Ben Theophanous co-founder of Curfew Grooming was one of the first Pop Brixton Members. He is now in the middle of a busy schedule developing their new flagship store on Brixton Station Road. While the site begins to take shape and Ben prepares to open, we caught up with him to discuss the new branding, how he’s designed his first bricks and mortar site, and the important role barbers play in supporting men's mental health.
We’re really excited to see you open the new Curfew Grooming site on Brixton Station Road, tell us a bit about the new brand and how you developed it?
“The Curfew Grooming brand was created in the summer of 2020, slap bang in the middle of lockdown. The world seems to be changing at pace, and our idea was to build a grooming platform for men and women that’s more suitable for the modern world. A space that reflects the need for change, and that disrupts the current traditional barbering model.
Curfew Grooming challenges the traditional model of dusty, cluttered barbershops and long queues, with a more minimal, clean, and modern environment - whilst always staying true to the traditional craft of barbering. I guess you can say that we are trying to disrupt the traditional way of doing things, but not the tradition itself. From booking an appointment, through to the services we offer and what goes on behind the scenes, everything has been decluttered to make us a smoother grooming platform.”
You’re currently in the process of kitting out the new store, how has the new brand informed the design of the space?
“We’re inspired by all things modern: design, architecture and a modernist perspective - so think clean lines, precision, angles, and non-conventional shapes. This reflects our style of barbering, the training that we give our staff, and also the decor you’ll see across our sites. We love concrete, and have a lot of it, so I guess brutalism has had a big influence on our image but we mix that with splashes of bold, bright colours. The branding is also reflected in our style of cutting hair - we’re precise”.
It must be very different developing a bricks and mortar storefront to converting a shipping container, what lessons did you take forward from converting the container at Pop Brixton?
“You’d expect a shipping container to be more limiting. But that’s not really the case - often you can do amazing stuff with small spaces, as you more immediately know your boundaries. We had a sink made from a whisky container! There are so many things you can do to maximise your space and make it really creative. Bricks and mortar can be challenging when you’re on a budget because of the solid nature of the structure you might inherit. Or it just takes more budget to mold it into your vision.”
What words of advice would you give to someone who is planning to open their own barbershop?
“My best advice is don’t try and take on all the responsibilities yourself. What you tend to find in the barbering industry, is that the owner is usually the person who manages staff as well as being on the shop floor cutting hair. They then also try to manage all of the administrative sides of the business too. I personally think this model is massively flawed, because one person can’t focus on doing all these jobs well. It’s too much responsibility, when you’re spinning so many plates, one of them will fall, and something will slip. What we’ve done at Curfew which works well, is split the responsibilities between the barbers (the creatives) and the management (the suits). This way, responsibilities aren’t blurred, and people can focus on doing what they do best. Admin shouldn’t get in the way of creativity. So think carefully about how to concentrate on delivering quality creative craft in your service, and ensure someone has clear responsibility for the admin. Never underestimate it either. These are the mechanics of the business and need time and attention to make sure you keep growing.
At Curfew Grooming - Louie manages the team of barbers, ensuring standards are always met and then Dan and i focus on building the brand beyond the end product - so the strategy, marketing, finance, and everything else - it works.”
This year, despite the obvious obstacles due to COVID -19 you have been busy expanding into Brixton Road and Hackney Bridge. What were you most excited about and what were you most nervous about?
“Of course, it’s been a really unpredictable year, so we’ve had to battle with being open, being closed, being open again. You know the drill. We also just opened a new site in Hackney as you said, so we took on quite a lot in a short space of time. The main thing that made me nervous was thinking about whether we took on too much at once but, if you are prepared to put in the graft, I tend to think that people can achieve much more than they give themselves credit for. I guess it’s human nature to be cautious and often our reflex reaction to stuff isn’t as optimistic as it should be. Just go for it, and see what happens, has been our sort of mantra. Make Shift has also been amazing, and without them, we wouldn’t be in the position we are in.”
During lockdown people have been declaring their love for their barbers, do you think this is a new feeling of appreciation, or has the relationship always been strong between barbers and their clients?
“I think if you go back hundreds of years, there has always been a strong relationship between a barber and their customers. The process is quite an intimate one, and people generally open up to their barber, if they’ve got something on their chest, or if they fancy a chat. Not always. I think the whole setup is a well-balanced environment where people feel comfortable on a personal level to open up.
Mental Health is big on our radar too, given the nature of what we do and the platform we have as barbers. For example, we recently put all our team on a mental health first aid course, which was an amazing experience. The course trains businesses how to be better listeners, and generally how to identify with scenarios or conversations, where a bit more empathy could really make a difference to someone’s day.
Be the 12th Man is a mental health campaign that was started by The Outsiders charity. They organise mental health awareness training for Barbers, tattoo artists, taxi drivers, and hospitality staff in order to address men’s mental health challenges - basically places where conversations happen. What they do is so amazing, and we are their representative for the London area.
We know you're only moving around the corner, but we’ll miss you being on-site! What is your favorite thing about being a Member at Pop Brixton?
“We were one of the first traders on-site when Pop Brixton opened in 2015 - it was really cool because Pop Brixton was one of the first shipping container sites in London, at a time when the concept was completely new.
To this day, it still has an exciting energy that’s hard to describe. I reckon it’s a result of uniting a lot of like-minded people, all trying to make it with their unique business concepts, and connecting them all in a shared space. It feels like a community, and people tend to help each other out in ways that you don’t see more established businesses doing.’