Faz Ismail is watching you. Actually, just your hair: “I can tell how much a person takes pride in his or herself, just by how much they pay attention to their hair. Even a simple comb-through speaks volumes.” When we met him, the unassuming dude in his trademark newsboy cap was chilling outside Strangers’ Reunion. The cafe was his suggestion, chosen due to his busy schedule–it’s just a few units away from his 1.5-year-old attic barbershop in the fringe-hipster Kampong Bahru locale.
“Singapore men need to look on point. Even if you’re just going downstairs, you never know if you’re gonna meet the founder of Facebook or even your soulmate. Life is unexpected. Plus, if you look good, you feel good,” the 23-year-old tells us, over coffee.
Formerly a “science nerd” who was on track to becoming a chemical engineer, the Singapore Polytechnic graduate learnt his trade simply by getting his hair cut–and observing. After serving the nation, he gave up his place in the Singapore Institute of Technology. “My parents were sceptical at first, but I knew I didn’t want to work in Jurong Island etc. I told myself, I have obsessive compulsive disorder (he’s a neat freak and perfectionist) and I know a lot about hair. I also like classic styles and the brand of music I listen to is mixed with Elvis Presley.”
DeepCuts Barber’s started on the front stoop of a Yishun house on 12 January 2014 (Faz started barbering on 12 Oct 2013). His first customer was his best friend. Faz recalls how the police would come and take down his name and number: “And they would come back for their haircut. I swear, that’s what happened.” After six months, Faz, who had by then amassed a crew of three guys, decided to rent two unused chairs in a neighbourhood-style barbershop. “In our first month, the rental was $500. The next, it was doubled.”
In this instance, he felt the shop owner wanted to capitalise on their hard-earned good business and make a quick buck. He’s also had detractors implying he can’t survive in the industry early in his career. This spurred the move to his current unit, an attic space he chanced upon and instantly fell in love with. DeepCuts Barber’s re-opened on 12 June last year, on Faz’s 22nd birthday.
Our nosh arrives. “Without coffee I’ll feel a bit ’dead’,” our newfound barber friend confesses. He’s exact with what his choice of beverage (an iced mocha) embodies: chill (iced); free and easy, happy, and ’blending’ easily with people (chocolate, as “who will resist it, man?” ); and driven (coffee, because “you wanna drive your day” ).
We feel really comfortable chatting with Faz in Strangers’ Reunion (an apt location). He’s personable, humble and soft-spoken, yet wise beyond his years and passionate in a “still waters run deep” kind of way. Thanks to part-time stints in retail while schooling, Faz’s experience instilled in him a business philosophy of “not about the sales, but the people” . He believes in honesty, trust, and unpretentious “deep conversation when you get a haircut” , hence the name. “We treat everyone as a friend, as family. A true barber will ask you about your life.” These intimate sessions with clients have even seen some opening up till tears flow freely.
Was he ever scared? “I’ve had that feeling before. You just have to pull through.” As the only entrepreneur in his family, Faz recently inspired his older cousin to start a diving business. “Sleepless nights, early mornings; you have to go through this kind of life before you can achieve whatever you want.”