Having run Garry’s Barber Shop for over 30 years, keeping standards high and having pride of place in the Holywood community, Garry Jackson is truly a model barber. And having fronted advertising campaigns for everyone from TK Maxx to Victoria Square Shopping Centre to Bushmills Whiskey, Garry is literally a model barber.
Garry’s Barber Shop
On the outskirts of capital city Belfast, Holywood is a small place that has made a big impression on the world, with both golfing superstar Rory McIlroy and Hollywood A-lister Jamie Dornan hailing from the own. When you walk into Garry’s Barber Shop though, every client is a celebrity
Garry says: “I probably know ¾ of my customers by their first name. We have five full-time and two part-time barbers, plus my wife does all the hot towel shaves so on a Saturday there could be eight of us all working and we’re maxed out.”
It’s no surprise that Garry is one of Ireland’s most recognisable barbers, but for him it’s all about being recognised in his community and he has worked hard to establish Garry’s Barber Shop as more than just a place to get your hair cut. It’s a shop where three generations of a family have been known to come.
He says: “The guy that came to me 30 years ago bringing his children. They’re grown up now and bringing their own children. It’s all about community, it’s all about people. If you don’t like people, don’t become a barber.”
With the success he’s had, the opportunity to expand Garry’s Barber Shop across the country is always there, but it’s not something Garry has considered. “People have always said ‘Why haven’t you opened a load more shops?’ But I always think it says Garry’s above my shop. If it says my name above the shop then I should be here and I never wanted the logistical headache – you can only be one place at a time. I never wanted an empire.”
It’s a refreshing attitude to hear from a barber who could have had it all, but is happy with what he’s got. Compare it to today’s ‘Instagram generation’ who want to run before they can walk. Having left Northern Ireland for London during the height of The Troubles in 1980, before returning six years later, Garry has seen the change barbering has gone through first hand.
“There’s a lot more choices for young barbers these days,” he tells us. “When I became a barber it wasn’t cool. The 1980s was the decade that good taste forgot and that’s when I learned my trade, learned my craft. Barbering was coming back, but you had a lot of shit haircuts.”
Now it’s a different story, he says. “The last five or six years it has exploded. Social media changed everything. “Barbering has had its golden ages. Probably the biggest golden age was the 1920s, the jazz age. When you think of your favourite gangster films, the prohibition days, there’s always a really cool barbershop. Then the 1950s, just after the war. Men had rock ’n’ roll and kids could express themselves, you didn’t have to get a regulation haircut. Now we’re bang into a new era.”
Bringing them up
Garry served his apprenticeship under the best possible influence: Ted Johnston, a second generation barber whose shop, The Continental Barbers, is still going strong in Belfast today, more than 50 years after he opened it – with Ted still putting in a shift. That type of ethic has become rare but it’s something Garry embodies, along with a strong demand for excellent customer service. It’s what he instils in his apprentices, as well as something simple that many may overlook…
He explains: “The first thing I teach any barber is how to stand, your posture. Rule number one is look after yourself physically or you’re going to have a bad back or a sore neck. Then it’s how to speak to people. To look people in the eye when they come into your shop. Give them positive body language, say ‘how are you?’ It’s not exactly rocket science but so many people get it wrong. Not just barbers but any service. If you go into a barbers how often do you get good service? It’s sadly lacking. I want people to feel welcome, I want them to feel like they’re with their friends.”
Garry believes young barbers these days need to leave their egos at the door, saying: “It’s not about him or her. It’s about the customer. You know what young men are like, it’s all about the size of their dick, all this alpha male bullshit. The customer is king, they’re the one that pays your wages, pays your mortgage, and puts food on your table.”
Life’s a stage
While many younger barbers dream of being invited to cut hair at a huge barbering event, wowing their audience, and proving their skill, Garry takes such invitations in his stride.
“I don’t think I’ve got anything to prove by getting on stage and cutting hair,” he says. “I don’t feel the need to do that.”
But as a highly respected barber, the companies keep asking and he does accept some of the offers. As well as attending Salon International as the guest of Takara Belmont, he’ll be taking up the role of MC at the second edition of BarberCut in Dublin.
A more relaxed barbering experience, it’s a whole different vibe from the likes of Salon International and alongside his friends from the industry like Johnny BaBa and Joth Davies, Garry says he’ll “be having a bit of fun on stage.”
The Swag Collective and local connections
If you head to Dublin, you’ll witness Garry in his latest striking suit from friend and regular collaborator Dee Graham. Dee, who has made suits for the likes of Conor McGregor, is one of a number of artists from the area who Garry has teamed with to promote one another’s work.
Having been involved with our workshop set up by Garry Spencer of The Great British Barber Bash with Neal Toner and Micky Graham a few years back, Garry and Dee worked together on a promotional video which signalled the start of a long term working relationship.
“Ever since then we’ve networked with each other. Say, for example, I’m going to Barber Connect. Dee will make me a one-off suit for the event and when I someone asks me about it I’ll give them one of Dee’s cards. Now we have this pool of creativity with photographers, videographers, singers and songwriters that come into the shop. We all network with each other, promote each other. When one gets a leg up the others do. It spreads the love.”
As well as Garry and Dee, the collective’s third member is Adam Lightbody of Urban Tonic. Their excellent personal and working relationships means they are happy to come together as a trio and team up.
Garry says: “We do pop-up events where we go to fashion events or barbering events and set up our own wee ‘man cave’. Dee will have his suits, we’ll have two or three barber chairs set up, and Adam will have all his beard stuff out. It’s a one-stop shop for guys who want to hang out, have a beer with us, find out everything they ever wanted to know about beards, or get measured up for a bespoke suit.”
Staying local is important for Garry with his barbershop as well. He likes being able to tell his customers that “everything I sell in my shop is locally made in North Down.” Whether that’s from Urban Tonic or global brand Denman who are from Bangor just five miles down the road, it’s a policy he sticks with, and once more highlights the importance of community in Garry’s life.
The face that launched a thousand brands
While Garry’s emphasis is on the nearby, his influence is global. His image has been seen around the world, but it wasn’t something that Garry went looking for
It stemmed from an innocuous decision.
“I grew a beard,” he laughs. “It’s as simple as that. I was approached by CMPR, a PR company and modelling agency. Like any other 51, 52 year old Northern Irish
bloke you go ‘What? Modelling? What you talking about?’ But she said I was the type of guy her client was looking for.”
Discarding his reservations, while ensuring he didn’t take any modelling jobs that would give his friends any ammunition down the pub, Garry dove in. It proved to be the right decision.
“I’ve done loads of stuff of for the likes of TK Maxx and Bushmills Whiskey and long may it continue. Every billboard in Greater Belfast has had my face on it! How much would I have to pay for that sort of publicity? I’ve just done a big one for Victoria Square in Belfast which is where all the nice shops are – they’ve just done a big event in the month of August and it was my mug all over the shopping centre!”
Becoming a hot-shot model hasn’t led to any massive lifestyle change for devoted family man Garry, but his family certainly get a kick out of it. “My wife and my daughter just think it’s hilarious. I get a buzz off it, I’m not going to lie to you.”
It’s also led a to recent film role, with Garry putting on the dog collar to play a priest.
“A friend of mine was in the film,” he explains. “She was playing the main part and the director was saying they needed a priest so my friend showed a photo of me to her and she said ‘we need to get him.’”
Although it hasn’t led to a move from Hollywood to Hollywood just yet, Garry is having fun with his life outside of barbering.
“I’m 54 years old. I’ve paid my dues for the last 30 years, feeding my family, getting my daughter through uni. I’m a grandfather now and I’m having a ball – I don’t do anything I don’t enjoy.” It’s been a life well lived for Garry and hopefully many up and coming barbers can learn from the lessons he’s imparted.