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Free haircuts give students hands-on experience

The students learning barber skills at Te Auaha are giving Wellingtonians free haircuts to gain practical experience.

Story and photos by Luke Jackson

The difference between a barber and a hairdresser is hard to explain according to Daimon Johnson, the tutor of Te Auaha’s first-ever New Zealand Certificate in Barber Skills programme. He settles on “honesty”.

“That’s the difference. If you come into a barbershop and ask for a terrible cut, we will tell you it’s a bad idea”

Daimon Johnson (above left) got into barbering out of necessity after he found himself homeless when living in England. While learning the trade cutting businessmen’s hair in central London, he found that “it wasn’t just about the haircut but the whole experience”.

“Touching someone’s head and ears that you’ve never met before is actually quite strange and intimate when you start out. As a result, people tend to trust you more and it breaks down a few barriers in communication.”

Wanting to give his students at Te Auaha, the NZ Institute of Creativity, this kind of real world experience during their 34-week course, he decided to offer free haircuts to the public so they could develop the necessary social skills alongside the technique.

“They get to learn a social and creative trade that they can take anywhere in the world. There is no language in barbering, the language is hair. I just want them to have as many practical cuts as possible so they’re ready for the industry. Half of them are in jobs already.”

Rhiannon Nottage, a 19-year-old student in the course, said she was nervous at the start but “definitely wouldn’t have felt ready to start working in a shop without this experience.”

Other than honesty and great service, Johnson does not distinguish barbering beyond cutting hair that isn’t too long.

“Everyone should be welcome in a barbershop, regardless of gender or anything else. I try and instil those values in my students and create a welcoming environment.”

Free haircuts are available at the ground floor salon on the Te Auaha campus, corner of Dixon Street and Cuba Mall, from 9:30am to 2:30pm every Wednesday and Thursday, or at the WelTec Petone Campus on Fridays.