Behind the lens of most of the photos taken for Spit Press is my good mate and freelance photographer Cameron Taylor. When I met Cam a few years ago he was far from the well-kept gentleman he is now. Back then when we were 18 and 19 he had long, blonde hair that fell below his shoulders, which he would wear out – thin and straight to compliment his tall figure.
All this changed for Cam, however, when he met Nathan Meers by chance at The Happy Sailors Barbershop. Now he wears his hair cut short, with a smidge of product and it consistently looks really sharp.
As someone who does next to nothing with my do, I have a lot to learn in this department…
When I stumbled upon Happy Sailors in a quiet, leafy part of Bourke Street in Redfern with the spinning candy cane out the front, Johnny Cash tunes playing in the background, tattoo designs on the wall and vintage playboy magazines to read while you wait I thought, ‘Heck, this looks alright.’
It turns out that Cam isn’t the only one to think so.
Nathan, the owner, is a neighbourhood favourite. If he has a break from cutting hair you’ll find him out the front chatting to one of the locals. He makes the effort to greet his regulars by name and friendlily introduces himself to newcomers, who usually become regulars after their first cut.
After explaining what kind of haircut you are after, Cam says it’s 40 minutes of shooting the shit and enjoying the atmosphere. It’s not surprising that the shop is never empty and the phone is always ringing.
Cam reached out to Nathan to chat about the shop and the story behind Happy Sailors.
THE HAPPY SAILORS BARBERSHOP INTERVIEW
Tell us about The Happy Sailors Barbershop
The Happy Sailors Barbershop is located on leafy Bourke Street in Redfern. I cut hair with Emma and Maria and my wife Cristina keeps the ship running behind the scenes. We have a great little shop with great customers who range from little kids to old guys with everything in between.
Where did the desire to run your own barber shop come from?
I had been working in various salons in Sydney and London for over 13 years and it was always in the back of my mind to open a little shop , but to be honest I really didn’t think I’d get there.
I then met my wife Cristina who gave me the push to finally try our luck. If it wasn’t for her I dare say I’d still be working for someone else.
We planned on opening a salon but I really got tired of colouring and blow drying women’s hair. I started to think about later on down the track when I get older. I couldn’t be a old man doing cool women’s haircuts and I certainly didn’t want to be doing old duckies’ hair.
We decided on a barbershop and it was the best thing we ever did.
The decor of the shop is full of unique and fitting pieces, how long have you been collecting for?
Once we settled on a barbershop we decided on the name and then focused on the theme. I had plenty of old sailor tattoos and I really loved the look of old tattoo parlours with stuff filling the walls.
We started collecting bits and pieces about 4 years before we opened. We had a clear picture of how we wanted our barbershop to look.
We found the boat table and cinema chairs in London as well as all the old hair dryers.
We then got the barbers chairs from an old barber retiring in Melbourne which stayed in my dads garage for 2 years.
Then we slowly collected everything else for the walls over the next 2 years. We still do regular visits to our favourite antique shops looking for goodies.
A lot of our customers have given us little pictures, toby mugs, navy hats, old razors, and garden gnomes that are now part of our shop.
What is your most treasured item in the shop?
My most treasured item is a Royal Doulton fisherman statue. It was my grandmas and even as a kid I was drawn to it.
My dad kept it tucked away for nearly 30 years and when we were about to open my sister dug it out for us. Its been in our family for over 60 years and it suits the shop beautifully.
What is it about the local area that you love?
There is a real sense of community in the area. Everyone waves when they walk past the shop and that feels great. We see the same people walk past every day on their way to and from work or when walking their dogs.
Warren beeps his horn everyday at 8am when he drives past the shop.
Ross calls out good morning at 9am every day on his way to breakfast.
Kym pops into the shop twice a day to have a chat.
Little Archer pops into the shop ranting and raving and then runs out with a lolly.
Luca from across the road comes in every afternoon after school to raid the gum ball machine.
Then there is the little kid that stops everyday and hugs one of the garden gnomes at the front of the shop.
Aiden gives me a thumbs up on his way home from school everyday and calls out “ya good”.
The little girls from around the corner walk past in the afternoon and call out “good morning“ …wrong time of day but its really cute.
It’s a really special little area and its great to be part of it.
How has the shop evolved since you first opened?
The biggest change in the shop is that we now have 3 barbers on board. And we are currently looking for a 4th barber to join us. Emma and Maria are great with our customers and we couldn’t do it without them.
Did you have any mentors when starting out in the trade? What was some advice that you still abide by today?
My mentor was a hairdresser named Daniel. He trained me during my apprenticeship and although I have been lucky enough to work in some great salons he is still the best to me. Daniel could do the sharpest cool haircuts but he was also able to deal with the little old lady down the street.
If they were young and cool or old and conservative they all got treated with the same level of service. This was a great lesson for me as you need to be able to deal with all sorts of customers.
Another mentor on a business side of things was a salon owner named James.
This guy was not a hairdresser so he worked extra hard in the salon to add his value to the shop. James ran around like a mad man answering phones , sweeping the floor , washing dishes , and making sure everyone was happy in the shop. Although he didn’t do any haircuts he was the backbone of the salon and kept it running. This guy was an inspiration and I still live by what he once mentioned to me. Keep it simple. Great haircut. Fair price. Friendly service. Clean shop.
What is your favourite record to put on in the store?
My favourite thing to play in the shop is any of the Bob Dylan Radio Hour Collections. There are about 12 collections with hundreds of songs on them. They were taken from his radio show in America were he only played the music that he grew up listening to. They cover everything from country, blues, jazz, Hawaiian, folk and rock n roll.
What do you want customers to experience when they visit? Why?
I want everyone to feel welcome in our shop. Kids, trendy guys, business men, old guys, everyone is welcome and will be treated exactly the same.
I love that we know everyones names when they walk in the shop and I want every customer to leave with a great haircut that they are happy with at a fair price.