Is the traditional men’s barber making a comeback?

David in cutting action

David in cutting action - Credit: Archant

David Marley chats to David Clemens, owner of David James in Duffield, and discovers why increasing numbers of men are forsaking salons and going back to traditional barbers for their haircuts

David in cutting action

David in cutting action - Credit: Archant

My goodness, a visit to the barbers hasn’t half changed since I was a lad. Growing up in a mining community in Northern England in the 1980s there wasn’t much choice when a young man needed his mane trimming.

Forget Toni & Guy and Vidal Sassoon, the only cutting option in town was a furtive excursion to the local back-alley salon. For the princely sum of 50p customers were treated to a miserable climb up a dingy old staircase that opened into a nicotine-cream-stained cutting room full of ashen-faced punters waiting patiently to be scalped.

This was a barbering backwater where the ‘Ford Model T’ approach to hairdressing was the only cut on offer – any style you wanted, as long as it was short at the back and the sides.

Thirty years on it appears that trend-conscious young men are demanding more from their hairdresser. Modern barbershops offering bespoke grooming services are on the rise, and increasingly becoming a must-go-to destination when men want to keep their hair neat and tidy.

David James barber

David James barber - Credit: Archant

‘Men are more fashion-aware and adventurous – they want to look the best they can,’ says David James Clemens, owner of the eponymous David James company in Duffield, near Derby. ‘They seem happier to spend their money on indulging themselves and many have come to understand that visiting a barbers – rather than a salon – is the best place for a hair cut.’

Stars from the world of film and sport continue to set fashion trends – and increasingly this includes hair styling and cutting. ‘A footballer or film star’s latest cut can send hundreds of young men rushing to the barbers so they can follow a particular style – and this has significantly contributed to the resurgence of barbershops across England in the last 10 years,’ he explains.

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‘When I was growing up most people only went to have their hair cut when they needed it doing,’ David says. ‘Today, men come in for styling and trimming much more often because, to them, their hair is as important a look as the clothes and shoes they wear. So it is of little surprise that men are more conscious of how they appear – and I think this will continue to drive the success of the male grooming industry for many years to come.’

In recent years the rise in popularity of retro-cuts from the 1950s, including short and shaved backs and sides with textured tops, has meant that men need to visit the barbers more often to maintain the shape of the cut.

David and Amy

David and Amy - Credit: Archant

‘It is not uncommon for men to come and see us every week, with many spending a good portion of their income on hair treatments and styling products,’ explains David.

Stepping off the pavement of Duffield and into the urban-chic of David James, it is not difficult to understand why the modern male barbershop is making such a big comeback on the high street. Styled to an industrial retro-warehouse appearance, this mecca to barbering is striking, sleek, light and airy. And the funky musical tones coming from the sound system give it a slightly edgy vibe.

Here you will find enormous comfy barbers’ chairs, gleaming white washbasins, bare pallet timbers, and handcrafted-wooden furniture painted in textured chalky palettes of grey and black tones. Hip exposed electrical metal trunking with jazzy dangling light bulbs, giant flat screen televisions with rolling images of far-flung snow-covered winter holiday destinations, and high-end glossy bespoke coffee machines sit in perfect harmony.

Quirky objects including wall-mounted skateboards act as a nod to the owner’s passion for childhood extreme sports. And stylish green astroturf surface-tops displaying lines of scissors, brushes and trimmers – the tools of the trade of the modern barber – complete the look. ‘It is the same textures that we love in our home,’ laughs David. ‘My wife and I enjoy experimenting with design and it works really well here.’

David James barber

David James barber - Credit: Archant

But David James is a long way from David’s first steps into the world of hairdressing as a teenager in the 2000s. David, who grew up in Chaddesden before going on to study at Landau Forte College, joined Mark Scott Hairdressing in Derby as an apprentice in 2005 to undertake a two-year National Vocation Qualification in barbering and hair styling. ‘It was great fun and I learned all the fundamentals of hair styling including patterns, layering, washing, colouring and perming hair.’

It was during his time at Mark Scott that David met his wife Amy – who was working as an advertising and marketing specialist at Guild News. ‘We met when I was cutting her hair – we clicked and decided we wanted to spend our lives together,’ he recalls. ‘Amy’s a really important part of David James today, she manages most of our back office functions including administration and our social media presence. We make a wonderful team and love working together,’ he says.

When David was 23 he took a sabbatical from the hairdressing industry and went to work for Toyota at the Burnaston site. ‘I loved my job – but at the time I needed to build my finances and Amy and I also wanted to grow our family and buy our own home,’ he says. ‘My job with Toyota was on the production line and was very technical. It required strict discipline and lots of dexterity. It was a wonderful experience and enabled me to gain new skills.’

But his passion for hairdressing and cutting men’s hair drew David back to his first true vocation – and led him to take the first brave steps to open his own barbering business. ‘The things I learned at Toyota put me in a great place to run my own business today. My father had also always owned his own companies – firstly a joinery firm, and then, with my step-mother they bought a residential care home for the elderly called Springwood House in Duffield. So I always understood the rewards of running my own business.’

‘It was all a bit nerve-racking to start with – a real jump into the unknown. But then again, I thought, if we don’t try we will never know what we can do,’ he smiles. ‘My colleagues at Toyota were very understanding and supportive and wished me well and I started work on finding a base for my own barbershop – and Duffield seemed the perfect place!’

David and Amy spent the next few months researching the barbering industry and within weeks had secured the property. ‘We worked on the principle of what I would want if I was visiting a barbers,’ explains David. ‘We picked up so many ideas and quickly appreciated that we wanted to offer a higher quality service.’

Setting up a new business can be expensive but David was determined not to sacrifice quality. ‘Even purchasing a pair of scissors can be a significant investment. Scissors can cost anything from £200 up to £1,000. I’m left-handed and I have recently started to use Akito scissors, which are made from cobalt steel and provide one of the best cutting experiences around.’

David works as part of a team of three barbers and they regularly attend training courses to keep on top of the latest trends and cutting techniques in the industry. In the past few years this has included spending time at the London School of Barbering and a course at the award-winning Menspire Academy in St Albans.

In addition to hair cutting David James offers male grooming services such as hot towel wet shaves and beard trimming. ‘It is really important to us that our clients leave feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. Recently we’ve even introduced our own range of male grooming products including shampoos, aftershaves and balms, which has proved very successful. I work with two colleagues, James and Ashley. We’ve known each other since we were at Mark Scott and it is more like coming to work with friends than workmates – it really is a great place to be,’ he smiles.

In their spare moments David and Amy enjoy spending time with their son, Charlie, walking their dogs, and eating out in local restaurants including the New Inn at Milford.

‘When I can I also enjoy playing golf – but running your own business and finding time can be a real challenge!’

For more information visit or call 01332 840149.

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