Zach Ramsay – known as ‘Ramsay’, from The Outpost Barber Company – is known throughout the industry as one of the best up-and-coming barbers on the scene. His unique approach both to cutting hair and to photographing cuts has meant that after just a few years of practice, he’s already making waves. His entry to barbering came not in the form of classes or even a barbershop, but sat in his Mum’s basement some six years ago:
‘College wasn’t the route that I was going to go. I can’t sit there and be lectured, my attention span is just not there! That being said, I was always into getting myself a good haircut. I knew what it took to have a nice fade, a nice overall image. I wanted to further that.’
Zach drew on his artistic skills – he is also talented at drawing and able to understand artistic techniques – to give him a solid base of knowledge: ‘I think that directly correlates with a good skin fade. It’s understanding the shades and proportions of everything.’
Of course, barbering comes from practical knowledge too, and Zach was luck to have a barbering buddy who let him come into the shop and start learning. ‘One day I just said, “I want to get serious with this.” So he gave me my first barber chair, my first mirror and as soon as I got home I ran down into the basement and set everything up. I started doing my first haircuts for free. Then you charge $5, $10… I ended up doing $15, $20 haircuts and onwards from there.’
Once he knew he had the skills in place, Zach decided it was time to get serious: after all, there are a lot of clients who just won’t take a barber seriously if he’s set up in his Mum’s home! ‘I just didn’t feel comfortable bringing professionals into my home. It was kind of just a thing with my friends. I wanted to get into a professional environment and offer real structured services.’
Setting up his Outpost
A lot of barbers will get licensed and then spend years working for other established barbershops before even considering going it alone. Not so for Zach, who chose to dive straight into setting up his very own shop.
‘I opened up the shop with my buddy Shaun: he stopped working at the barbershop he was at and we got together. We thought it was a good idea to control your own career. We opened up the store with two large storefront windows, a classic tin ceiling, hardwood floors, a warmer light. It almost feels as though you’re walking into your own house, very inviting.
‘We just wanted to go with a modern style, but the detail and character of vintage items. That correlates with haircutting as well. Everything is always recycled, but with a bit of tinkering.’
As if that wasn’t enough on his plate, Zach has also been doing some impressive things with photography. After seeing barbers like Patty Cuts emphasize their work with phenomenal photographs, he wanted to find out how to take those professional shots himself. Next thing, he was picking up a pro camera and starting to capture unique images with a hybrid of fashion and lifestyle.
Defining the approach
Getting to understand Zach’s work better means finding out about his personal approach. I asked him to break it down for me, starting with his approach to cutting hair:
‘With my haircuts, I like to start with a solid foundation. I section off the hair and comb it in the exact direction that it wants to fall naturally. So if the client goes home and doesn’t blow-dry or apply a lot of product, it will still fall naturally and be an aesthetically pleasing haircut.
‘That structure is going to be my blueprint for the rest of the profile. I try to read the person’s vibe, look at their clothes, ask them questions: I want each haircut to be tailored to that person’s lifestyle. Then I bring the person outside and I’ll try and find colours that complement what they’re wearing, as well as the best lighting. If it’s an edgy photo, a lot of shadow and more dark emotions – if it’s more business professional, then it’s perky and upright.’
Finding that aesthetically pleasing image is easier said than done, though, and for Zach it’s a skill that he has acquired naturally – through trial and error – rather than with any formal training. ‘I always get eye level with the subject. This gives the viewer focus, it draws them directly to whatever you want them to see. I’ll walk up and down the street and find good light: I want depth, and a decent dynamic range on my photos.’
Creating a haircut that will look great on camera is also part of the challenge, and apparently it’s all down to precision. ‘I wouldn’t say that there’s too many tricks. It’s just being very precise with your work. Make sure your sections are clean, your cutting line is clean, your fade is clean. I would recommend taking out your phone after the fade and look at it through the camera. It tells no lies. If it looks good on the phone then the camera itself is going to look beautiful.’
Taking to the stage
Another string to the well-rounded barber’s bow is platform work, and Zach has also been doing the rounds as a talented stage educator: ‘I like to explain pretty much what we’ve talked about in this interview. How a haircut is not just a haircut. You almost change a person’s facial features by how you cut their hair. You can change someone’s life with a taper around the ear: they go into a job interview and that confidence boost gets them the job. I’ll tell them to wear their suit to the shop and take professional headshots for their LinkedIn or Resumé.’
Find examples of Zach’s work on Instagram by following @Z_Ramsay; this is the main platform that he uses to share the photos of his cuts. I recommend it to anyone who wants a solid source of inspiration; junior barbers in particular can use Zach’s shots to start understanding how to structure a better cut. Here are his parting words of advice for those up and coming barbers out there:
‘I would say it starts from the heart. You have to be passionate about it. Be observant and make sure that you break down every haircut into cause and effect. Each stroke of the clipper, the angle of the blade, the different textures, cutting styles, techniques: taking note of all of this will make you a better barber.
‘And with the photography, get out and shoot just like everybody says. You have to see pictures that you don’t like to understand what you do like. Get down and dirty – there are times I’m laying on my belly in the middle of the street looking weird. I don’t care! I just want the picture. And assess your work. Don’t be hard on other people’s work, compete with yourself. Keep working on yourself and you will get there.’