Long before meeting Steve Purcell I was a fan of the Uppercut brand. I just dig what they do and how they do it. The content they put out is solid and so are the people they have on their roster. Not exactly sure how Steve and I first connected but it was on the phone, and I remember later meeting him in person and thinking, this isn’t the same dude I talked to. His voice and his person didn’t add up. He’s Australian and on top of the accent, has a very happy/positive tone to his voice and demeanor. In person though, he’s sorta of a hybrid between a skateboarder and a truck driver. He owns a company that very successfully sells a line of men’s grooming products, but he himself is un-groomed. RESPECT. He’s the exact opposite of the guy you think would be the owner of Uppercut Deluxe. And I mean that as a total compliment. He’s almost as ironic as me; a bald guy who has spent 6 years making a book on barbershops. Anyway, he’s got a rad story that I thought everybody would appreciate and I hope to talk with him more about in a longer format. Podcast maybe?
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“It's like jumping off a cliff and trying to build the plane before you hit the ground!“
1) What did you do prior to becoming a barber?
I worked as a clean up kid in my dads butcher shop after school.
2) What was the barbershop scene like in Australia when you thought about becoming a barber and what made you take the jump? What year was it?
There was no scene! I was 15, late 90's, struggling at school and I'd always enjoyed seeing the barber with my granddad growing up. There was a job offer on the table at the local barbershop so I jumped at it.
3) How did people react when you started on that path?
Brutal! The scene was totally misunderstood at the time, it was all super salon focused and no-one my age was doing it. But I knew I could make it into something rad. Its such a heritage trade. I was the ONLY kid in Australia doing the barber apprenticeship that year. Haha. My friends gave me heaps of shit about it...would call up asking for a perm or a purple rinse.
Literally the only kid? Where did you get the idea that you could make it into something cool?
The ONLY kid. My grandad used to take me to his barber growing up, a hilarious old italian guy and I always loved the banter and bad jokes. I grew up surfing and skating so just wanted to create a space that I felt was rad, and just wanted to do it my way. I was 22 when I opened the shop, my every cent we had went into it and hoped for the best!
4) How did people react when you opened your own shop?
This is where I saw the shift where people stopped rolling their eyes at the trade. People have to physically see things to understand it. We decked the shop out like a mates garage so it was a rad place to just come and hang. Once people figured out what we were doing in there, word spread pretty quick.
5) What is the barbershop scene like in Australia compared to when you started?
Night and Day! Its awesome to see, it stokes me out. Barbering scene in Australia draws inspo from everywhere in the world- European/US/Asia we get the influence from everywhere and it merges out some amazing talent...plus our certification is strict here, to be fully qualified takes 3-4 years so you gotta earn your stripes the old fashioned way.
3-4 years? That's crazy? Is it like America where you have to go to school? Or more like on the job training in a shop?
Its on the shop floor learning, with some school elements. 4 long years!! Shitty pay and definitely a lot of shitty cuts on some brave customers who let me practise on them.
6) How do Australians view American barbers/barbershops?
Classic and traditional. Huge respect, some of my favourite barbers and shop fit outs are in the US.
Care to name a few?
So many! Don't wanna leave anyone out. But I Iove the ones that haven't been updated since the 60's, they grow around the barber and the walls have stories. My ambassador crew are dear to my heart and are amazing barbers with rad shops.
7) What prompted you to start Uppercut and how was it initially received by the locals?
It was the perfect storm, we couldn't easily access products for the shop that we loved. I have always been into mixing products together, and fascinated by the product process.
The locals were overwhelmingly supportive, and still are! We were just doing what we thought was rad and did it the way we wanted to do it.
What do you mean by "I have always been into mixing products together?" What other kinds of products were you previously mixing together?
I was mixing Oil based products with a water soluble/ gel base along with my kernels herbs and spices haha. I had a list of 4 products I would mix together and send my customers to the grocery store. My wife was always mad at me for clogging up our sinks.
8) Describe the journey from the idea to where Uppercut is now. Ups/downs/expectations/growing pains/etc.
It's like jumping off a cliff and trying to build the plane before you hit the ground!
Looking back we were so naive when we started, the journey has taught us so much and we still learn as we go. We timed it well. If we did every single thing the same way but did it later, it wouldn't have worked. We've had amazing people involved in the journey and made lifelong friends, we've also had some huge let downs, which in hindsight has taught us some of our hardest lessons.
You gotta block out the comments, everyone has opinions and if you listened to everything you hear you'd lose your mind. You're either too niche, or a total sell out. Or both! My vision for the brand has never changed, I always listen to my internal compass.
I'm a huge believer in learning the best lessons from screw ups or let downs. Can you talk about one in-particular that happened and how you turned it into a positive?
There isn't one major event that stands out. I've learned that if you can surround yourself with talented people and hire people who inspire and are smarter than you, thats half the battle won. Keep a thick skin and stay focused on your own race. People can be the hardest and the best part of business, looking back the highs and lows have actually happened simultaneously, you have to enjoy the journey along the way or you'll lose your mind.
9) Uppercut is a very distinct and tangible "brand". How did that develop? Why is your roster filled with those particular people?
Coz they're my homies! Ha. They genuinely live the lifestyles so they can't help but be mad dogs. Uppercut is a family and the bigger the brand grows the bigger that family is. The biggest compliment I get is when people say they feel like its a big ass family. Mission accomplished.
10) How do you keep the brand feeling so authentic?
Refer to answer above!! We only bring in the good eggs. Mad love.
11) Any random thoughts you want to get out....
Yes! How the hell did Tim from Syndicate get the front cover of your book? Haha just kidding love you Timmo