When you first enter the barbershop at Block 820 Tampines St 81, you are immediately met with walls decorated with vintage motorcar posters, upbeat hip hop music, and a couple of barbers looking out from their chairs. Mr Tahir Aziz, a taxi driver turned barber and shop owner, fits in nicely with his T-shirt and matching grey suit.
Beyond the hipster exterior (or interior) of the Keep It Handsome Barbershop, lies a tight-knit family of five barbers, most of whom are Tampines residents.
A Tampines resident since the 1980s, Tahir first opened his barbershop in Chai Chee before moving it to Tampines in 2017. As to why he chose Tampines, he explained, “Tampines is a very convenient and nice place that’s unlike any estate. You have schools, amenities, food, transport – very accessible. At the same time, you can still enjoy the kampung spirit here.” Now that the shop is closer to home, his mother and wife help out all the time. His wife even prepares food for him and his fellow barbers to eat together occasionally. Tahir values treating his employees well. “Without them, we would not be able to operate the shop,” he said. Without hesitation, he attributes this hominess to his upbringing in Tampines.
On why his barbershop is successful, Tahir elaborated, “Barbering is not only about cutting hair. You must have customer service skills – that’s the most important.” When he first started out, only locals would frequent his barbershop. Now, he has loyal customers of all races whom he can call friends. He recalled that during Chinese New Year, the shop was filled with Chinese customers. “We have achieved what we want – to bring togetherness in society,” Tahir said proudly.
Besides making his hair products affordable, Tahir wants to give back to the community. “We cannot go out to do charity work because we’re busy in the barbershop, so we contribute money from the sales of the products to charity,” Tahir said. Their first charity was the Bedok Youth Society for the Disabled (BYSD). He plans to donate to a local Tampines charity in the near future.
“Success doesn’t come overnight,” Tahir advises. Even though he has been cutting hair for almost four years now and has outlets in Johor Bahru and Batam, he claims that he has a lot more to learn. He urges young barbers to be patient, diligent and honest: “Trust your skill because that's your craft. Not everyone can do it, so be proud of what you do and the money will come.” To those who aspire to own a local neighbourhood business like his, he advises them to trust their instincts.
Tahir trusted his instincts, and it looks like he has made the right decision in opening his barbershop at the heart of his community, where people from all over can feel at home.