Mervyn Hi: Barber / Black Sheep
It was not the first time I was having my hair cut by a stranger, but what felt new to me was how comfortable I was; no fear, or even wariness of the man I’d paid to take a razor to my hair.
I’ve seen my share of barbers, with their different styles of cutting – even shearing – hair. Some remained decidedly old school, drawing from their diverse repertoire of two hairstyles – completely bald or the crew cut. Others went up the decidedly high-tech route, with UV-sterilized combs and the promise of a complete haircut within ten-minutes.
And so I was thoroughly bemused when I met Mervyn Hi, the 24-year-old founder and barber extraordinaire of MMohawk, the independent barber venture he started in 2010. Mervyn, or “Muffyn” as his clients affectionately call him (based on a former teacher’s mispronunciation of his name) is very much an amalgam of traditional barbering and today’s tech-savvy Singaporean.
I was quizzing him about his beginnings as a barber when he yanked the battery out from his BlackBerry, replacing it a fresh cell. He noticed me looking and explained: “I own three batteries. It’s more convenient like that, because sometimes I won’t have the time to charge my phone for a few days.”
Mervyn has a tendecy towards the old-school style of barbering, with leather carry pouches manual clippers and razors.
Photo: Shaun Tan
It’s clear that Mervyn – who’s currently in his final semester studying Marketing at RMIT – marches to the beat of his own drum, and only he knows how the song goes. Mervyn, who has no professional barber’s training, got his first taste of his future passion when he began cutting his own hair in Junior College, because “it seemed pretty easy to me”. He observed how students at hair academies cut his hair, observing the strokes they were taught, and “when my hair got long again, I practiced on my own head”.
But what we were interested in was Mervyn’s panache for hair tattoos, which require extreme attention to detail and the ability to concentrate for long periods of time. Our “People” section editor, Damien, volunteered to put the sides of his head on the line, while I stuck to the much safer regular mohawk.
For the uninitiated, hair tattoos are essentially designs etched into one’s buzzed-down hair. They last for about two weeks, and as Mervyn described, it is “very much like sculpting”.
Photo: Shaun Tan
Mervyn readily revealed how he learnt to perfect the art of hair tattoos – practice, practice, practice.
He said: “I first gained attention for cutting Mohawks because a friend and I both loved the style, but we felt that the sides looked too plain. So he let me practice on him, and it took me a long time to effectively master it.
I started in January 2010, so every two weeks I’d cut his hair for free. Initially I started out with a rose pattern, but I took around two hours to cut his hair, and it didn’t actually look like a rose.”
Mervyn runs MMohawk as a separate project from his other part-time job, where he works for Mode Hair Gallery at Marina Bay Link Mall. He makes a decent sum through MMohawk’s steady stream of some 10-15 regular cutomers, earning “about $1000 a month”.
However, despite his busy schedule – he often has a customer a day – Mervyn is determined to set-up a brick and mortar store to give him more time to spend cutting hair, and less time commuting to each customer.
He said: “The ideal plan would be for me to open a barbershop café on the ground level, and the second storey would be the creative agency. I’m working with three other friends and we’re still planning and looking for cheaper locations, and this will enable us to cut hair.
Although Mervyn’s plate seems to be overflowing, he’s focusing on one simple task – finding the ideal barber’s chair for the shop.
The finished design. Each side that you get hair tattooed takes Mervyn some 30 minutes to an hour to complete.
Photo: Shaun Tan
Check out this short clip of how Mervyn creates a hair tattoo from scratch: