We speak to Kim Seung-rae, Founder of Kenko Barbershop in Hongdae, known as the Street of Youth, to find out what the barbering scene is like in South Korea…
How did you get into barbering?
When I was young, I had a haircut at the barbershop I went to with my father, and I remember how it felt in the barbershop and how cool and gentlemanly the barber looked too. As a result, I began to have a good feeling about a career as a barber. Even before I started working as a barber I was curious about it from a young age and I started cutting my own hair as well as other people’s. Being a barber means so much to me and I love making a customer’s hair look neat when they leave the shop.
What or who helped you to perfect the skills you have now?
To become a barber, I went to lots of traditional barbershops and visited older barbers who gave me so much advice. This helped me improve my traditional cutting skills, setting me in the right direction. I keep developing and working towards being as close to perfect as I can be throughout my career; I spend a lot of time talking to my fellow barbers about skills and we help each other improve. You can learn from anyone, whether they are beginners or experienced barbers.
Tell us a bit about the barbering industry in Korea?
Young barbershop owners have started to appear in Korea’s barber industry over the last few years, and the declining barber shop industry is gradually reviving. Older barbers also communicate with younger barbers and share trends and skills. More and more students want to enter the industry and education and educational programmes are growing too. Korean barbers are outstanding at what they do due to their cutting abilities and a feel for what works. People should start paying attention to Korean barbers, they’re going to show the industry some interesting work.
What inspires you?
I get a lot of inspiration from old objects or pictures from the past. I am mostly inspired by hairstyles and fashion from old movies. There are even times when I’m inspired by myself. When I’m alone, I tend to think a lot about my skills or my work, and in the process of thinking about it, I find something creative and new. I can take unexpected inspiration from reflecting on my own work, it’s an opportunity for me to develop even further.
What are your plans for 2023 and the future?
My plan for 2023 and the future is to create a project that everyone can participate in for a public cause. Although I like to work for myself, if you look around you can see that there are a lot of people who are in trouble and need help. My goal is to carry out volunteer projects to help bring people together. My ambition is to host barber contests or events where Korean barbers can communicate with barbers from all over the world, helping to establish us in the industry.
Will we get to see you in the UK soon?
I can’t afford to go to UK now but I hope to visit soon. I think British barbers are really talented people and if I get a chance I’d love to work in the UK.
Meanwhile, barber Sean Hayes’ journey has taken him from rural West Cork to the Gold Coast in East Australia – and here, he shares the details.