Hundreds of fellow professionals and enthralled onlookers watch on as Kevin Boon lifts the International Barber Awards trophy. Growing up in a rough neighbourhood in Brussels with the dream of playing professional football for a living, Kevin had to be tough. Now as the emotion of his achievement washes over him and he accepts the applause of some of his most admired colleagues, the tears start.

KevinBoon1

Rags to riches

“I never finished school,” Kevin opens up to us as we discuss just what this award means to the 26-year old Belgian. “I did loads of shitty jobs, so after all that, to do something I’m passionate about and to be called one of the best barbers, it did something to me. I was very emotional.”

A talented footballer, a series of knee injuries ended Kevin’s hope of making it as a professional – the dream he had dedicated his life to. Left with no education and no future, it was up to the women in Kevin’s life to help him turn it around. Having cut his friends’ hair growing up, the talent and passion was there, he just needed to find it.

“My mother said to me ‘Do something you love, do something with your hands. God gave you artistic hands. Why don’t you go to school for hairdressing?’ But I was like no it’s for girls and I’m a tough man – my ego was talking. After doing 20 jobs I hated and still cutting hair for my friends I met my wife and she was also a hairdresser.”

As well as being his life partner, Kevin’s wife would prove to be his business partner. Together they opened a hair salon, MOOI, in Wetteren. To start with Kevin continued just cutting his friends’ hair after hours, but as his hunger to improve grew, he began to take it more seriously. Late nights on YouTube watching barbering tutorials helped him further and before he knew it he was handling the male clients in the salon. But he was always striving to be better.

Kevin says: “I was never satisfied with my haircuts. The customers were satisfied, but I was focusing on the detail and said ‘no it’s not perfect’ so I’ve never stopped educating myself.”

Now MOOI has been open for three years and Kevin is booked months in advance – with the queues sure to get longer thanks to his International Barber Awards crown.

Taking a chance

It was Kevin’s regular photographer who introduced him to the International Barber Awards, sending him a link and encouraging him to make the most of his talent and go for it. After his photographic entry was accepted, Kevin travelled to Germany for the qualifier where he had to perform an executive business look haircut and hot towel shave.

“It was the first time I had cut hair working in front of other barbers,” he says. “I was very stressed and had a lot of nerves. I was happy with my haircut but not with the shave.”

A few weeks later Kevin saw that one of his fellow barbers from the qualifier had made it through to the finals. “Ah well, I’m not through the competition but I’m glad I went and met some barbers,” he said to himself. But it wasn’t to be the end of the story for Kevin – the key aspect of the International Barber Awards is that it’s not about who is the best at one haircut, it’s about being the whole package and Kevin had proved he had enough to gain a wildcard through to Nuremberg where he’d have to show his proficiency in three other cuts.

_DSC8847

Three stages

Kevin’s first cut went perfectly. He says: “After the skinfade pompadour I had lots of barbers come up to me and say ‘your cut was amazing’ so receiving those messages made me more calm, relaxed, and confident.”

The semi-final stage wasn’t quite as straightforward, with Kevin having to perform a facial treatment – something not in demand in Belgium’s working class neighbourhoods. However, he had undertaken a crash course with a local beauty salon and alongside his beard trim he did enough to make it through. For Kevin the key was ensuring he did his best to stay calm: “I realised if I’m not relaxed then the customer won’t be relaxed. The judges saw I was relaxed and the customer was almost sleeping!”

Of course, it all came down to the grand finale – a freestyle cut. After the set stages and doing some styles he wouldn’t count as his favourite, it was a chance for Kevin to show off his true talent.

It worked.

The crown

“The first emotion I felt was ‘fuck, I’m going to cry’. The nerves from the whole day before, it was just a relief and a release. I didn’t even have time to celebrate, we had to travel to Belgium immediately because my mother had to work on the Monday so we had six or seven hours of road to do.”

Throughout the long drive home it still didn’t sink in to Kevin that he was the inaugural International Barber Awards overall winner, beating hundreds of competitors from around the globe. But it wasn’t long before the media descended on MOOI.

Kevin says: “The first day I worked in the shop, the most huge national news in Belgium came to visit me with cameras and interviewed me. I had five minutes time on the news. I was like ‘wow’, it was very bizarre. The day after when I was in the news everyone was congratulating me and recognising me.”

For Kevin, one of the biggest plaudits was being recognised as a peer by the judges who had voted him as the winner: the likes of Alan Findlay, Schorem’s Gio, Alessandro Bonetti, and Salvador Chanza.

He says: “It was amazing. Basically the judges are barbers who I follow on social media so I was very excited to meet them. I was nervous because they had to judge me then after the win they were like colleagues to me, it was nice. Now I’m grateful I could meet barbers from all over the world. They send me friend requests on Facebook, they ask me to look at their cuts, and I have conversations with them. We share the same passion. When you see another barber it’s not going to be quiet – we talk like women!”

Next gen

It isn’t just the season pros who hold Kevin in respect now, and he’s clearly delighted to be seen as an inspiration to young barbers in Belgium who might be going through the same difficult circumstances he went through.

He says: “It’s nice to inspire young barbers and barbers who didn’t have the chance to go to school or get an education because it costs money here in Belgium. Education you can do on your own, but it’s very difficult. They text me saying ‘you inspire me’ and that made me very emotional.”

Kevin is more than just talk and has put his money where his mouth is by hiring an aspiring barber who could well be the next Kevin Boom.

“He has the same history as me,” Kevin explains. “He was a boxer and he was doing lots of different jobs. He never had the time to go to hairdressing school but he’s very talented and cut hair in his garage. I love to work with people who are very passionate about it.”

As someone who has been through it all, when Kevin speaks it resonates. He knows the importance of giving everything you’ve got and it’s what he advises to anyone looking to emulate him.

He says: “My advice is going to be a little cliché, but if you do something with your heart and you’re telling yourself ‘I want to be great’, then don’t be satisfied at the beginning, be satisfied at the end. Educate yourself and be critical with yourself, but do it with love and do it with your heart. If you want to achieve something you must work hard for it. For the young people I know, if you don’t have a diploma or education but you have the talent in your hands, do something with it.”

Kevin did something with his talent and now has the world at his feet. He plans to grow his barbering team into a bigger shop, perhaps away from the salon side of things – He jokes: “I’ve been working alone with girls, I need some guys with me so we can have some silly jokes. The women are killing me, I need some tough guys!”

_MG_7554