Top of the Crops: Catching up with Modern Barber Award Winners

barber winners

Eleni Tsesmatzoglou and Sirak Kebede, winners of Best All Round Barber and Best Apprentice (respectively) at the Modern Barber Awards 2022 spoke to us about challenging themselves creatively and their determination to innovate and inspire the next generation.


What made you decide to enter the Modern Barber Awards?

Sirak: For me I wanted to showcase my body of work, my skills and show the industry what I’m all about. I really wanted to show that even though I’m new to the industry, I can produce work of a high calibre. I saw some of the previous winners from other years and I thought I think I can compete and if I believed that my work was good enough then I should prove it. It’s really that simple.

Eleni: I knew about the Modern Barber Awards but I’m not always confident to enter competitions like that. I started working with my mentor Nick Barford in his shop, Nūdo, and he told me that I was going to enter and that I could do this. I wanted to stick to my personal style, so I tried to keep it clean because the focus, like Sirak, was showing what I’m about and what I can do. It was also important for me to show different categories and types of hair.


What inspires you creatively?

Sirak: I got into barbering primarily because of the qualities that come with any craft, which are immersion, discipline, purpose and playing a critical role in your community or your society. And that’s what I really want to do. Once I found barbering, I just threw myself into it. I enjoy technicality but I also really enjoy being quite solitary. I don’t talk that much when I cut hair, I’m quite quiet and it offers some peace and quiet for my clients that come in. I’m always thinking about what your space says about you. You can tell a lot by someone’s section, by someone’s shop, by someone’s equipment. These are profound forms of self-expression and that’s what really drives me.

Eleni: I have always been very creative and liked creating stuff with my hands from my thoughts and imagination. Before I got into barbering, I was working in interior design, so it was a very technical and precise thing to do, but when I joined a barbering course, I knew that it was what I wanted to do. I take my inspiration from everything around me because cutting and styling hair is about everything around you. For example, how many popular TV, film and sports stars have been the inspiration for haircuts and hairstyles?


What are your experiences of education in barbering?

Eleni:  Afro and textured were added to the curriculum last year which is great because you need to know how to treat different textures and hair. You should be able to do everyone’s hair, if you’re a barber you should do everything and you should know how to work with every single texture of the hair, not just one. For me it’s only the beginning. We need to start being more open and teaching people how to do stuff because we all learn from each other. It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been in the industry, every day you learn something from someone. If you think you know everything, you don’t.

Sirak: I totally agree with Eleni. In my personal experience, my education has been top notch and I’ve been really lucky with that. Jake Murphy and Richard Tucker, Educators at Ruffians, made sure I was constantly challenged, and I really flourish in that type of environment. It’s all about putting yourself in the deep end and not saying no.

Eleni: It can feel like some people don’t understand the amount of work they need to put in. Social media makes it look very easy, which as we both know, it’s not. You can’t just take a clipper, start cutting hair and think that in a month you’ll be great. I would say if you really want do this, find people that inspire you and feel closer to your style, then you can start working with them or alongside them to see how they work. Try to find a mentor who is willing to show you how they do things – I was very lucky to have Nick throughout the years and I really look up to him, what he’s doing and his techniques. Even now he’s still showing new things and giving me advice.


Do you use social media to build your profiles?

Sirak: I got a social media account for the Modern Barber Awards, but I don’t have any social media at all. Lots of people in the shop use it as an easily accessible platform where people can see your work but I’m still navigating my way around it. I’m lucky enough to be in a shop where a lot of people come to us, so I use the shop as my platform which is great.

Eleni: Social media right now is my portfolio. Nowadays when I ask clients how they found us they normally from reviews and the second thing is Instagram or TikTok, because they want to come in and see what you can do and judge for themselves. Some of my clients also have specific textures in their hair so they want to see what you have done and that you can look after their hair. My advice would be to be yourself as much as possible and not to use Photoshop.


barber winners


Would you consider becoming a mentor for up and coming barbers in the future?

Eleni: I would love it if someone was to learn from me, I’d be very happy to show my skills and what I can do.

Sirak: For me it’s different. I love being taught, I love learning and I have a very specific way of doing things so I’m not so sure if I’m at that point in my career where someone can come and follow me but perhaps in the future.


What makes the right salon culture for you?

Eleni: Where I work with Nick at Nūdo, we’re quite chilled. We love to chat to our clients; we want to make them feel safe in our space and safe to talk to us about anything. To me the culture is being free to be yourself when you’re in my chair and the space around me. It’s nice to know that people can come in and have a haircut but also feel better.

Sirak: The best way I can describe it is all the Ruffian shops are like siblings, although we come from the same place, each one has their own personality. For me, it could be summed up in two words, excellence and independence from the way you clean your station, the way you look after your tools, the way you present yourself, to your ambition and relentless work ethic. I always say lock in, zone out and calibrate yourself and get ready to work. I’m, I’m not a fan of celebrating competency. If you are meant to be doing that, then that is exactly what you should be doing. And anything above and beyond should be celebrated.


What does the future hold for you both?

Eleni: We’re moving to a new studio, just a few doors down from where we are now, so hopefully we’ll have more people in, including some hairdressers. I would love to achieve more jobs outside of the shop, such as photo shoots, TV shows and maybe a movie – I’m excited about the future

Sirak: Consistency and discipline, carrying on down the road that I’m on and being consistent enough to carry on achieving and producing the type of work that I’ve already produced and building on that.


What would you say to somebody who is thinking about entering the Modern Barber Awards next year?

Eleni: I would say do it. Be prepared before you do your collection, think about what you want to do and what you would like to showcase. Read the instructions and see what they are actually asking of you before you start doing anything. And be yourself. Try not to be anyone else because it never works.

Sirak: Building on what Eleni said, don’t half arse it, hit it with everything you’ve got because there’s a lot of talent out there. If you enter something that’s lacklustre the panel is made up of experts who will know whether you’ve put in one hundred percent or not.

Modern Barber Award winner Natalie Cresswell, Owner of Cresswell Barber Co, also shared her advice for fellow barbers – you can check it out here.