Gents of London has opened on Amwell Street, Islington, to join the flourishing male grooming and barbershop boom in London – but Mark Kebble founds out this is something different as he chats to founder Pete Donoghue
How long have you been working in the industry – and what initially inspired you to get into it?
Twelve years now. I am a traditional barber through and through, so it was never a choice to open a hair salon. My ambition was to open a barber shop that wouldn’t look out of place 100 years ago.
Was there a particular spur that encouraged you to make Gents Of London Barbershop a reality?
I wanted to be in control of my own destiny and I felt there was a gap in the market. Our barbershop is not intimidating. We are sticking to the British theme – our products are British – and we are not pretentious. I was sitting outside a couple of weeks ago and a man and his partner walked past and she said, ‘Look in there, it’s like a man cave’ – and I thought, ‘Yes’!
Were you always looking around the Angel area for a location, and in particular Amwell Street?
Yes, 100%. I wanted it to be a maximum ten minutes walk from Angel Tube. I had the brand devised and had purchased all the furniture. As I said, we were trying to go for a barbershop that would not look out of place 100 years ago, so I bought the furniture from an antiques house. I had a clear vision of what I wanted the brand to be. I had all this furniture in my flat and my friends and family thought I was going mad! But when they first came here, with everything restored and painted, that’s when they could appreciate what I was doing.
Why was the building perfect?
Well it was a full-time job finding it, I went out on my Vespa and it was hard to find. But when I saw this space it could not have been any more perfect. The space itself opens up opportunities and other industries have been coming in to use it [such as for photo shoots]. The space is magical. The lighting is really cool and the street opens the doorway to the EC1 postcode.
What do you want to offer with Gents Of London?
If you want to charge a certain price for a haircut, you have to pay attention to detail. We are not just selling haircuts, it’s an experience – we are a little bit different. It’s easy to do things badly. We offer consultations, an espresso, everyone gets a wash, and the haircut you want as opposed to what you are given. We are very old school, quintessentially London. It doesn’t alienate anyone. We are not a rockabilly style barber or a moustache twiddling one, we are something in between – every barbershop has to represent your personality. Like the music – I have a specific playlist, Motown, Northern Soul, a stronger Manchester influence to it, lots of indie music. Any music that enhances our barbershop vibe.
Why do you think the male grooming sector is booming?
Over the last ten years the male grooming industry has gone in one way – up. Gentlemen today would rather pay a bit more for a haircut that they want, rather than paying less money and ending up with something they don’t want. Or if it’s cheap they will have low expectations. But we are not West End prices – we offer a good deal for your money.
Was the Academy always a part of your business plan?
I used to run one of the UK’s largest barber academies for somebody else and I decided I wanted to run something similar, but more intimate. It’s quality over quantity. I would employ if I felt someone gives their all. I try to stay in contact with all my students, so I am building up a nice network. I know barbers all over the country. I recently helped a guy get a job in Singapore – that was someone I trained up and offered an opportunity to.
Do you plan to expand in the future?
I do, but I take my father’s advice – don’t get greedy. If I employ too quickly, I will lose that quality of control. I don’t want that. There’s lots I want to do, including more shops, but for the first couple of years I want to do this well and enjoy it. And it’s not just a barbershop – we have a band playing here soon. We have an exhibition opening here in the New Year, using all of the wall space. I like to associate our brand with others that share our interests.
33 Amwell Street EC1R 1UR; 020 7837 0171; gentsoflondonbarbershop.com