Get your hair cut and nurture your mind at Hampshire barber shop
- Credit: Barbershop Botanicals
There’s a reason why men are flocking to Barbershop Botanicals in the village of West Meon in Hampshire. And only some of it has anything to do with haircare, beards and Pippi, the official salon dog.
The rest, says Marcus Fellowes, who co-owns Barbershop Botanicals with his partner, Lisa Stoner, is because of their unique approach to this most traditional of male services. Unlike your average barbers, this one pays as much attention to what’s going on inside the client’s head as to what’s on top of it; bringing mindfulness and wellbeing into the treatment. They also manufacture their own sustainable product range.
In practical terms this attention means anything from, ‘Me ending up hugging a guy who’s said they felt like ending it all’ says Marcus, to, ‘Listening to a man who’s down about an aspect of his life or relationship or who’s just feeling over-stressed. I hadn’t seen one man for ages and he came in and offloaded a whole years worth of stuff. They know that what’s said in the chair stays in the chair.’
Following a career in graphic design, he trained in life-coaching and mindfulness, becoming a master barber five years ago. ‘I was in Winchester for a haircut and the barber suggested I might enjoy this kind of work,’ he says. ‘At first I wasn’t keen but the more I thought about it, I realised he could be right.’
Working in a salon allowed him to notice how men responded to being cared for. ‘Women have been sharing feelings for aeons but it takes so much more time to persuade men to share, although they will in a barbershop setting,’ he says.
He believes men’s mental health care lags behind that of women’s, and that men have been raised to maintain 'a façade of strength and masculinity'.
‘Unfortunately, the cliché is that rigidity is strength, so there is often no flexibility or vulnerability,’ he says. ‘The truest thing about being a gentleman is being gentle with yourself and with others and there is a strength that comes from that.’
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Five years ago, at his original salon in Steep Marsh, he made up a lavender spray to dampen down hair before cutting. ‘Clients really liked the scent and how it made them feel and several asked for more information about it,’ he says. He and Lisa realised there was a market for entirely natural and sustainable products for men, made from ingredients designed to be efficacious as well as improve wellbeing.
Marcus had already started a product range in 2015 but three years, later, when Lisa joined him, she says, ‘We realised it was perfectly possible to start making products which have the best natural ingredients and which are also good for you mentally, as well as for your hair and skin.’
Determined to formulate products with optimum skin and hair health in mind, as well as containing essential oils to promote feelings of wellbeing, they began their research.
‘We worked with an aromatherapist to find the most beneficial essential oils for wellbeing, but these were then turned into complex fragrances, using top, middle and base notes that stand on their own,’ explains Lisa.
After training with parfumiers, including one from Grasse, the centre of the French perfume industry, they devised their first formula; Old Apothecary, containing sandalwood and neroli essential oils.
‘Old Apothecary is a mood-enhancer which relieves stress and anxiety and promotes relaxation,’ says Lisa. They then worked to formulate three additional blends; Rum Spice, Sweet Nirvana and Smoked Citrus and added these to their range of 44 products, which includes beard balm, beard oil, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, cologne, scrubs and soap.
‘Sweet Nirvana is designed to help restore calm and relieve insomnia, Sweet Citrus is designed to relieve anxiety and mental fatigue and Rum Spice is a mood-enhancer, designed to relieve anxiety and stress,’ says Lisa. They’ve also formulated a shampoo with hemp and green tea that’s become popular for its natural caffeine properties and also with customers who have skin and scalp issues.
‘We’ve received independent perfume journalist reviews on our fragrances as well as going through the cosmetic safety testing process for our product range and a test for shelf life, so there’s been a lot of work behind the scenes,’ says Lisa.
From the start they decided Barbershop Botanicals would be as ethical and sustainable as possible, and so the range is vegan (two products contain a small amount of beeswax), cruelty-free and uses as little plastic as possible. They also use bottles made from recycled glass.
‘People were sceptical about the glass bottles but our customers have fully embraced them and applaud us for our ethical approach to packaging,’ says Lisa. ‘The bottles and jars are very robust; we post our products throughout the UK and also worldwide and everything arrives in perfect condition.’ In keeping with their ethos, the cardboard they use is also recycled.
They were working out of a converted farm building at the Old Brickworks near Steep before Covid struck. It proved the impetus they needed to open up in their home village of West Meon, converting a double garage into a stylish barbershop at The Old Storehouse in the High Street.
It took just a few weeks for Barbershop Botanicals to become a focal point in the popular village – our interview constantly breaks off as villagers wave hello from the road and pop in for refills or new products.
‘We have two chairs but run a one-chair, one-hour session for men so they know there won’t be anyone else there and it’s a very relaxing environment, from the music we play to the way our barber speaks,’ says Lisa.
They believe a session is something men can gift themselves. ‘A hot towel treatment with their favourite products sees them floating out on Cloud Nine,’ says Lisa.
The chilled vibe continues on their website, which not only allows customers to buy products but also reveals their favourite relaxing playlists from the salon, plus guest blogs on wellbeing from like-minded contributors.
One of their adoring fanbase is customer, Lee, who comes in for some refills and announces, ‘I just wouldn’t let anywhere else touch my beard or hair now, that’s how strongly I feel about this place.’ He explains that he’s been buying the products since he first spotted them and now won’t use anything else.
With the barbershop attracting customers from Winchester and as far away as Surrey, as well as the occasional celeb, Marcus and Lisa are confident they are on the right track.
They’ve hired additional staff to work with clients in the barbershop and in the adjoining store, and, to ensure continuity of care for customers, they’ve trained them in Barbershop Botanicals’ approach to men’s wellbeing.
They now intend to concentrate on growing their brand and in response to repeated demand are about to launch a range for women in 2021. ‘So many women love our products already but they wanted some that were a bit more feminine,’ explains Lisa.
They’re working on creating a stable of new products, including hair serums and eye gels, but have decided the barbershop will remain a place for men only. ‘It’s important that men know it’s about them,’ says Marcus. barbershopbotanicals.co.uk