IN less than a year Khayyam Ali has gone from running a travel agency to cutting men’s hair. The owner of the Claxton Bay-based Kelvin Cruise and Travel Services Ltd told Newsday he anticipated the fallout in the travel industry even before a pandemic was declared, and started putting a contingency plan in place.
“When news first broke about covid19 I started paying attention. I mentioned to my father, ‘This virus looks like it will spread throughout the world and might affect travel.’
"Then and there it dawned on me that I need to find something to keep me afloat in the event that it became a pandemic.”
He said he had always had a liking for hairstyling and men’s grooming, so he decided to get certified and open his own shop, Alpha Cutz.
“I did a three-Thursday course at Ravi’s Barbershop in Central. It was an in-depth course that included practical and theory aspects of barbering.”
Luckily, Ali had the advantage of having practised over the years – and a dream.
“I always look at men’s hairstyles wherever I go and I try to change mine regularly.
"For years I have been looking at videos on grooming hair and the products that are used, so the course was more to broaden my knowledge and get a more in-depth aspect of barbering.
“I actually had a dream of opening my own high-end grooming shop some day. That day came before I expected.”
He said the same day he was certified, he opened his grooming salon, but with the covid19 safety restrictions in place, he worked strictly by appointment.
“Fortunately for me, I had the space at home to set up my salon.”
And although he’s now at a place where he’s slowly building a regular clientèle, he said in the beginning it was a struggle.
“It was a very humbling experience having to start all over,” especially since he was used to a certain lifestyle and one he could afford when he was in the travel business.
"My father started Kelvin Cruise and Travel Services in 2011 and I’ve worked with the company from the inception. It was quite a successful business and we had a lot of corporate clients.
"Then the pandemic hit, and things were good up to March, because a lot of our corporate clients were travelling as usual.”
With the lockdown, travel came to a dead stop with the closure of the borders. “It was pure frustration trying to figure out how to make ends meet and meet our obligations on a monthly basis.”
He said he started his new business under challenging circumstances and had to be proactive in order to get it off the ground.
“Business started in doomsday but I still had to find a way for people to get their haircuts. I started doing house calls. And even when the restrictions on barbershops and hair salons were lifted, the fact remained that I was still an upcoming barber in a difficult time, so things were slow. People had nowhere to go, so they were not grooming their hair as usual.
"We are still in a pandemic, so it’s not as viable as the agency, but it helps.”
Ali said he has big plans for Alpha Cutz, which he said were reflected in the name.
“'Alpha' is usually associated with 'leader.' I want my grooming salon to be the leader in my area. The vision that I have for this shop, no one around here (in Claxton Bay) does it up to now. Eventually, I will offer facial cleansers, hair implants and many other services.”
But although he was forced to find a new source of income in quick time, he has no intention of giving up the travel agency.
“I love to travel, so I’m hopeful that when the travel industry reopens, clients will come back like a flood. Everything may be done virtually now, but I strongly believe face-to-face interactions, for business or otherwise, are important.”
He encourages those who have lost incomes as a result of the pandemic not to just sit and accept defeat, but to try to monetise their natural talents.
“There is always something else you can get involved in to keep yourself occupied and bring in an income. This (barbering) is my comfort. Find something you like to do and get paid to do it."