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Cutting, shaping and restyling the future

The Hoi Polloi, led by Steven Chapman, challenges barbershop stereotypes with a contemporary approach. Embracing inclusivity through silent haircuts and community engagement, it sets a new standard in male grooming.

Signboard poster that says The Hoi Polloi, haircuts, beards, shaves.

Haircuts, shaving and beard maintenance have been key aspects of male grooming for centuries, playing a fundamental part in ‘masculine life’. Yet while the tools and techniques have evolved, the humble barber shop remains pigeonholed as a place where ‘men can be men’.

When you think of a barbershop in 2024, what do you see? Hypermasculinity? Noise? Lad banter? Here, Steven Chapman, founder of The Hoi Polloi, tells NET’s Kate Hewison how he is doing things differently by (pardon the pun) cutting through the stereotypes.

“To be honest, some barbershops can be pretty blunt, pretty harsh places.

“Barbershops have always been, ‘if someone’s not doing something right, it’s time to f***ing do it right.’”

The dictionary definition of hoi polloi is ‘the everyday person’ or ‘the masses’, and it is particularly pertinent to Steven, who wanted to build a brand that ensured everyone felt welcome.

With experience spanning London to Sydney, and a workforce of talented, friendly individuals, The Hoi Polloi offers a diverse, contemporary barbering experience that is palpable from the moment you walk in the front door.

With its Melbourne-esque interior, unique merch, running club and pop-up events, The Hoi Polloi isn’t your average barbershop.

Print of The Hoi Polloi tshirt modelled on a person Man wearing boots and jeans sweeping floor of barbershop

After working across the globe and with a dream of launching a lifestyle brand that surpassed the expectations of a conventional barbershop, Steven opened The Hoi Polloi, in Newcastle, five weeks before the first lockdown in early 2020.

He says: “We sort of grew, weirdly, with the lockdowns.

“We were doing a lot of social media content, blogs and stuff like that.

“People were finding us when they were sat at home on their phones.

“Then, when it came to rebooking, we were finding that each lockdown was giving us a sudden surge of new customers.”

Fast forward four years, with Newcastle and Whitley Bay locations – and more on the horizon – The Hoi Polloi is the barbershop of choice for many across the North East.

With a loyal clientele and strong social media following, it has a community of its own.

But what sets The Hoi Polloi apart?

How, in seemingly tumultuous times for local businesses, did this barbershop come out stronger than ever?

The experience.

Steven describes The Hoi Polloi as high end but informal, where quality of service is taken very seriously while the way it is communicated isn’t.

He believes great service is all about making the customer feel as comfortable as possible.

He says: “In some places, the barbers will be talking to each other a lot, and it’ll be quite rowdy.

“But what we do differently, I would say, is when we’re with a customer, our undivided attention is to that customer.

“It’s about being perceptive and gauging what that customer wants, and working on that to make them have the experience they want.

“Sometimes, that means pulling back.”

Hair brush in back of jeans pocket

For some, the idea of getting a haircut or visiting a barbershop can be daunting, particularly for those with a neurodiversity.

Growing up, Steven would join his mum at her workplace where she cared for autistic adults.

When he left school, he worked at the same care home as a care assistant, later studying mental health nursing at university.

Fuelled by his early exposure to those with neurodivergences or sensory issues, Steven introduced Silent Haircuts to The Hoi Polloi’s booking system.

He says: “A lot of the time, they’d be unshaved and unkempt, because it’d be such an issue to bring them into a loud barbershop.

“But if someone’s not looking great, that’s not good for their mental health, either.

“I thought there should be a way of making it easier for people to access services; it shouldn’t have to be a one-size-fits-all approach for this sort of thing.”

The Silent Haircut option has been utilised a lot more than Steven initially anticipated, from international students feeling anxious speaking in their second language for 45 minutes straight (which is the standard timeframe at The Hoi Polloi), to those who prefer to use the time to relax or may find talking with a stranger stressful.

Black and white image of man getting beard cut Man working in barbershop

Three quarters of an hour for a standard appointment gives the barbers time to have a full consultation, and wash and dry customers’ hair for a better cutting experience, rather than a quantity over quality approach.

And it works.

When NET Curated asked customers what they thought of the experience, one said:

“Class people, great haircuts, infectious atmosphere”.

Back when he first started, Steven worked in barbershops that were loud, boisterous and worked on a walk-in basis.

It was a blueprint he was determined not to follow.

He says: “There’s a lot to be said for that environment; it is really fun to work in, and people loved it at the time.

“But I think it’s just not necessarily suited to where society is at the moment.

“When we’re in the shop, it’s all quite calm. Everyone’s nice to each other.

“It’s not that busy, hectic place because we work on appointments, and we’re lucky enough that we’re always fully booked.

“Generally, the atmosphere in the shop is quite calm; the music we play and the aesthetic of the shop tries to make people feel comfortable.”

For Steven, his vision was to create a lifestyle brand, pushing the boundaries of what you’d normally expect of a stereotypical barbershop.

And as the business approaches its five-year mark next year, he says none of it would have been possible without his dedicated team.

He says: “The Hoi Polloi isn’t really me, it’s everyone in the shop that brings it together.

“None of it would’ve happened if they weren’t here.

“Being busy and the money side of it is obviously good, but the journey of the people you’re doing it with, and having people alongside you and enjoying it with you, that is much better for me.”

From hosting pop-up events with Full Circle Brew, Common Ilke Vintage and RE:BOURN at its Newcastle location to running training sessions across the country, successfully launching a range of branded products and two – soon to be three – locations in the North East, there’s no doubt The Hoi Polloi has established itself as a gamechanger in men’s grooming.

For Steven and his team, the days of lad banter, lacklustre service and an intimidating atmosphere are long gone.

But there’s still so much further to go.

As we embark on an essential movement in society where inclusivity is crucial, will we ever get to a point where all the people who want to visit a barbershop feel comfortable to do so?

Only time will tell.

However, as businesses such as The Hoi Polloi make deliberate changes to welcome the masses, the future is looking bright.

Photography by Glen Roughead


March 3, 2024

  • Lifestyle

Created by Kate Hewison