Sophie Collins is a barber. She always wanted to be one, but struggled to get there because she is a woman.
Due to her hard work, grit and dedication to tackle stereotypes, she is now the owner of a successful barber shop at the age of 27 and promotes gender equality in the industry.
But, as Sophie explains, it wasn’t an easy ride.
You will never make a successful barber, Soph.
That’s what one person said to me when I had chosen my career path.
My dream growing up in North Wales was always to become a hairdresser.
I loved hair and everything about it.
As a teenager I would spend hours in the mirror trying out new styles and different looks.
I studied hairdressing at college, but it was during this time that becoming a barber and working with men’s hair really started to appeal to me.
But the industry was very much male-dominated and people I spoke to were warning me not to take this route.
I remember someone very close to me saying I wouldn’t make it as a successful barber.
He told me: First off, barbershop owners will never employ you, and secondly, if they do, men will simply refuse to allow you to cut their hair. I would stick to cutting women’s hair.
Luckily I was never short of self-belief growing up and this only served as an added motivation. I wanted to be known as a successful female barber, despite the odds.
After getting all my qualifications, I started to apply for barbering jobs in my local area. But it seemed my friend was right.
Nobody wanted to know me. Obviously they never said it, but it was down to the fact I was female. I could sense it. I thought to myself: Oh well there goes that dream then, women’s hair it is for the rest of my life.
After a few weeks of feeling sorry for myself, and wondering if I would ever get the opportunity to become a barber, the penny finally dropped. Why don’t I just open up my own barbershop?
I started to look into it and it seemed relatively straight forward, so I took the plunge and Soph’s Barbershop was born in September 2014.
At first it was quite tricky. I faced a number of different challenges.
Men would walk in, see I was a woman, and then simply walk back out. One even asked me what time my dad was coming back from lunch.
I remember replying: What do you mean? My dad doesn’t work here.
He said: Well what are you doing here then, you’re a woman and this is a barbershop?
He clearly hadn’t realised the shop was called Soph’s.
I can’t lie, this was pretty embarrassing and knocked my confidence. It made me question what the hell I was doing, after all I had a mortgage to pay.
A number of other customers made me feel rather awkward by saying they would give me a chance to prove myself.
I wanted to tell them where to go, but ultimately this acted as a huge motivation tool as I knew if I gave them the best possible haircut they would return and probably tell their mates about the standard of my cutting.
It sort of worked in my favour.
It was a tough journey, but things have certainly changed over the last few years, helped by rising standards, as well as changing male attitudes towards female barbers but also towards women in general.
I think society is more accepting and tolerant, and I rarely get any sort of comment about being a female anymore; my male customers just seem to have accepted the fact I’m not a bloke – and they genuinely don’t care.
They quickly find out that I can still have good banter with them and talk about football (and Brexit of course).
I have also just been selected as an official ambassador for the male grooming company The Bluebeards Revenge, where I help them develop new products and promote them at trade shows and industry events.
This has helped me to develop my profile and is further proof that gender has no barrier – it’s skill that counts.
I have even seen an increase in the number of women coming into my shop for a cut, which just highlights how the perception of barbers is changing and how much more welcoming barbershops are for both genders.
I was named the best wet shaving barber in Wales in both 2017 and 2018 after making it to the final of Britain’s Best Shave, and this has helped to break down the stereotype that women can’t shave or do well in competitions.
It’s all changing and I want to use my success to encourage the next generation of female barbers and act as a role model and someone people aspire to.
(c) Sky News 2019: International Women’s Day: ‘People told me I could never be a barber’