Leah Hayden Cassidy (find her on Instagram as Hayden_Cassidy) is an Irish barber working out of Berlin. After just three years cutting hair she’s done so much that it’s difficult to know how best to describe her. Suffice to say that her barbershop work has covered everything from fades to shaves to afro cuts, while she’s also claimed victory in barber battles, taken to the stage and appeared in magazines. It was a real pleasure to have her in the interview chair.
The path less travelled
When you first meet Leah, it’s immediately clear that she’s not somebody who would be satisfied resting on her laurels. It’s no surprise that she took a path less travelled into barbering, teaching herself the trade after her original dream – becoming a footballer – fell apart thanks to a bad leg injury:
“I had to rethink basically my whole life. It was hard at the start – I had numerous jobs including being a dance instructor. I also did bar jobs… any job, you name it.” After this, she fell into barbering by accident, when Conor Taaffe decided to let her give it a go and liked what he saw. “He said listen, you can hold the clippers well, as soon as they were in your hand it was comfortable. Did you enjoy it? I did enjoy it, so I decided to take it from there.”
Armed with just a basic set of clippers, Leah started her new career by cutting hair whenever she could find the time. The journey took her to Ryan Cullen’s salon, where she swept the floor whilst watching Ryan and Conor work and falling in love with the industry more by the second. Her initiation came as Conor handed her a first pair of scissors, and she hasn’t looked back:
“I found that same passion and love which I’d found in football and didn’t think I was going to find again. I became addicted to the industry.”
Talking her way to the top
While there’s no doubting Leah’s talent, she also started out with a lot of bravado – blagging her first barbershop role:
“I went in and said I’ve been cutting hair for a while, will you give me a chance. He said ‘I tell you what, come in on New Year’s Eve and you can have a trial.’ Looking back now I don’t even know how I got through it. I was just cutting hair and talking to clients as if I’d been in the industry for 5 years. At the end he just laughed and said ‘it’s obvious you haven’t been doing this a while but I’ll give you a chance and take you on as a junior barber.’”
Despite being back at the beginning in terms of a career, Leah was finally doing something that she lived again. She stayed in her first job for 6 months – and you can still see the early cuts preserved for posterity on her Instagram page. Eventually, she moved on to Demon barbershop, another Dublin barbershop, and a chance to take things to the next level.
There was still plenty of opportunity to learn and grow, though, and Leah started to get itchy feet. This took her to a new challenge in a completely different country, after Miguel invited her to join him at the Nomad Barber in Berlin:
“He’s amazing. He was one of the first barbers I actually followed online. I watched all his videos, and they helped me to learn. I was amazed by him, still to this day he’s a very inspiring barber to me. He contacted me and said he was setting up this shop in Berlin and asked if I was interested. I knew this was the direction that I needed to take with my career – two weeks later I jumped on a plane and started working in the Nomad.
“It took me into a whole other world I remember the first time I sat in the shop, it was my first day. Miguel was in the middle of a shave and I was in awe. It was actually like the blade was attached to his hand. It brought a little fire into me.”
Long term Larry the Barber Man followers will have certainly seen Miguel interviewed here in the past – if you have then you’ll know just how inspiring he can be. After speaking to Leah, though, it’s also no surprise to hear that she eventually started getting itchy for another new challenge:
“I was there a year and I felt like I had done what I set out to do. I wasn’t ready to leave Berlin, but I felt I was just too comfortable in what I was doing. I wanted to get myself out there and learn something else. A client I had who is a barber in England told me that he’d been to the London barber school, and then he’d done a hairdressing course, then worked at a Turkish barbershop for a while, then an Afro barbershop for a while and so on. Then he opened up his own shop. It got into my head, that’s the way to do it: throw yourself in the deep.”
This took her to Ebony and Ivory, a big salon in Berlin specialising in afro hair: “There was such a buzz. If you’ve seen the movie barbershop then you’ll know, it’s a proper community.” Yet again there was a little bit of blagging involved, as Leah bigged up her minimal Afro experience to make sure she could land an incredible learning opportunity.
Taking to the stage
It’s a testament to Leah’s skill and work ethos that she managed to excel in this afro cutting environment without much prior experience – not least because it’s incredibly difficult to cut afro hair if you don’t have the technique. Not content to simply cut well, though, Leah took to the stage of an underground Berlin club to participate in a barber battle. No prize for guessing what happened next:
“I was up there with 3 other barbers. I only knew a handful of people, I was the only female barber there and these were all afro barbers. I could see everyone sort of thinking… who is this? But it was great going into that environment, I just went up there, got on stage and cut this drunk guy’s hair. I had 20 minutes, and I did the haircut. Then it was the crowd that chose the winner – whoever got the most screams won. They left me until last, and I swear I have never heard my name screamed that much!”
But Leah is no stranger to getting up on stage, as she’s also done educational displays and performances at a number of different events:
“My first show was actually at the Great British Barber Bash. Alan Beak was sort of pushing to get me up there, which was great because I didn’t believe much in myself at the time – I’d only been cutting for about a year. It was amazing, but nerve-wracking as well. I think my hands shook for the whole 45 minutes. I am quite used to talking to a crowd, it doesn’t bother me. That show was semi-successful, and I was asked to do more and more – London, Glasgow again, Amsterdam, Ireland. It’s so nice to get on stage and vibe with other barbers”.
Paying it forwards
We’ve talked a lot about Leah’s skills and experience – it’s also important to point out just how friendly and welcoming she is. This comes across in her barbering philosophy, which is all about giving something back:
“Whatever you gain yourself, give it back out. I’m currently in the process of making YouTube tutorials. I’m flying back tomorrow and going to start filming – I just want to create a tutorial that’s a little bit creative. I’m self-taught, so I always say: how I do things, it’s not right and it’s not wrong. It’s just the way I do it.” You’ll be able to find these videos under the name Hayden Cassidy Hair.
So after three very different years in barbering, what has been Leah’s favourite challenge?
“What I’m doing now. Seeing a whole different type of hair and community. It’s just challenged me so much more, taking it to the next level. But in the future, I might try and step back into hairdressing a little more.”
We also talked briefly about the challenges of being a female barber – although Leah prefers to think of herself simply as a barber. “I’ve never used it as an excuse, but there are challenges. I never really noticed it in Ireland or the UK, but in Germany there have been more issues with clients who say things like ‘you don’t have a beard, how are you going to cut mine?’ But that’s fine – get out of my chair and I’ll cut the next person. Basically, a barber is a barber. Don’t put too much attention on it.”
Finally, I wanted to find out which figures have inspired Leah’s barbering journey, and get some words of wisdom for others who might be just starting theirs. Conor Taaffe, Jay Murray, the Beak brothers and Kevin Luchmun are the lucky barbers are all namechecked as big sources of inspiration – an impressive array of barbers who have all brought their own creative spin to the industry.
When it comes to Leah’s own advice, she says: “it’s not all about social media. Take yourself back to the barbershop and realise that your clients are the people that are there for you. Gain as much knowledge as you can. I don’t think you’ll ever know enough in this industry. Keep sharing knowledge the that you’re receiving, and just step back from the bigger picture and focus on you, that chair and your client.”
Wonderful advice from a wonderful barber. Don’t forget to follow me on YouTube if you want to see more – and, as always, I’m on Instagram and Facebook as Larry the Barber Man, posting regular updates that keen barbers shouldn’t want to miss.