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Sunday 19 May 2019
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Grade A cuts

Tobago youth makes hair his business

Tobago teenage Javanne Williams is in demand for his haircuts.
Tobago teenage Javanne Williams is in demand for his haircuts.

At age 11, Javanne Williams could recognise the difference between "a good haircut, an in-between haircut and a finished haircut."

He was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a hair expert in those days but he grew up around family members who, he said, had “mastered the art of barbering” in their home town of Plymouth, Tobago.

Williams recalled looking on keenly at how his uncles transformed their clients with haircuts that distinguished them from the other barbers in their small community. And he vowed, even at that young age, to replicate their skills in his own establishment.

"Barbering has been in my family for quite a while and I was always around my uncles as a youth. So that inspired me to push forward and get involved in the craft," he told Business Day.

Now 18, Williams' childhood interest has morphed into a thriving barbering business with clients in Tobago from all walks of life, including doctors, nurses, laymen and politicians. Minority assemblyman Farley Augustine is one of his regulars.

Javanne Williams at his baber shop in Plymouth, Tobago.

In fact, Williams won a competition hosted by the Professional Barbers Association in TT for the "fastest fade haircut" last August, a testament to the teenager's talent as a barber.

For his achievement, Williams said he received barbering equipment and a bag of local products to support his trade.

"It was actually a pleasure and it gave me a sense of motivation and encouragement to push forward with my art and my craft with regards to barbering," he said of the award.

Although he has been involved in barbering for several years, Williams started cutting hair professionally just three years ago.

Like most teenagers, he said a desire to look outstanding motivated him to get involved in barbering.

"I like looking extraordinary. I go with the unusual and I observed that most haircuts are not done the way they are supposed to look. They are not how I would do it."

Javanne Williams wants to give clients the best possible haircut they could get.

He added: "So, I decided to get into it to ensure that I give people the best quality and the best standard and the best possible haircut they could get. I have been around barbering for a while and I was actually able to put my knowledge into play and put forward some quality cuts."

Williams said he does not own his own barbershop just yet but operates from a building which is also occupied by Plymouth landmark CP Hardware.

Business, he said, has been phenomenal.

"There are no complaints. It continues to grow."

However, the young barber said he has had to cut back on his work to focus on classes at Scarborough Secondary School where he is a sixth-form student studying Entrepreneurship, Management of Business, Physical Education and Communications Studies.

"I am willing to go even further but because of my restrictions at school, I decided not to go deeply into marketing. But as soon as I finish school, I will go all out."

Maintaining discipline, Williams said, is a challenge.

Javanne Williams says a desire to look outstanding motivated him to become a barber.

"Sometimes, I do my appointments early in the day so I could have my evenings off. But, it is quite hard as a young person to be focused and stay on task because there are a lot of distractions that can be quite tedious. But I am working on it."

Nevertheless, the conscientious, soft-spoken teen is in demand and often has to "manoeuvre my way around" to satisfy his customers, many of whom contact him through social media and other avenues "to access the quality."

He said his rates are consistent with that of the industry. For example, haircuts for adult men, depending on the style, range in price from $40 to $60 while prices for children (not under the age of two) begin from $25 to as much as $50.

Williams said barbers must try to develop their own unique style.

"Each and everybody has their different style and flair and finish. That is what actually differentiates barbers. But it is also about how you go about doing your style."

He said barbers can combine the styles of those they have emulated over the years to create a one-of-a-kind look.

The dapper teenager said he does not favour a specific style but draws inspiration by looking at videos and pictures of haircuts, both famous and mundane, on a daily basis.

"So, I actually pull different styles and different characteristics from different barbers – even barbers that I don't like – on how to cut different hair textures and on how to cut a small boy or a mature fella."

Williams marvels at how the concept of barbering has changed in contemporary society. For him, it is no longer a place to waste time, gossip and talk foolishness.

He said, "I want people to understand that barbering is actually an art, to understand the difference between a good and bad haircut, to understand the value of money and time. Barbering takes time and sometimes you spend a few hours in a shop."

Williams said the operational aspects of the trade have also changed.

"Every day, somebody comes up with something new – a clipper, a new way to cut, faster and better ways to get around certain hair textures. Blades and products have also evolved to make barbering more efficient."

Williams said young people interested in barbering must be passionate about the craft. But they must also be humble, open to criticism and willing to learn and hone their skills effectively to achieve maximum results.

"So, any young person who is willing to get into the field, just jump in and get going."

Williams said he still has much to learn in barbering and has no intention of slowing down anytime soon.

"I see myself learning the craft as much as possible so that I can teach younger ones or people interested in barbering to do the same."

He also wants to establish his own shop "to generate a flow of work without me actually being there while pursuing something else."

Williams said while barbering will always be a part of his life, it is not his last stop career-wise.

He said, "I have an eye for getting into something pertaining to network marketing because it allows you to operate from your house in a setting where you don't have to invest eight hours a day into making a part-time income. Network marketing allows you to be your own boss and to invest as much time as you desire."

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