When MB spoke to Natalie she was giving her cockapoos, Polly and Ted, haircuts. Far from being offended that we didn’t have Natalie’s undivided attention, MB knew that this summed up her character completely. She is the type of person who is always multi-tasking, always looking to fill her time wisely and always on the go. MB also quite liked the idea of the dog getting a technically excellent cut, feeling pampered and included in the conversation, all the attributes that contributed to Natalie scooping the coveted Best All Round Barber title at the Modern Barber Awards in 2020.
THE ORIGIN STORY
Natalie didn’t have the most magical start to her barbering career. Like a lot of barbers she actually trained in women’s hair first before realising her calling. “Fresh out of college I went to work in a salon, but felt I wasn’t supported. After working in a pub for a bit, a friend’s mum offered me an apprenticeship at her salon. Women’s hair just wasn’t my cup of tea though. I did a course at the Goldwell Academy and on the last day we got to do men’s hair. That was my ‘aha’ moment.”
The next day she rang up a load of barbershops from the Yellow Pages (old school!), bagged herself an interview and stayed . in that shop for about five years.
“Then I was offered jobs all over. I moved to Romsey, to Salisbury and then to Southampton city. But I couldn’t find a shop that I was happy in. I had one experience where I was exploited for chair rent, saw staff being subjected to homophobic comments and barbers were even fired unlawfully,” she adds.
“I’VE LEARNT THAT IN BARBERINGTHERE’S A DIVIDE BETWEEN PEOPLE WHO DO IT FOR THE MONEY AND THE PEOPLE WHO DO IT FOR THE CRAFT FOR ME IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE LONG GAME – MONEY IS SECONDARY.”
THE NEXT STEPS
After that horrible experience, Natalie’s dad said: “You know what you’ve got to do – you need to set up your own barbershop.” But Natalie was hesitant at first (“I didn’t want the responsibility –I wanted to do my work and have a life.”)
But after a while, it all started to make sense. She moved back in with parents to save money and her grandparents helped to finance the business at first. Everything was up and running in about six months and they opened on 12 December 2015.
Natalie says: “Cresswell Barber Co has been open five and a half years now. I’ve learnt that in barbering there’s a divide between people who do it for the money and the people who do it for the craft. For me it’s always about the long game – money is secondary.” In terms of staff management, Natalie’s previous bad experiences have helped shape her into a manager that she’d like to work with. “If you’re an egotistical manager who doesn’t treat their staff right, how do you expect them to pitch in and work with, not against, your barbershop?”
When MB asks Natalie where she keeps her Modern Barber Award trophy, she responds: “I’ve got in my section but in the corner… not in the middle. It’s not about me. It’s about everyone on the team.” Which seems reflective of how she manages the shop. All the barbers at Cresswell Barber Co are self-employed and they take control of their own finances. This might change in the future, but for now Natalie knows that this is the right decision for her business. But it’s still a team environment: “As a company we offer communal activities like Food Fridays and we go to industry events and awards as a team. Our barbers are all profiled on our website, but they can (and do!) promote themselves with their own marketing too.”
THE CRESSWELL EXPERIENCE
At Cresswell Barber Co everything is about making clients feel confident and relaxed when they’re in the chair. “We’re experts at knowing when to talk and when not to talk,” she explains. “We’re really good at body language. Guys share everything with us – affairs, drug addictions, relationships... It’s a huge honour and privilege that people want to share their lives with you.” The barbershop sits in a really diverse socio-economic area and aims to be welcoming to everyone.
But that’s not to say that every day is a walk in the park. “In my career I have dealt with sexism. It says a lot about the person if they’re judging you on your gender, not your ability. There’s no better feeling than saying ‘this is my shop’ to a guy who says ‘can you cut hair?’ It gives me real fuel. Obviously I then give him the best haircut he’s ever had!” she laughs. A happy side effect of becoming appointmentbased and cashless due the pandemic has meant that all the people who didn’t take the shop seriously have gone, Natalie reports. “I think every barber has had a client who has made them second guess their ability though – whatever their gender. It gets you flustered. But skill has no gender. A lot of heterosexual guys like a woman cutting their hair. The craft is the craft. There’s some amazing female barbers in this industry: Siobhan Moriarty-Jones, Hannah McKnight, Hayden Cassidy to name a few,” she states.
“THERE’S NO BETTER FEELING THAN SAYING ‘THIS IS MY SHOP’ TO A GUY WHO SAYS ‘CAN YOU CUT HAIR?’ IT GIVES ME REAL FUEL.”
Natalie works alongside her partner and fellow barber JD and if you follow her on Instagram (@natbarbergirl), you’ll know how the pair look like they’re nailing barber life! When MB asked Natalie what it’s like working with your partner every day, she replied: “Well, we work back to back so I never actually see him! I was really cautious with our relationship at first and we kept it private until we were sure how we felt.” James is the brand manager and looks after the website and social media, whereas Natalie is more forward-facing and creative. “We’re both go-getters. We hate feeling stagnant. We can’t sit still,” she says. “We actually hired a Southampton marketing company in the past year and it was a really wise decision. We don’t do Instagram and Facebook ads, instead we put money into our website and focused on SEO.”
During the past year, and various lockdowns, Natalie and James really overhauled the business. “I thought we might as well make progress where we can,” she says. “I believe in the saying: “If you don’t spend it, you don’t get it back”. So we invested £17.5k on rebranding and redesigning the shop. The walls used to be dark green and the furniture dark brown – like a traditional barbershop. But there was no light! I was so angry with myself for doing that! It’s now much lighter and brighter, we’ve got lots of plants and a new floor and bathroom.” A new shop sign was high on the agenda too – as the company wanted to set themselves apart from the 20+ barbershops in Shirley. “We are a separate entity from them,” explains Natalie. “We deliver half hour to 45 minute haircuts, we’re cashless and we’ve a strong community feel.”
In terms of plans for the rest of 2021 Natalie is hoping to open another barbershop and coffee shop in the suburbs. “It’s got a gorgeous patio and we’ll serve beer, wine and my baked goods too! We’re also doing a not-for-profit pop up for Pride month and JD has his own barbershop caravan ready to go – he’s booked for festivals like Boardmasters, Naas, Creamfields and hopefully I’ll join him for some of them.” Sounds good, can MB come too?