When I headed to the CT Barber Expo in April, one barber I got the chance to catch up with was Brandi Lashay. Brandi is a platform artist, session stylist & brand ambassador for the JRL clipper company. When I met up with her she’d already been hard at work, but she told me she wanted to keep going until the very end!
I wanted to share Brandi’s barbering story with the world, so I asked her to tell me the great story of how it all got started.
“It starts off with being in high school with my high school sweetheart. One of my close friends asked me Brandi, who is your boyfriend? I showed her in the hallway and she said ‘oh my god he is ugly! He doesn’t cut his hair!’
“Now, my Mum wore a short haircut at the time, and always kept a pair of clippers underneath the sink. I used to steal the clippers and go and cut my boyfriend’s hair at 14-years-old, to keep him looking nice. And it developed into a full-blown career. I didn’t want anybody to think Jason was ugly, I loved him! I wanted them to see him how I saw him. And I enjoy it to this day.”
How did it all progress from there?
“It was happening often enough to where his friends would come around and ask me if they could get their haircut. I began to do it so much that I would say ‘Hey, this isn’t fair, I should be getting paid.’ I charged them $5 a head, and that was a lot of money to me. And I was the oldest of four girls, my Mum was a single parent and I brought money home to the house so I could food in the refrigerator. We were living in poverty – it made a big difference.
“As soon as I graduated from high school I went straight to barber school. I didn’t want to go anywhere else. I wanted to learn everything I was missing and catch every technique. I was fascinated with the art and I wanted more. And I’m still in love with it to this day because of how it makes other people feel.”
Okay, now tell me a little bit about your first barbershop.
“It was right next to the school I went to. There were three chairs and two guys in there and they were amazing: they were the Superman and Batman of the city. On our lunch break we would walk past the barbershop and just sort of say ‘there’s another chair in there!’
“The owner came up to me one day while I was out there eating my lunch and he said to me are you a cosmetologist or a barber? I was so proud: it was the first time I got to tell somebody that I was a barber! He said come in here and cut some hair – go get someone, bring them over here and let me see what you can do.
“I worked hard on that fade, I’ve never sweated so much. But it came out pretty amazing and he gave me the chair. That was my barber family for the next 7 years.”
Your talent has definitely been recognised, as proven by the fact that you’ve worked as a session stylist from some huge household names. Who are some of the stars you’ve worked with?
“I’ve done quite a bit of work and along the way I’ve been able to work for Stevie Wonder; I’ve been able to work for Teddy Riley. He’s one of my favourites because we’re able to talk about Michael Jackson – he tells me all these Michael Jackson stories. I’ve worked for Empire, Tyler Perry’s House of Pain and Meet the Browns… R&B singer Tank. The list is long! But it doesn’t feel like that, because they make you family. I could not have imagined that when I was 14 and we were having to split a 6-inch subway sandwich into fours. Barbering is amazing!”
Now let’s talk about the JRL gig. I don’t believe you’d be supporting them if you weren’t passionate about them! So how did you get the job, and why do you think they’re so great?
“I was approached by JRL a few times and I just wasn’t catching the emails. One day I got a phone call saying, ‘I know you’re probably very busy, but we’d love to have you on the team.’ I said, ‘who is this?’ It was one of the team members – Jordan – and she said, ‘as a woman I see you, I see you grinding, and I’d love to have other people see your story.’
“The package came and my daughter said, ‘Mum! It’s digital! It’s a smart clipper, like a smartphone.’ I was genuinely happy, I called Jordan back immediately. When I found out about the technology on the clipper I was sold, it didn’t take any time. It makes barbering easy.”
Your job for JRL is education. Could you explain what it is that you specialise in, and what people could gain by following what you teach?
“I show other barbers how to create clean lines. I am really big on clean line work, clean design lines. I believe it can be achieved by paying attention to the art around you. A lot of people ask me where I get my inspiration from with design work and I tell them tyres. I pay attention to tyre treads, because I didn’t recognise that they vary so much. I’m from LA so I’m really into jeeps. When I started looking at the tyres, the tread had so many different angles, I thought that would look really cool on the side of someone’s head.”
You’ve got a tour coming up: Master the Art Barber Seminar. Tell us about that!
“The class can change literally because of who is sitting in the chair, the model I’ve chosen. It’s not about just having the best-looking model, it’s about making sure you understand what to do with this person’s face. I understand art – how to make someone look like art. And that’s what I teach.”
This is so important. Because I’ve seen barbers try to copy a haircut from a magazine without taking into account the different shape of a person’s face – take a mohawk for instance, the sides may need to be lower depending on the face structure.
“Exactly! Let’s think about you, not the image that you’re pointing at.”
Finally, what would be your parting words to an up and coming barber who wanted to excel to dizzy heights, like you have?
“When I think about talking to my younger self, I would say continue to be honest. I was honest when my pictures didn’t look like other people’s pictures on social media. It’s about saying ‘I’m not there yet’, and being okay with saying that. Because that will lead you to someone who can help you grow. Open up, be vulnerable. Be willing to take a fall: you’ll bleed a couple of times, you’ll cry a couple of times and you’ll think no-one understands.
Then build your platform. Humans are natural carpenters, so build your platform, climb on top of it and then show someone else how to build a platform that can hold them up. I just want to encourage people to keep going.”
Now it’s time to sit up and listen – I really hope that every barber reading this pays attention to Brandi’s extremely intelligent advice. I strongly recommend following Brandi’s work on Instagram, @theoriginalbarberdoll, to see some of the most mesmerising patterns around. While you’re there, hop over to @LarrytheBarberMan if you’d like to follow my interviews, as well as the other barbering tricks that I put out on a regular basis.