The History of a Master Barber, Mahesh Hayward

—Josh Lawson

Carlos is today's host for Keep on Growing, with special guest, Mahesh "Master Barber" Hayward from Gentleman & Rogues Club. For those of you who haven't seen the previous episodes, they are going to have a conversation so you can learn more about Mahesh and his background.

The Beginning

Mahesh is the eldest of six children and his is family was very tight growing up. They are from a large extended family; his dad has a ton of brothers and his mom has a bunch of siblings, too. Being from such a large family, it was hard for him to stand out at home. His siblings were all doing the most, and were full on characters. Mahesh was, and still is, considered the quiet one of his family. As the oldest, he set a precedent of what was going to happen with the kids and was viewed as the uptight babysitter.

They lived on a council estate in a roughish area, so he had to be a little streetwise. As kids, he and his siblings had to figure out how to make their own money. His mom and dad barely had enough money to pay for things other than a roof over their heads and food on the table. If they wanted anything special, they had to figure out how to get it themselves. At 14, Mahesh had a paper route and worked in a kitchen. There were even times he would hustle people to get a little bit of money. But, he always had a desire to look his best and do the things the rest of his family were never able to do.

His parents met in the same place they grew up and never left, so he did what he knew how and stayed, as well. He always wanted to go on holiday and do other things, but was never presented the chance. The first time he went abroad wasn't until he was much older. When growing up, our parents seem to be the goal we want to achieve. You want to reach the same potential, but they always want you to go a step higher. That's what Mahesh was always trying to achieve. Even as a parent now, he wants more for his kid than what he had growing up. That can mean more opportunities, freedom, or even financial independence.

At a young age, Mahesh wanted to pursue artistic ventures; he wanted to work in radio. But, his mother told him he needed to get a job where he could make money and contribute to the household. Going to three years of art school, or four years of drama school doesn't guarantee you a job when you graduate. He compromised and found something that included art where he could start making money straight away. He got an apprenticeship with a hairdresser which combined art, communicating with people, and was a platform to keep learning. His first boss told him that no matter what is going on in your life, whenever you step foot on the salon floor, you are on a stage.

Mahesh "The Hairdresser" Hayward

At 18 Mahesh started his first real job as an apprentice in a salon. When he started 25 years ago things were different, and the industry has completely changed since. Barbershops used to give customers a cheap haircut in silence, without all the banter. A guy with a cigarette would sit you down and haphazardly cut your hair while trying not to get ash in your hair. Mahesh's mom would give him money, and he would march he and his brother down to the barbershop. The barber would give each of them a clipper cut all the way back, and they would leave looking the same as each other. The boys didn't go to the barber often; maybe twice a year. Looking back on old photos, he either looks like a member of The Beatles or a character from of Shawshank Redemption.

Because of that experience, the first thing he did when he began to earn his own money was get weekly haircuts. He enjoyed the fact he paid for the cut himself. He was glad his parents didn't have to pay for it, and it was a small bit of independence since he was able to cultivate his own look at 14 years old.

Hairdressing is an art form, whereas barbering is a craft. There is much more range in what you can do as a hairdresser versus a barber: types of styles, length of hair, texture of hair; more variables than in barbering. Barbering tends to deal with a similar type of haircut and a similar shape, just with varying levels of how short or long a customer wants it.

To clarify, a craft is something you hone over time and a skill repeated over and over again (similar to building a boat). When you are a barber, you create that shape for someone or an outline of the style they want. Then, you move on to the next customer and the next one. Whereas a hairdresser can spend up to three hours with a person building a haircut fit to them as an individual. 

Before joining Gentleman & Rogues Club, Mahesh had his own studio. After he left his apprenticeship, he rented a space above another shop on a high street, and opened his first independent salon at the age of 22. The space was small, only two mirrors, two waiting chairs, he worked by himself seven days a week, and took all his own appointments, without the help of a receptionist. He did that for about a year, and saved enough money to rent a shop on the street level of a slightly different area.

By the age of 25 he was a dad, had a mortgage, his own business, six staff members, and paid back his business loan. From a financial point of view, he was better off at the age of 25 than he his now at 42. He was really busy hairdressing, writing articles, doing photography, and was even working with the British Fellowship of Hairdressing. But, that was all at the expense of his family since he wasn't around. Since he came from a family where money was tight, financial freedom was his goal and he lost focus of the more important aspects of life. You can't get that time back, so make sure to pay attention and evaluate why you are working.

Moving Forward

Mahesh began a teaching course because he wants to become a well-rounded individual, not because he wants to leave barbering. He often uses the analogy that when you are on a plane and the pressure drops, you're always told to help yourself before helping others. If you lose consciousness, you're no help to anyone. Once you help yourself, then you can help other people.

A few years ago, he decided it was time to transition from hairdressing to barbering. Menswork has always been his passion, and he wanted to pursue that opportunity. Barbering had always been something he saw as a little bit scary from a hairdresser's point of view. In a salon, you don't use a straight razor or go straight to the hair without a guard to blend it out. Hairdressing is a lot softer, rounded and nuanced. At 40, he gave himself an ultimatum: either leave hairdressing, or find a new focus to spur his energy.

After that, he really enjoyed the renewed drive he felt from cutting men's hair. He has always felt barbering was seen as the lesser cousin of hairdressing. Barbers have to work much harder just to earn a living wage, but there is a lot more camaraderie in it. Nowadays, people want more for their money. They don't just want a cheap haircut any more, they want a positive experience. Mahesh sees so many guys come into the shop feeling down, and when they leave they feel confident enough to go out later. When they have a laugh or a joke, while they're there, they not only feel good externally with their trim, but also get a boost internally.

Keep on Growing!

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