Seven years ago I helped to establish the BBA Student of the Year competition. Alongside an event hosted by American Crew, this was the only real barbering comp in the whole of the UK at the time. In comparison, there are now barbering competitions popping up everywhere, which is great news for our industry!
I wholeheartedly encourage all barbers to enter competitions: they offer a fantastic experience and can really help to boost a barber’s confidence, client base, and personal profile. Unfortunately, not everyone that enters can win, but by simply entering an event you are promoting your work and name, and are likely to take something positive away with you.
In my 27-years as a barber I’ve been involved in many different kinds of competition; I have sat on live judging panels where the pressure is very real, managed competitive online voting polls with some of the industry’s leading experts, and even stood centre-stage to help judge, referee and coordinate shaving extravaganzas, such as those seen annually in The Bluebeards Revenge boxing ring at the Britain’s Best Wet Shave final.
From my involvement in all of the above, I can honestly say that I have never seen, or been involved with, anything that has been fixed. The leading events in the country are always won fairly and judged professionally.
Now that the competition season is well under way, I thought it appropriate to offer you all the best advice from my experiences. Comp season can be broken down into three key areas: imagery, support, and confidence.
No matter what type of event you enter, you’re going to need images of your work. Strong, professional imagery will really set you apart from the crowd and is not as hard to capture as you think.
If you have the budget, hire a photographer. Otherwise, modern smartphones are capable of taking a strong image if the lighting and environment are appropriate. In normal images, the lighting will always focus on the face. But with hairstyling shoots, it’s the opposite. Place a light behind the model, facing up towards the head, to highlight the outline of the cut. Then, use another light from a higher angle to highlight any specific details you want to show off, such as a textured, choppy fringe.
It’s important to use the best possible model you can find. They don’t have to be a David Beckham lookalike, but make sure they’re comfortable in front of a camera and have strong, healthy hair – you don’t build a castle on weak foundations.
Give yourself at least half a day to perfect the style you want to photograph and take your time to make sure all of your lines are clean. It’s also imperative to make sure there are no red marks, and no hair stuck to the skin as any good panel of judges will definitely be looking for details such as these.
Consider the clothes that you style your model in too. The main attraction should always be the hair, which means your model’s clothes should not be overpowering. Make sure they suit the style you are cutting to minimise distractions and keep any colours relatively neutral. A small amount of makeup can also help to highlight the finished hairstyle.
Some competitions will require you to generate votes for your work. These often trip competitors up as they get frustrated and start to view the whole thing as a ‘popularity vote’. If truth be told, they are popularity votes, but if you spend a little time to plan your approach, you’ll find you do have enough support to make it through.
You need to work your social media channels hard with regular posts to remind your followers to vote for you. Don’t forget to call upon your clients as well. If they are loyal customers, which most of them will be, they will take the time to vote and will likely spread the word in their own social circles.
If you’re still struggling, consider offering small incentives to customers and social media followers. You’ll be surprised how many people will suddenly get involved and you may even grab some new clients!
Most importantly, always avoid cheating. I regularly see entrants spamming competitions with fake emails. Very rarely are these actually counted as the organisers will have preventions in place. I’ve worked in competitions where thousands of votes come through from one IP address and they are discredited immediately.
So, you’ve made it through to the live finals – congratulations!
If you have never been there before, nothing will really prepare you for the big day. Nerves work in one of two ways, but whatever happens you’ve got to embrace them.
The day before the final, spend time practising your commentary as you’ll likely be sporting a microphone and there’s nothing worse than long, awkward silences – think of it more as a performance than a standard haircut.
It’s also important to make sure you get to the venue early on the day of the final. This will minimalize your chances of becoming unnecessarily flustered and disorganised. Avoid consuming too much caffeine and sugar as well. Instead, eat a balanced breakfast and drink plenty of water.
Finally, make sure you find the time to enjoy yourself. Barbering is an industry that encourages improvement for all, and competitions are the perfect way to achieve this.