A key player in Bangkok’s buzzing retro barbershop scene, Craftsman Barber offers its customers much more than a simple hair cut.
Barbershops are making a comeback in Bangkok, establishing themselves as much as places to hang out as they are salons. For Akepawee Prakongpetch, the 37-year-old founder of Craftsman Barber Shop, every customer who walks through the door should not only look better but feel better too. Here, he tells us how personal service, taste and creating a real sense of community are the keys to his success.
When it opened its doors in 2015, Craftsman Barber Shop was always meant to be something more than a place to get your hair cut. Akepawee’s hope was to recreate the barbershops of old, giving his diverse city a new social hub; a place where people could come by, sit down and unwind, a place where you could listen to music, meet friends and explore a new identity – one that challenged deeply held, conservative norms surrounding how a Thai man should look.
It helped that Akepawee’s background itself was far from traditional. “I studied photography at University and afterwards worked for movie producers and film directors to create TV commercials. Although not related to barbering directly, being in the photography circle exposed me to a new sense of community and gave me new experiences that I knew I wanted to create when I established my own business,” he explains.
Akepawee later travelled through Europe, visiting over 20 different barbershops in Italy, France and Germany to gather all the knowledge he needed for people to see his place for its bigger picture. His first outpost opened in 2015 and quickly became hot news. “The timing worked out perfectly. Our first location is on the ground floor of my sister’s hostel for expats in Prakanong.”
With an old-school 1950s American vibe and plenty of vintage flair, he positioned it as more of a lifestyle concept that brings people together than a salon. “In terms of service, there are so many different dimensions to it. From serving coffee and whiskey to our electrical massaging chair machines. My mission is to make all my customers feel as relaxed and at ease as possible. Many times, guys who come in just want to socially connect and get along. Younger guys listen to older guys and older guys listen to younger guys, ideas are exchanged and conversations happen.” It helps that, with sponsorship now from Jameson whiskey, a malt on the rocks is served up as a side perk. “Customers can enjoy their drink in style while getting a haircut,” says Akepawee.
Craftsman Barber Shop’s clientele is young and urban. “The shop has a great reputation for expats and locals between the ages of 25-40 years old. The style is not so much fashion, but customers can adapt it to daily life, whether it’s going to a casual date, wedding or the beach.” Simple though it may be, Akepawee makes sure that all his employees understand the look they’re trying to offer. “Barbers are not businessmen, they are artists and have a lot of individuality. It is critical for the business that the barbers have the same taste, vision and style that Craftsman Barber Shop represents.”
While the trend for retro barber shops is already red-hot in Bangkok, Akepawee still sees scope for growth. He now has a second location, Craftsman Voyage at Emquartier shopping mall. Designed with similar flair, it introduces the concept of small scale barbering (only 3 barber chairs) that was inspired by his trip to Europe. “There are a lot of new and different things happening now, people are experimenting. I like calling it the new generation of barber shops that attracts different people and a coveted demographic. Craftsman Barber Shop hopes to continue to offer a high-end service that has a shared sense of understanding and community beyond the barber’s chair.” And, it’s thanks to exactly that, he sees his customers come back through his doors for their monthly trim and tipple.