Anna Elliott co-owner of Doc Guthrie’s Barbershop (Shanghai, China) and Wahl Educator & Ambassador (China), recently completed her Asia tour celebrating the 100th anniversary of Wahl. Singapore marks her last stop. Anna did a two days Look ‘N’ Learn with some barbers and hairstylists here in Tai Wah (Wahl distributor, Singapore) headquarter.
15 Minutes With Anna Elliott
Katherine: Hi Anna, thanks for making time for this interview. First off, can you share with us how did your ‘hair’ career begins and why barbering?
Anna: When I was a teenager, my friend Lee, who was a few years older than me, was training to be a hairdresser and always used me as his guinea pig for practicing all sorts of colour and styles…it was so much fun! My school and my parents didn’t care so I got to have a lot of fun hair styles in those years. I loved the creative aspect of it and always saw it as a fun and creative industry. After I graduated from Art School, I was unsure what to do with my life so I turned to hairdressing with the encouragement of my friend Lee. I enrolled at Aveda Institute in NYC, applied for a student loan and off I went! Not long into my new vocation, I realised that colour was not my strong suit and neither were blow dry’s and up-do’s…so I gravitated towards cutting. The first shop I got a job in after hair school was in a small salon in Glasgow, Scotland. This company also had several barber shops so as I started to get more male regular customers, my boss started rotating me through the other barbershops and I slowly started to build my career as a barber. I felt this suited me much more and felt less pressure when working with men.
K: Barbering always has and remains a male-dominating segment of the hair industry. Over the years, you have won the trust of many clients and likes from fellow barbers. As a woman, are there any challenges during the initial years of your barbering career?
A: In the UK, hairdressers are predominantly woman and barbers are predominantly men but while I was there, there was never any issues with me being female. There are the odd clients who would request a male barber and that’s fine, I don’t take offence to that. But I did start to get several comments about how, when doing a hot towel shave, for example, many of my customers said they preferred me to do it because my touch was much lighter than that of a mans and they felt it was more relaxing. Thankfully, I have never experienced any sort of discrimination in my career. The only thing I don’t agree with is barber shops who refuse women to enter. We currently don’t cut women’s hair in our shop, but we have a sign that jovially asks partners and spouses to wait in the waiting area and not stand next to their husbands while they get their haircut! However, shops that refuse women to enter means that they are refusing women from working in them. Which I don’t think if right in this day and age. As an industry, I think we should be way beyond this sort of thing.
K: What brought you to Shanghai, China, and what inspired you to start Doc Guthrie’s Barbershop?
A: My wife got a job in Shanghai as a swimming coach. We had friends living there at the time and they encouraged us to make the move. They assured us we would love Shanghai! So, when we moved here, I was sure I would find barber shops already here….but there were none. Only the very old school local ones where I would never be able to get a job! I met a friend Dylan who owned a tattoo shop at the time. He said to me that if i ever wanted to open a barbershop, I should come to talk to him. So, one day, we had that conversation and it took off from there. He and I, along with our other two partners, are coming up to our 5th year of Doc Guthrie’s.
K: As an Educator & Ambassador for Wahl. What is it about the brand and its products that make this a successful partnership?
A:I have always used Wahl products even when I was first hairdressing so I have always been comfortable with their tools. I was starting to make vague plans to open a school or to start some sort of teaching programme so when Wahl approached me, it seemed like the perfect combination because it allows me to help others by teaching while also allowing me to work with such an amazing company.
K: What is the most rewarding and frustrating thing for you as an educator?
A:I come from a long line of teachers! My mother is a retired English teacher and my sister is a Special Needs teacher so I am fortunate to have them to always bounce ideas off of. My wife is also a coach so she too has been influential in my teaching practices. I love encouraging others and helping them grow and learn new things. That’s defiantly the most rewarding part. However, discipline can be difficult! And when classes as big, and I’m only one person, it can be like herding cats! Haha.
K: What’s your view on the battle between Clippers vs. Scissors?
A: Even at Wahl, we know that clippers will never fully replace scissors. So the idea is how best to use you tools in the way that is most comfortable for you. Although I teach classes only using clippers, I do allow my students to use what is more comfortable for them. However, I encourage all of them to at least try a different technique. Some of them love it and will continue to use it, others might try it once and go right back to scissors. And that’s ok.
K: Finally, last question. One golden advice for any aspiring barbers, which they should remember throughout their entire barbering career.
A: Patience. I see so many new barbers desperate to be making lots of money and cutting the best fades ever but I always try and encourage my students and staff to be patient. If you force things too much, you will most likely learn things in the wrong
way, or rush into bad habits. Or, you will burn out. So I always say you have to be prepared to put in the work. You have to be prepared to spend long hours on your feet, or spend many hours sitting around the shop. You have to get used to sweeping floors, skipping lunch, running late into the end of your shift, having difficult customers, having difficult co-workers or bosses. These thing build character and they build a good foundation for a long, successful and humble career.