In Nigeria, the idea of becoming a female barber is not commonplace but Onyinye Obasi has risen above all odds in her chosen profession.
As a woman in a male-domiated field, Ms Obasi, who took up barbering full time in 2014, says she has no regrets.
In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, she shares the joys and challenges of being a female barber in Nigeria.
PT: Why did you decide to become a barber?
Onyinye: That’s the question I always get. I honestly didn’t have an intention to learn barbing. I wanted to learn a skill because my mum insisted that I learn a skill irrespective of my first degree. So after my National Youth Service, I wanted to learn a skill just to please my mum.
However, I picked a skill that can still spark my interest while learning and boom, the idea of barbing came in.
The fact that I have never heard or seen a female barber then when I learnt in 2009 sparked my interest.
PT: How did the journey officially begin?
Onyinye: After learning in 2010, I didn’t have a job then so I volunteered my services for free In the barbershop where I learnt until I got a job months later.
In 2014, I didn’t have a job, so, during an event where I was volunteering my services, I ran into someone with a bad haircut and I advised him on haircuts that will suit his facial structure.
So, my knowledge of haircuts and facial structure prompted him to tell me he knows someone who owns a salon that is looking for a female barber and gave me the contact. I got there, I was interviewed and I got the job.
I told my then employer that I will be working part time since I had a job (the volunteer job) then. Sometime, in 2015 I fell in love with the barbing career and I decided to chase it fully by launching my brand, LushTrends Barbershop in Oregun, Lagos.
PT: How has the feedback been?
Onyinye: Honestly at first it wasn’t easy, I had a lot of rejections, clients looking down at barbers because they see barbing as menial. In fact, there was a time I almost dusted my CV to go back to the corporate world but I’m glad I didn’t.
I have been a female barber 11 years unprofessionally and six years professionally and I’m still counting.
PT: What do you love about your job?
Onyinye: I cut people’s hair for a living but what I sell is good looks and self-confidence. The fact that I help an individual walk out of their low self-esteem to a full blown confidence gives me joy.
For me, it’s more than just being a barber; I see myself as a therapist. The fact that I inspire people gives me great joy.
PT: What reaction do you get when people walk into the store and see a female barber?
Onyinye: When I first started the prejudice was so high. I get a blank ‘No, I’m so sorry you can’t cut my hair’ and they request a male barber.
It’s so painful then because they could trust a male barber for the first time and in my case, it was concluded that I don’t know how to barb just because I’m a woman. In some cases I get excuses like I’m a title chief and women don’t touch my head.
Now it’s so fascinating seeing me cut their hair for the first time and when I’m done they get stuck with the value I offer.
PT: We realise you have also groomed a crop of female barbers.
Onyinye: Indirectly, I have a lot of barbers who are learning from me. Presently, I’m mentoring one and she is working with me. You can’t work with me or be around me and not do the job. I’m a motivational force.
My tactic is by me doing the work. Whatever I want them to do, I do it, so I’m leading by example.
PT: Have you cut the hair of famous people?
Onyinye: Yes, I have cut the hair of a lot of famous people. From Fin Osibanjo, the (Vice President of Nigeria’s son), Joro Olumofin, Deyemi, Harrysong, some international artists, in fact, I have lost count.
PT: You once said women harass you for cutting their husbands’ hair. Why does this happen?
Onyinye: One thing I noticed is that generally, men are very loyal to their barbers, especially when they find a good one. So, some women can’t seem to believe that their man’s barber is a woman. They show their insecurities and sometimes display it in the salon.
PT: Is your partner supportive of your profession?
Onyinye: I’m married and my biggest supporter is my husband, and I bless the day our paths crossed.