The coronavirus pandemic has hit the hairdressing industry harder than most. But like a phoenix from the ashes, a new start-up has emerged. One with a difference – they can’t wait to cease trading.
“We are probably one of the few businesses that actually wants to go out of business,” said Jeroen Sibia, co-founder of Lockdown Haircut, the UK’s first virtual barber.
“The moment the lockdown ends, we will shut the website.”
Lockdown Haircut offers clients a 20-minute Zoom session with an experienced barber who can help coach them, or a willing member of their household, through a daunting haircut at home.
A percentage of the £15 cost is donated to the NHS with customers needing just a webcam, comb and pair of electric clippers to take part.
The not-for-profit initiative was launched by 31-year-old Jeroen alongside his business partner Dan Silvertown, 27, and the pair of Londoners have already raised more than £2,000 – double their initial target.
But the company nearly fell at the first hurdle with initial approaches to barbers being met with scepticism.
“At first they were quite hesitant because they felt it was undermining the barber industry by allowing people to cut their own hair themselves and saying it replicates that,” said Jeroen.
However, Jeroen managed to assuage their concerns by explaining it was a temporary project with the dual aim of raising money for charity and helping hair professionals return to work via the “next best thing” to a real trim.
He added: “Nothing can replicate going to a local barber and getting your hair cut by a professional rather than by yourself, your housemate, your girlfriend, your mum, your pet or whoever is doing it at home.”
Jeroen is a former pupil of Kingston Grammar School and can count the school’s head teacher Stephen Lehec among his new customers. Mr Lehec was delighted with the smart new look delivered by his wife, Penny, in tandem with Benjamin May of Barber & Blow.
Jeroen explained that after witnessing a number of shoddy self-haircut mishaps, including co-founder Dan’s patchy results from a YouTube tutorial, they were inspired to seek a better way for people to tame their locks.
He said: “It came about over the Easter weekend. I noticed my friends were only really doing three things. Either talking about Netflix hit Tiger King, trying to grab some toilet paper in the supermarket or showing examples of their DIY haircut disasters.”
A Google search failed to yield any better alternatives and after 72 sleepless hours Lockdown Haircut was born.
The service was initially popular across London and the south east but now has bookings from as far afield as Australia, India, Dubai, Germany and New York.
Inspired by campaigns such as the Run For Heroes 5km challenge, the savvy duo created their platform as another fun way to help support key workers on the frontline.
NHS Charities Together receive £2.50 from each cut with £7.50 going to the barbers – although many are choosing to donate their fee – and £5 covering VAT and essential running costs.
The entrepreneurial pair are former managing consultants and continue to run online recruitment company Swap together alongside their latest endeavour – which they hope provides the best solution for people unsure what to do with their hair at home.
When Prime Minister Boris Johnson – a man famed for his unruly mop of hair – sent the UK into lockdown on March 23, salons, barbershops and freelance professionals feared for their livelihoods.
“Without my clients I have no business,” said Rianna Henry, a mobile hairdresser from Thornton Heath, Croydon.
She usually works 15-hour days – often seven days a week – travelling to customers in areas such as Clapham and Wandsworth but now will have to rely on the government’s financial support for the self-employed.
During lockdown Rianna, 28, has continued her usual routine of waking up at 4am despite having nowhere to go. Instead of delivering blow-dries she is forced to keep tabs with her clients over the phone.
“Some of my clients will call me during their regular slot and instead of having their hair done they will just talk to me for that hour,” she added.
“It is their ‘me’ time. We will just have a little bit of a catch up like we would normally do but for free – a lot of my clients are like family to me.”
Rianna is adapting to the circumstances by offering 45-minute virtual consultations on Zoom for £25 as well as expanding the teaching side of her business. Regrettably, some clients have tried to persuade her to break the government’s lockdown rules.
She said: “A lot of people are like ‘Oh, it’s just a blow-dry it will be fine – you still go to the supermarket’. It’s not fine! I explain to my clients I can’t put myself and my family at risk just because you want your hair done.
“I sympathise but at the same time I think it’s very selfish – they don’t see the bigger picture. It’s usually people who don’t know anyone that it has affected.
“I have quite a few clients who have had coronavirus and have been hospitalised – one of my friends in Birmingham has lost seven family members!”
For many people their hair and physical appearance is intrinsically linked to their self-esteem. Hair professionals are a massive part of everyday life but as society adjusts to its new parameters they can still play a different but equally as important role from a safe distance.
“Hairdressing is a form of therapy for most people – a lot of women are attached to their hair and once their hair is done they feel on top of the world,” said Rianna.
“It is more than just a hair service – I am concerned about their wellbeing. With certain chemical services your hair can start to fall out without upkeep – that’s why people need to take advice and use the right products.”
Norway and Switzerland permitted hairdressers to reopen on April 27 but British businesses are still in limbo with some reports suggesting they will be one of the last sectors to return to ‘normal’ and could be forced to wait until 2021.
More than 30 people have signed up for Rianna’s waiting list as she prepares for the inevitable surge in demand for her services post-lockdown.
But with Mr Johnson not expected to announce his plans for a gradual easing of restrictions until the end of this week, the agonising wait for the hair industry drags on.