haircuts a little more, see the details. Overall, you create a better portfolio for yourself, and I think that’s really important as well as your presentation. .”
Sofie stresses a topic in which I believe too many barbers lack awareness: marketing and promotion. “You know you could be a good barber but if you don’t have good presentation, how are you going to get clientele, build business opportunities?” she asks. “People will notice the little details, it separates you, because of the quality that you invest in yourself”.
Reflecting on the industry
Before I let Sofie get back on stage, I wanted one final insight: her take on the state of the industry today. I love getting reaction to this question since everyone has a unique insight. With that in mind, and to embrace the positive spirit of the IBS show, I asked Sofie what she loves about the industry:
“How much men’s hair has grown,” she said enthusiastically. “ Because a little while ago men weren’t into their hair as much, but that stigma for men who want to get their eyebrows done, that’s gone. Now men want to look better and feel better. Men are getting their hair cut 3 or 4 times as much as women now, so the industry is coming up to the same point as female hairdressing.”
That should be a motivating message for every barber! Hope you enjoyed getting to know another wonderful up-and-comer like Sofie, who bring so much energy and enthusiasm and have inspiring and practical insights to share. Don’t forget to find her on Instagram as StayGold31.
To get more motivating interviews with the principal industry figures, follow me on Instagram – larrythebarberman- and then head on over to my YouTube channel at barbers.tv.
I’m planning more barber profiles soon. ‘Til then, happy clipping!
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