“When I was still in secondary school, I really loved colouring my hair. Whenever I went to school, the discipline master would have to use Kiwi to make it black again.
After I completed my ‘N’ Levels, I didn’t want to focus too much on academics because I needed to start earning to supplement my income. So I enrolled myself in ITE, but I didn’t get in. Instead, I got the opportunity to join Jean Yip Hairdressing as an apprentice.
I started off as the shampoo boy at age 16, but after a few months, I felt shitty because it was the same routine day in day out.
When I told my mom my intention to quit, she said, ‘Everyone starts from the bottom. If you want to quit, you can. But if you have this mindset, it will be the same anywhere you go. You’ll just be a quitter who gives up easily.’
I took her words to heart, and within the next few years, I slowly worked my way up to be a senior hair stylist. I was also made to be a hair trainer at ITE College Central.
The salary was not bad, and the job scope was in fact interesting. I guided the new batch of hairdressers and conducted theory and practical lessons, but it wasn’t what I really wanted to do. Still, I stuck to the job for about eight months.
To earn extra income when I was still an apprentice, I worked as a cleaner at Carrefour at Suntec City. It’s funny and quite unbelievable. When I opened my own salon at Suntec, I’d recall those days when I worked as a cleaner and thought about how far I’d come.
Something that I wasn’t a fan of when running my salon at Suntec City was how pretentious people could be. I met a lot of people who wore fancy suits and fancy watches, and they’d talk about stuff like golf, cars and horse racing.
But when you probe them about what they actually do for a living, you realise that they hold down regular jobs. I mean they’re decent jobs, but not the sort that can support such an extravagant lifestyle.
They’d tell me they paid 10k for a watch, but they’ll be starving for two or three months. They only maintain a certain image because they are competitive, and if clients see their hair stylist in a certain way, they’d go to them because they think they are successful.
Now, I own a barbershop called ThugLife in the Singapore heartlands. I run three outlets. They’re in Marsiling and Yishun and another is in Johor Bahru in Malaysia. It is not an easy feat to open a few outlets within a year, especially when one is across the border, but I like to challenge myself.
I noticed that the barber industry in the heartlands was being well received. The vibe is different because customers appreciate you for your work and not judge you based on how you look, and they turn from clients to friends during the course of our work.
I named it ThugLife because a handful of the guys I hired as my barbers had served time before. They wanted to walk down a different path in life, and since they had the talent and right attitude, I invited them to come on board to be part of my dream team.
People might judge them because of their tattoos, but the truth of the matter is, they are very nice and hardworking people. In the past, I worked just to keep myself going financially. But here at ThugLife, it’s the clients, the team and the passion that makes work an enjoyable lifestyle.
Of course there are challenges with running a business, but having this sense of family, and the love, support and motivation that I get from my wife and partner in life, makes me want to go to work everyday, even though I know the shop can operate on auto-pilot.
I come to work now simply because I want to, and as a leader, I need to lead by example and prove to them that hard work pays off if you have a vision in life.”
– Wan, 31
Interview by: Arman Shah