All photos courtesy of Johnny Saunders
Johnny Saunders says cutting hair is kind of like carving, so it comes naturally to him.
“When you’re shaping at the end of the haircut you’ve got to look at all the hair that’s sticking up and you have to figure out where to cut, and how to cut it,” he explains. “There are angles to hair, there’s thickness, there’s length. Some hair is soft, some hair is really thick. You can really tell by cutting different people that it’s not always going to be the same haircut.”
Johnny has been honing his craft for the last 25 years, starting back when he and a friend began cutting each other’s hair when they were about 15 years old. Now, he uses mostly clippers after falling in love with a technique he saw a barber in Montreal use, where he “freestyled” with a comb and shaver.
This spring Johnny opened his own barbershop in Kuujjuaq, complete with a barber pole sign on the outside. He called it Qatak’s Barbershop (because everyone has a cousin, he says) and created a Facebook page. The striped barber sign was a gift from his girlfriend, but much of the shop’s creation came from Johnny’s own hands. He painted the interior white, hung some mirrors and installed an LED overhead light for brightness, run by a generator from the hardware store. He also managed to source a hydraulic-run barber’s chair through a buy, sell, and swap site, which he refurbished, and he has plans for further improvements as well.
“I’m still doing work on the shop. I need to put siding on the outside, make it look nicer, and I want to make the inside look nicer, too. I’m going to slowly make it nicer for guys to come in,” he says.
There aren’t many options for getting a haircut in the community, and before deciding to open the shop, Johnny had been trying to keep up with the demand by cutting hair at his house. But trying to find mutually agreeable appointment times and having to clean up after each client, just got to be too much. “It was a lot easier to have a separate building just for that,” he says.
He officially opened for business in May, setting his hours from 9-5. After a few weeks he realized that most people wanted to book in the evenings, so he changed his schedule to open at 5 pm. He has four good quality Wahl clippers, that run both on battery and electricity.
Asked if he faced any COVID concerns or challenges, Johnny says that it really isn’t a problem. A typical cut takes between 20 and 30 minutes, and he leaves enough time between appointments for him to thoroughly clean. He averages between two and three haircuts a day, at $35 each. Some people leave tips, he says, for which he is grateful, but it doesn’t bother him if they don’t.
And while some people want to sit and have their haircut in silence, most like to talk. “I try to bring up important topics or things that are happening in town, or just something that’s on their mind. I ask them how they’re doing and see where the conversation goes.”
For now, Johnny is hopeful about the business. He works alone and plans to continue that way for a year or two, but isn’t against the idea of eventually partnering with someone or having another employee. “I have no boss, it’s on my own time. It’s a good feeling to have.” He works always by appointment, and while many people book via Facebook Messenger, he can also be reached at 514-815-1240.