Michael Anderson runs the Liverpool barbershop Son of a Barber and has recently decided to make the shop fully vegan. We caught up with Michael to find out about the catalyst behind the shop’s transformation.
I started Son of a Barber (previously called L31) seven years ago now. I started working in my Dad’s barbershop at the age of fourteen, so barbering has been a very significant part of my life for quite a while now.
Owning my own shop is literally a dream come true and something that wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my parents, who made the very kind offer to get me started with my own business. My Dad had quite an influence on the shop in the early days, his experience and expertise helped to get the business off the ground. But as time went by, I slowly transformed Son of a Barber into my own vision. That vision turned out to be a barbershop where vegans like myself could feel comfortable, safe in the knowledge that we’ve considered the exploitation of animals at every customer touchpoint, from the (soy) milk that goes in the teas, to the vegan-friendly sweets we give to the younger customers.
My personal vegan journey started in 2016. I was vegetarian from a very young age (around 5 or 6) but hadn’t really considering the cruelty of the dairy industry, like many I loved the taste of cheese too much to give it any real thought. That all changed when I began to notice more and more resources around from organisations like The Vegan Society and other vegan charities, as the vegan movement grew I began to sit up and pay attention.
The real turning point came when I was in a restaurant in Liverpool city centre one day. There was a leaflet on the table asking vegetarians to mention their dietary requirements to a member of staff, as some of their cheeses contained rennet. I had never heard of this before so I decided to search it on my phone. It seems like such a small thing now, but this was enough to trigger an awakening in me. The more I read about rennet, the more I realised the extent to which animals are commodified in everything from food to the personal grooming industry.
That was enough to cement in my mind that it was crucial for me to actively avoid the exploitation of animals as far as possible. I began with research and after a couple of months, transitioned fully to a vegan lifestyle in my personal life. The next big step was to extend my beliefs to where I spent the majority of my time – my shop.
The turning point
When I first considered making Son of a Barber a fully vegan barber shop, I didn’t fully anticipate how much I would need to change. I started with the obvious things like faux leather chairs and waiting benches, then I began to look into hair products that we use. It was definitely a gradual process and a steep learning curve, I’ve had to become an expert in vegan products! I can now glance at a label and spot an animal-derived ingredient, which is a useful skill to have.
A key aim of mine was to ensurw we didn’t compromise on quality, so trialling lots of different products took a considerable amount of time. But we did get there eventually and I’m happy to have found products as obscure as vegan shaving brushes (which are traditionally made from badger hair). We’ve never lived in a more accessible time for veganism and it’s brilliant to see the number of vegan products that can be found if you’re willing to do a little digging.
The reaction from my team and the customers has certainly been mixed, but overall I’d say overwhelmingly positive.
None of the team was vegan, so the transformation required a lot of education in order for them to understand the reasoning behind the change. I’ve never been militant with my approach to my team because I believe in planting seeds and letting them come to veganism themselves, just as I did. It all starts with education, if you can spark a question in someone’s mind then that’s a great way to break down barriers and begin to get them thinking. I can confidently say that through this approach I’ve encouraged others around me to adopt a vegan lifestyle.
I have the same approach with my clientele. Realistically the bulk of customers who visit Son of a Barber won’t be vegan, so the shop provides the perfect opportunity for some gentle prodding to get them to think about the exploitation of animals, 'gentle' really is the operative word here too. If you were to walk into Son of a Barber off the street and had no idea it was vegan, you probably wouldn’t notice for quite some time and that’s exactly how we want it. Our aim is to normalise vegan businesses and we hope that our approach encourages people to realise how accessible and easy a vegan lifestyle can be. It’s usually not until we offer our coffees with soy milk that the customers start to get suspicious!
We do get the odd customer who gets annoyed but it’s usually the same ones that believe cows magically produce milk by eating grass, without making the connection that it’s actually for their babies! Again, it presents a brilliant opportunity for education.
It’s so satisfying when a customer comments on how great the products we use smell for example, and then to see their eyes widen when we tell them it’s actually vegan. It’s a great feeling to see dated stereotypes, or just basic ignorance, shatter before your eyes.
A blueprint for the future
I think the public is definitely becoming more receptive to the vegan message. There isn’t a massive demand at the moment for a barbershop to call themselves a vegan barbershop. However, I think we are a really good blueprint for the future.
I think if most barbers took the time to learn about the cruelty involved in sourcing products like badger hair shaving brushes, they’d certainly switch to synthetic. I also think that if the public were aware, they would demand this change too.
The vegan movement is growing incredibly fast at the minute. Living in Liverpool, I’ve noticed that it seems like every restaurant has a vegan menu in their window. Being vegan has gone from an uncool stereotype to being socially acceptable. I truly believe it’s here to stay too and not just a short-lived fad. Celebrities, the public and big businesses alike are all waking up to the fact that in 2018, there’s really no excuse for the cruelty of animal products. There is always an alternative available and these alternatives are taking centre stage more and more frequently.
I’d like to think that Son of a Barber can help lead the way for other barbershops, hopefully, this article will be the catalyst for someone to decide to change the way their business operates. If that person is you, get in touch! I’d be happy to share what I’ve learned with you.
You can follow Son of a Barber on their Facebook page.
The views expressed by our bloggers are not necessarily the views of The Vegan Society.