New York expat barber brings old school grooming to Istanbul's men

Published 14.11.2016 00:00
Updated 21.11.2016 08:58
New York expat barber brings old school grooming to Istanbul's men

Opened by an American-Australian expat in Bebek last month, Frontier Barber shop is bringing old school grooming for the men of Istanbul. Brandon's epiphany for the business came when he realized how committed he was to the traditional barber shop experience

When walking through the doors of Frontier Barber you get the feeling of having entered an old school barber shop, with a contemporary twist. Half American and half Australian Brandon Patton, 31, welcomed us to his hipster shop with a curled up moustache, an old school vest and a Ben Hogan hat. The interior of the shop, decorated with old school leather barber chairs and a big wooden bar, added to the experience of a journey through time. The chalkboard menu with its simple style shows prices for the only three services that are offered at Frontier Barbershop. As we sit down to start our interview, Brandon turns down the music volume and we begin.

We wanted to get to know Brandon a little more so we asked him, "Who is Brandon Patton?"

He began telling us about how he grew up in Hong Kong and Beijing then went to California for his university education. After graduating Brandon got invited to work in Turkey with his friend and current roommate, whose family is responsible for Silk and Cashmere in Istanbul. Brandon says " I fell in love with Turkey six years ago. I could see myself working and spending more time here. After working with my friend for a year, I was required to go back to New York to work at my family's bio-tech company. Working with my family was great however I knew I did not want to do it forever. I wanted to try something on my own."

During our conversation, we asked Brandon how he got interested in cutting hair and how he fell in love with the barber shop experience. Brandon replied, "When I was studying, I stopped shaving for fun and I noticed that I really liked going to this barber shop that I'd been committed to in New York called Fellow Barber. It was in the West Village but I lived on the East side. So it was located across town for me. It would take me a long time to get there and this place was different at the time, there wasn't a wait list and you couldn't make an appointment. You had to physically show up and write your name down. A lot of the times the wait was about two-to-three hours. I found myself waking up early Saturday morning to be there at around 9 a.m. to get my hair cut at 12 p.m. I thought 'Wow! I'm really committed to this experience.' "

Brandon told us how Fellow Barber brought back what was missing in the barbershop experience. "Previously in New York and a lot of other places there were only two options for men to get haircuts. Either it was the corner barber shop with the old neighborhood barber, who generally goes his own traditional ways and does the same boring style cuts. Or you had the choice of going to a salon, if you wanted a more creative edgy kind of haircut and pay a lot more money for it. This would also require you to enter an environment that most men don't feel comfortable being in. This has nothing to do with gender equality, however I do believe that there is a healthy place for men's grooming."

New 'frontiers'

He talks about the name of his shop and the significant meaning behind it. "I had been brainstorming a name for the longest time and as I changed my ideas, the decoration concept of the shop changed as well. After hours spent on brainstorming, the name 'Frontier Barber Shop' fit perfectly. It is an easy name to pronounce and also I see myself as taking the Barber Shop concept and bringing it to a new frontier, in terms of the frontier of Europe. I am also bringing myself to a new frontier in my life by trying out a new business in a new country. Frontier is about inspiring people to take care of their grooming as well as taking charge of their lives."

'A brand that evokes a feeling'

He tells us about how he started his brand and the process of opening up his first entrepreneurial endeavor.

"When I was deciding whether to go to business school or not, I was getting a cut and thought 'This is what I love.' Then I began to think, maybe it would be fun to have a small brand that did something real and different. I wanted to provide a service and see the smile on the customers' face right away. I wanted to be a brand that evokes a feeling."

Brandon expressed that deciding on a suitable space to open the shop wasn't easy. After searching many districts in Istanbul, he decided to get settled in Bebek. His small yet efficient shop is located on a small cobblestone street close to the water. Frontier Barber is sure to grab your attention with its colorful exterior and its eye-catching red and white barber's pole.

"I wanted to mix the old school vibe with a bit of a contemporary twist. There are some Scandinavian influences in the design as well. My essential aim was to create a more timeless design for my shop. I realized that the old school barber shop was going to have a come back in the long run."

Brandon tells us that he was influenced by Fellow Barber and Blind Barber in New York for creating a barber-cafe concept. However, although Brandon was motivated by these barbers, Frontier Barber Shop has a pretty original design unlike any barber in Istanbul.

Technique versus Vision

The skilled barber tells us about the exciting experience of learning to cut hair in a barber school in New York. He says, " I was talking to my dad about my idea for the business, he said, 'You know you should probably learn to cut hair too'. And I had never thought about it that way where I would be the barber... but I said okay. So I went to barber school in New York and it was one of the coolest experiences of my life. After finishing school I started working at some barbershops in Brooklyn."

Now that Brandon had the location and concept in place it was time to find a barber for Frontier. The young entrepreneur explained how the process of finding a suitable barber played out.

"I was really worried about finding a local barber that would match the vibe. A lot of barbers have the technical skill here, Turkish barbers are quite famous around the world especially for their ability to do a hot towel shave. But to me barbering is more than just technique. It's about having a vision and keeping up to date with what is cool and stylish and most importantly what looks good on certain people. And that comes with education and exposure to other people who are educated and stylish. It doesn't happen just from cutting hair for years and years."

Brandon tells us about how he met Zeynel, who was previously working at the salon inside of SOHO House. Brandon explains that he was on the look out for a barber who had exposure to foreign clients and was able to match the brand and what it stood for.

Back to basics

He also shared with us the services offered at his shop and the importance of quality. "My principle is that we offer less service. There are only three items on the menu: Haircut, beard trim, hot towel shave. That's it. There's never going to be a facial treatment or anything like that. We keep it really classic and high quality. We focus on these three things and make sure that we do the best at them. In terms of the services we stripped it down. It's back to the basics because I believe that more service doesn't mean better service. Quality service is important to me so the prices are in accordance with quality. We charge TL 120 [approximately $36] for haircuts, TL 80 for hot towel shaves and TL 50 for beard trims."

Having a kind of vacation

Brandon tells us that feedback on his shop has been really great and his customers have really enjoyed their experience.

"Most of the people who have come in so far have been Turkish with the exception of a few foreigners. I get a lot of feedback saying 'Yeah this reminds me of a shop I went to in London or New York,' and that's exactly what I want Frontier to be. A sort of embassy or consulate where for the 45 minutes that you're here, you don't feel as if you're in Istanbul. I want to transport the customer on a little vacation."

Advice to expats

He gave a piece of advice to expats who want to start a business in Istanbul: "Everything will take longer than you expect so learn to be patient. Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I have no other partners and I don't speak enough Turkish to carry out a business. So you have to surround yourself with people you can trust. If you have a good concept, go for it. I have gotten so much respect for not being afraid to start a business in Istanbul. I mean this is a three-chair shop, it's not going to make a huge dent in the barber industry in Istanbul, but it is something different. Frontier isn't just about Zeynel and I. It's about coming here for the experience and leaving with the feeling of being a part of something."

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