I have mixed feelings about International Women’s Day and all that goes with it. No doubt, supporting and celebrating strong, passionate and powerful women is a worthy activity, however, it still places an inequality and emphasis on the difference between the two sexes.
However, every so often, a story makes me immensely proud to be female in a biased world.
One such story is that of Sophie Collins. Sophie is a woman most definitely existing and succeeding in a man’s world. A small town girl, 27-year old Sophie is no ordinary barber, she has been crowned the best wet shaving barber in Wales and been featured by a host of national radio, news and television shows as a breakthrough representative and champion of women within emerging and rejuvenating industries. Sophie, owner of Soph’s Barbers in Llanbedr, Ardudwy has had to overcome a number of challenges throughout her eight-year career, starting with the fact that many close to her said that she would never make it as a barber as, at the time, it was very much perceived to be a male dominated industry. She also had to deal with the embarrassment of a number of male customers simply refusing to allow her to cut their hair because of her woman-ness!
Fortunately, with the success of the likes of Sophie, the industry is changing and the number of female barbers in the UK is rising at a rapid level, helped by improving standards and changing male attitudes. Statistics from The Bluebeards Revenge male grooming brand have even revealed that more women than ever are visiting barbershops (for shorter, edgy cuts) over traditional hairdressing salons.
Sophie’s success has attracted the interest from The Bluebeards Revenge, who she is now an official ambassador for. As part of her agreement with the brand, she uses her knowledge to help them develop new products, understand market trends, whilst representing the company at live shows and events.
Ahead of IWD2019, I got down to business with Sophie to find out what it takes to cut it during a barbering renaissance…
What does the International Women’s Day theme of #BalanceforBetter mean for you in your work life?
Yes it’s all about life balance, I can’t lie I work hard but I also ensure I have time to unwind and relax. It makes you a better barber.
Why did you choose to become a barber?
My dream growing up was always to become a hairdresser; I loved hair and everything about it. As a teenager I would spend hours in the mirror, trying out new styles and different looks. I studied hairdressing (NVQ level) at college but it was during this time that becoming a barber and working with men’s hair really started to appeal. The rest is history as they say.
In your opinion, why is it important that more women take up barbering in the near future?
It’s a fantastic industry, and one that rewards hard work. You can be your own boss, travel abroad and use your skills, earn good money and show your creative side. It also gives you the ability to interact with others on a daily basis so it has a great social side.
What’s the most important piece of advice you’d give to a woman thinking of starting a career in barbering?
Believe in your ability and be the best possible version of yourself. Never stop learning and always be willing to adapt. Stay on top of your game by visiting trade shows, interacting with other barbers and staying on top of popular culture.
What challenges did you face being an unconventional woman in a small town?
Plenty, but they make you stronger and even more determined. In the very early days, some men would walk into my shop and quickly walk out in disgust when they realised I was a female barber. This has fortunately changed in recent times as society has moved on and men are much more accepting and really don’t care what gender you are. Before I opened my own barbershop in September 2014, I struggled to find a barbershop owner that would employ me and I suspect it was the fact I was not a bloke. It’s now much easier to find work as the industry has adapted.
Who were your biggest inspirations, critics and cheerleaders?
Pink, I just love her individual style and personality. So inspirational.
Did you ever consider giving up your dream and conforming to the traditional gender structure?
For a brief spell yes, between qualifying as a hairdresser and looking for my first job in barbering. But I turned this negativity on its head and opened my own shop.
Do you think there’s a stereotype attached to female barbers?
Five years ago it was difficult for female barbers as the industry was perceived to be for men only. But slowly this has changed and it’s now much easier. The stereotype has all but gone, still some work to do, but we are getting there which is great to see.
What do you think is the biggest issue today facing women of your age?
Outside of barbering it’s probably the pressure of starting a family and how this can work with your career, especially as I work for myself.
How important is it for women to lift each other up and what does that mean to you?
It’s very important that we support each other and I see myself as a role model for other females as I’m living proof you can overcome challenges to achieve your dreams.
Did you have a light bulb, hitting the glass ceiling moment along the way?
Yes you can get into a comfort zone and it’s vital that you push yourself as hard as possible. This is why I have become an ambassador for The Bluebeards Revenge male grooming brand, as it gives me the opportunity to work with them on developing new products and building my profile on the stage at trade shows.
On International Women’s Day, what is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their careers?
Believe in yourself and the ability you have. Listen to others but at the same time don’t take negativity to heart and use this as a positive. I was told by many that I would never make it as a barber but I saw this as a challenge and I wanted to prove them wrong. I think I have.
I would love to become a barbering educator and this is something I will hopefully develop with my work with The Bluebeards Revenge.
Over half of barbers are actually female but we tend to lack the confidence to get on the stage and shout about our talents. This is my chance to change this.
Daisy Sells | WRITER