Hackney’s hair salons and barbers have a long association with rockabilly-chic, groomed beards and skin fades.
But, in recent years, a new breed of ethically-friendly and community-driven hairdressers are making waves in Dalston, following in the footsteps of independent hairdresser Joshua Coombes, who has a very exclusive clientele: London’s homeless.
Coombes, 29, started the #DoSomethingForNothing social media campaign in 2015. His salon’s Instagram account, which shares images and short clips of Coombes cutting the homeless people’s hair for free, has over 56,000 followers.
The heartwarming story of José Antonio – a Spanish man who lost his livelihood after spiralling into depression – getting a hipster-style trim after 25 years on the streets went viral recently. A video, viewed over two million times, showed the 55-year-old man in tears after his new look was revealed to him, and Coombes is in no doubt about the positive impact of engaging with homeless people.
“Hairdressing is how I communicate with people, but the idea is much bigger. It’s about connecting with someone in a human way. We’re all capable of that,” he told the Hackney Post. It’s quite a change for a former musician, who trained to be a hairdresser at 25.
Coombes was inspired to offer a helping hand after noticing the rise of homelessness on the streets of London.
“Wherever I looked, homelessness was only on the rise. I was feeling more helpless each day at the magnitude and scale of the problem. From these negative feelings came the realisation – just because I can’t completely solve a problem, it doesn’t mean I can’t make an impact.”
A contender for one of Dalston’s most outwardly looking salons is Stunt Dolley. Nestled in the shadow of Dalston Junction, the self-professed “friendly hair oasis” is a fully vegan, organic, Fairtrade salon and a trailblazer for ethical and community outreach programmes.
Soon to introduce a gender-neutral price list, Stunt Dolley’s mission statement sets out its aim: to be a salon that’s not simply a place to get a fresh cut, but also one which promotes ethical practices and gives back to the community.
“We have tried to do certain things for less privileged people in Hackney, even with the apprentices we took on board. They were maybe from slightly underprivileged areas,” says director and hair stylist Dean Tooley, with his unmistakable Australian lilt.
“Nothing is tested on animals in here, everything is Fairtrade. We go the extra mile to make sure everything is fine. We’re trying to be very inclusive of other issues like Fairtrade, and we’ve championed International Women’s Day.”
With stylish wooden floors and exposed brick walls, Stunt Dolley is a stripped-back salon with personable, close-knit staff.
In two weeks’ time they will be hosting a charity drive for clothing in the back courtyard at the salon, and Tooley is looking to step up their other outreach programmes.
“I have been – with one of my clients – trying to organise some kind of meeting with someone at the church at De Beauvoir to offer our services to the wider community.”
He also places a strong emphasis on education, and has strong links with the local colleges from which the salon recruits.
“We are very much involved with the colleges where we send our kids. So, education, education, education is huge for us, as is getting young kids a career.”
Just a stone’s throw away, on the bristling Stoke Newington High Street, another ethically responsible salon is also soliciting change.
Last December sustainable salon Blue Tit donated a whole day of revenue on a busy Saturday to the Hackney Winter Night Shelter. The proceeds went towards hot meals and warm beds on bitterly-cold December nights.
Blue Tit branches in Dalston, Peckham, Clapham, Brockley and East Village raised more than £5,000 for the homeless last year.
The Dalston branch opened in 2011, and the Clapton shop approximately 14 months later.
Blue Tit has a close association with the Hackney Migrant Centre, a charity which offers legal advice and general support to asylum seekers and migrants.
“Every December we do a charity day,” says Matt Gebbie, director at Blue Tit. “The event raises money for local charities. In south London, Tom, who manages our Brixton salon, goes to a homeless shelter in Victoria and he cuts hair over there for them.”
Catering for both men and women, Blue Tit is a lavish, fashion-focussed salon. The stylists are vogueish, tattooed and cheery. The most enthusiastic member of the team is Ella the pug, who revels in mischievously jogging over to each hairdressing station to check on the client’s progress.
Hackney’s hair joints, especially barbershops, have enjoyed a renaissance in the past five years as hipster-chic made its way east. Things are changing, though, according to Gebbie, who says Hackney residents are scaling back on big beards and unmanageable styles.
“In Hackney, it’s a bit more relaxed, and not too stylised. With our gents, I would say it’s kind of classic. We still do the fades, but for us it’s more kind of classic cuts that grow out a little bit longer.
“For our women, cuts that don’t need too much attention. Hackney is not too ‘Essexy’ or anything like that, so I think people just want cool, wearable hair,” he says.
Coombes is unsurprised by the rise of ethically responsible salons and barbers.
“I hear about so many outreach programmes from salons and barbershops. The reason for that is because it’s all about human interaction. As much as making people look and feel good which you can give, it’s about giving you as a person.”
However, he feels that this social responsibility shouldn’t just be left to independent hairdressers.
“The high-end side of it, yeah maybe there should be more of a push, I’ve been doing this for two years now and it has always been the independent brands and people who have approached me to help rather than the TRESemmé’s and L’Oréal’s of the industry.”