Whilst at the Irish Barber Expo 2018, I couldn’t pass on the chance to meet one of the North East’s shining stars of barbering – Vikki Harrison-Smith – and learn more about two of her exciting projects: SB Barbering Academy, and the British Female Barber Association (BFBA).
It seems like barbering was always on the cards for Vikki, who was surrounded by barbers – including her grandfather and her friend’s dad – at a young age. She tells me that there was something about short hair that caught her eye and made her want to experiment further: “I even had a ‘Girl’s World’ – which was a toy from the 80s – with long hair and I cut that short. You weren’t supposed to! But I think it’s always been in my blood.
“So I started an apprenticeship at Malcolm H, a really good barbershop in Sunderland. I also did a foundation course in ladies’ hairdressing and then I went straight into the barbershop and never looked back. I’ve worked in a lot of shops, worked in Scotland and moved across the North East.”
It’s certainly common for barbering to pass from father (or grandfather) to son, and it’s great to hear a similar story from the female point of view. I asked Vikki to tell me a little more about her grandfather:
“I have a picture of Pops – my Grandfather – in the academy, and he looks like Buddy Holly, really! He was great. He had five shops: a ladies’ shop, a gents’ hairdresser and some more traditional shops. He did that for many years until he retired. He was very inspiring.”
After over two decades in barbering, Vikki has become renowned for the SB Barbering Academy, a brand that set up in conjunction with her husband and fellow barber, Ryan Smith. “We got together and inspired each other. I worked at a local college and wasn’t really happy there – I wanted to set something up that mirrored the training I’d had as an apprentice. SB would be cutting every day, cutting under mentors, learning the trade in a working barbershop. That’s how the academy was born.”
It would be fair to say that SB academy has something of a speciality focus, with courses such as ‘Zero to Hero’ designed to give people the skills needed to pick up their clippers for the very first time. “It’s designed for people with no prior knowledge of hair or barbering. Just blank. We have to build them up to be able to go into a barbershop. Under a mentor, of course – we never tell people you’re going to open a shop. We tell people you have to work through the system, like we did years ago. You get a foundation from us and build on that. That’s how it is in barbering.”
The Level 2 qualification takes 2 weeks to complete and will involve cutting up to 6 or 7 models a day. After that, there are additional courses available for people to hone in on particular skills and advance their techniques. Vikki also reinforces the fact that it’s all about learning the basics first: “You learn step by step, and then you piece it all together. After that, you go out into the big barbering world and you build on that.”
Vikki’s other big project recently has been setting up the British Female Barber Association (BFBA), and I wonder whether she feels that being a female barber has presented extra challenges for her: “It’s a funny thing. Where I worked, there were only two men and the rest were women. It wasn’t really an issue. In the 90s it was actually quite fashionable to have women in barbershops.
“It became an issue once I went into training. I was overlooked quite a bit for jobs, I think, because that being the lead trainer or head of department was more male dominated. It was a hierarchy really.”
It’s great to see how things are changing in the industry, not just for Vikki – who has now gained the respect of her peers – but also for other up and coming female barbers who can hopefully get the opportunities they deserve. The BFBA should be another big step forward, and Vikki explains the motivation behind setting it up:
“This wasn’t created as a male-hating group. It’s nothing like that. I just wanted to create a network for women barbers in a male-dominated industry. Female barbers don’t necessarily come to shows, or they aren’t on the stage.
“I want to create a support group for women. For example, if you go off to have a baby it becomes very difficult to have that time off and come back into a barbershop. Because you haven’t been doing the skills, you’re lacking confidence. We want to give advice on maternity leave, teach women that it’s good to keep that relationship with your boss going. We’ve got the legal side to help with. As an experienced barber that has been through a lot, I feel like I can give women a lot of support.”
Hopefully this will be great not only for encouraging more women into the industry, but also for ensuring that they then have the required skills once they get there!
Watch the full interview for even more great information, including Vikki’s tips for using a routine to make your cutting process more effective. From hair control to scissor techniques, there really is a great deal to master if you want to be a successful barber – but working with educators like Vikki can give you the confidence and knowledge you need to make a very good start. Go to the SB Academy website for more information. If you’re interested in joining the BFBA, they are planning on setting up as registered charity: follow @BFBA_official on Instagram to stay up to date on the details.