In a male dominated industry, Leah Hayden Cassidy has notably become one of Ireland’s most successful barbers in recent time; challenging herself by fusing fashion into creative editorial work and showcasing the best of her ability through exciting collaborative projects. Now continuing her ongoing journey in Nomad Barbers, Berlin.
How did you begin barbering?
About three years ago a good friend of mine, Conor Taaffe, had started training to become a barber. I was fascinated to hear about his experiences and about the barbering world. It was something I had never experienced. I’d never been inside a barbershop and yet I found myself amazed by his Instagram posts and all the fascinating barbers on social media.
About a year later I convinced Conor to talk me through a haircut. I got a friend to model; he cut one side and I mirrored on the other. It felt like I’d been doing it forever and I sent out my first ever haircut – a skin fade. From there, I looked up every video I could find, followed as many barbers as I could and started practising on anybody who would let me. I’m so blessed to have progressed so quickly. I’ve been only doing it less than two years, but I think it’s so important to throw yourself into the deep end and have no fear in whatever you face.
Was it always something that appealed to you as a career choice, or did you have something else in mind?
Actually, I never really thought about it before Conor started. I had never even been interested in hairdressing and I always hated going to a salon to get my own hair done growing up. When I finished school I got a scholarship in the US to play soccer and study at a university in Florida. I ended up breaking my leg pretty badly, so had to call it a day and fly home.
All I’d ever wanted to do was play soccer, so when I got home I was in a panic – until I got introduced to barbering. I’m blessed because I was afraid that I’d never find the same passion I had for football in anything else. But I think I’ve definitely found it in barbering. I always put 110% into what I do, so if I’m going to have a career, I need it to be something that’s important to me.
“I always put 110% into what I do.”
Talk to us about the Ink Factory, how was it working in such a quirky store?
Ah, the Ink Factory/ The Demon Barbershop! This place is one of the most inspiring, creative, chilled and exciting places I’ve ever been in. The minute I walked in, I knew I had to work there. From the other barbers to the tattoo artists, and all of the other staff, the place is bursting with passion.
Tom the barber is probably one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever worked with. Watching him do a shave or a cut makes you realise how much craft is in his work. It’s a vocation for all those lads. It’s so rare to see barbers put 110% into every cut and shave but that’s exactly what you get there. It’s so refreshing to work in a barber shop that welcomes everybody – no matter what gender or what cut, they’ll do it.
When other barbers are watching you cut as a part of their training method, do you feel a big responsibility from this? Does it make you nervous?
I don’t really feel that it’s a responsibility. I think that no matter how far you have progressed in this career you can never stop learning. To share knowledge with people and to see their progression is probably one of the best things about this industry. I’m mostly self-taught, so when it came to cutting on stage, I knew I had to push myself to do it. But I also told myself that, with so many people watching, you’re going to get criticism no matter what. If you go into it with a mindset that you “do what you do” and don’t take much to heart, I think that makes it a lot easier.
“When it came to cutting on stage, I knew I had to push myself to do it.”
Tell us about the process you go through when cutting hair.
I try keep it to five steps; structure, shape, clipper work, style and finish. I nearly always start off with cutting the top of the hair first. I think it’s a better end result when you clipper into the desired length and shape on top, rather than starting your clipper work first. It means that you can see where the fade/taper is going to look most natural. I’ll usually begin by cutting the length off, then section the top out to add layers/texture, blend it into the sides with clipper over comb, usually keeping everything squared and then start my fading process.
At the end I’ll blow-dry it off and then I’ll see if I need to do a little more scissor work. Usually, if I do, it’ll just be to soften some parts. After that, I’ll line up and mark out whatever I’ve done and then style it. I think the most important thing to your finished look isn’t what product you use, it’s how well you’ve blow dried it. At the end of the day, the product you put in is only going to mask what you’ve done with a brush and a hairdryer.
“I’m always excited to see trends start.”
How important is client consultation?
I think a consultation is the most important thing; to make sure the client is 100% happy. Understanding your client’s lifestyle and their styling experience, is essential. You need to know to make sure you give them a cut that they’re happy with.
What trends are popular right now?
I think that over the last few months tapers and longer length trims have been a huge trend, and I love doing them. But the fade will always be around. Last season it was all about texture, high skin fades, crops and more modern cuts but I think this season is going to be more about movement, with length on top and more natural styling. I’m always excited to see trends start.
“I grabbed the opportunity and flew over for a guest appearance.”
Tell us a bit about your move to Berlin, how did this opportunity arise?
Miguel, or “the Nomad Barber” got in contact with me about his shop. I’d met him once before and it was an absolute honour to get a message to see if I’d guest in his new Berlin shop. He was the first barber I’d ever followed. I’d watched all his videos and I’d learned a lot from his tutorials, so when he contacted me I was shocked. I grabbed the opportunity and flew over for a guest appearance.
When I got there I fell in love with the city and the shop was next level. After my guest spot, he asked if I’d be interested in moving over so I thought “why not give it a try?”. I know I’m going to learn so much over there. His service is one of the best in the world and his team are incredible. As I said, knowledge is one of the most important things in this line of work so I always try step out of my comfort zone. I think it’s the best way to learn.
“It makes a huge difference when the person sitting in front of you trusts you completely.”
What’s your favourite product range to use for finishing?
There are so many products out there right now and so many good ones too. I think it really depends on the look. For old school, or wet looks you can’t beat Reuzel or Layrite, but I’ve recently started using the Kevin Murphy range and those products are unbelievable. So right now I’d say they are probably my favourite.
Somebody confident in you and confident in their hair. It makes a huge difference when the person sitting in front of you trusts you completely. Everybody is going to have an end image that they want their hair to look like but when somebody gives you a bit of free range it’s always a breath of fresh air.
Leah Hayden Cassidy on Instagram