Kyakuwa’s journey as a barber
What you need to know:
It has taken Sarah Kyakuwa many years to win the trust of her clients in the haircut business. She also has to deal with women displaying their insecurities at her place of work. From teaching herself the much needed skills, Kyakuwa is thriving as woman barber.
It is bustling. Four barbers, wearing black trousers, and gray t-shirts under their black aprons, have clients waiting in the queue. The saloon is adorned with a form of modern décor, ranging from flower pots to different hair style portraits hanging on the mint green walls.
In one section, an array of hair machines, hair brushes, neck strips are laid on the mahogany -framed mirrors.
Among the four busy barbers is Sarah Kyakuwa. Two men are waiting in line for haircuts when I walk in. A charming smile and soft-spoken voice welcomes me. But it takes me a while to believe one of the barbers is female.
Kyakuwa is one of the senior barbers at Inspiration Salon. She started out as a hairdresser at the women’s beauty parlour section and make-up artist in 2015 at the then Glamour Salon in Kansanga. She says as a new employee, proving to clients that she was good at barbering, took some time.
A quashed dream
Initially Kyakuwa’s dream was to pursue a nursing course, but when her father died in 2010 while in Senior Four, she saw her dream vanish into thin air. Her other option was to settle for a cosmetology course since she loved stylish women, especially those with good looking hair.
“By 7am, I would be at the salon and I would leave at 9pm, without attending to any clients. This bothered me, but later on my then bosses, Stella Mukasa gave me a chance to prove my worth,” she says.
After a year at Glamour, the salon was closed and Kyakuwa ended up at Black And White Parlour in Munyonyo. While here she decided to try out hair shaving in order to increase her earnings.
“ While at the beauty school, barbering did not cross my mind, but while at Black and White I came to witness the number of clients that kept waiting for a barber that went out for a 30 minute lunch break or rather buy airtime, but takes hours without coming back. Some clients would end up walking away because not even the women in the salon could attend to them,” she says.
Kyakuwa says watching clients walk away, challenged her because other than the weekends, other days would go by without any woman client walking in for a hair treatment, say weaving and braiding or even colouring and in case they did, they would be two to four on a lucky day.
Yet more than 10 men would walk into the same salon for a haircut, each paying not less than Shs10, 000.
Self-belief and focus
“After realising that there was a need, I started to research on YouTube and other sites on hair shaves. Other than that each time my hands were free I would sit at the barber’s section to watch how the male barbers played around with the machines,” she recalls.
“It took me some months and there are times I would stay behind when everybody else had left to try out the different hair machines. The hair machines were heavy and the vibration in them would not let my hand stay firm. I recall getting paralysed a number of times, till my hand would hold the machine firmly,” Kyakuwa says, adding that her first haircut was of a female workmate.
It might not have been a perfect one, but her boss then, Sarah Nakajjango and the male colleagues were impressed. She was given green light and colleagues promised to equip her with more skills. The hurdle now was to convince clients to trust her haircut abilities.
“At this point I had mastered everything. I remember my first client was a boy who had walked in with his father. When I asked the boy to sit so I could cut off his hair, the father was hesitant.
Her supervisor had to convince him to give Kyakuwa a chance, on condition that in case it she did not meet his expectations, he was not to pay. It turned out to be perfect.
From shaving children’s hair, over the years, she has earned the trust of adults. In 2021 Kyakuwa was hired by Auto Spa to do both hairdressing and barbering. It is here that she was spotted by her current employer.
For five years of working as a barber, Kyakuwa says it takes more work to thrive in this business.
“As a lady barber, you have got to be very skillful and be 10 times better than men to earn the trust of customers. You can earn these skills through practice and research. This is the only way to clear the clients’ doubts,” she adds.
According to Kyakuwa, it is not easy to earn a man’s trust, but when you succeed at it, they become loyal to their barbers, especially when they find a good one. One of the challenges Kyakuwa has to deal with is women displaying their insecurities at her place of work. Some women cannot fathom the idea that their husband’s barber is a woman. They act funny in the salon in the presence of other customers.
“At one point at work, I was confronted by a woman who found me shaving her husband’s hair. She insulted me and asked why male barbers did not attend to him. My supervisor intervened and saved the day,” she recollects. Due to tradition, some radical Muslims do not allow women to touch them, especially during the period of Ramadan.
“We leave work late and because of that, some women think we are men snatchers. At times, I am forced to take photos of me attending to a client and send them to my husband. There were times he would come and wait for me. Today, he is my biggest supporter,” she explains.
From this business, Kyakuwa has bought a piece of land and the nature of work has given her a chance to meet and work with some prominent people. “No matter the number of heads you have worked on, some people are not going to trust you. Some people walk in and make me feel unworthy. I focus on the clients that appreciate my work,” she adds.
Kyakuwa says classifying jobs based on gender is a misleading method. “If you feel you are intelligent and strong enough to do a particular job, do it. Skill knows no gender,” she advises.
WHAT THEY SAY
I am an actor and businessman. I have known Sarah for two years now and the first time I saw her shave hair was at Auto Spa. I had just relocated and was trying to find out where I could go for a haircut. On a random day, after watching a football match at this spot, I walked into the Spa and a woman asked me to sit so she could trim my hair. I was hesitant but I decided to give her a chance. Her services were impressive. I have been here severally and I am a happy customer.
Alice Norah Nassimbwa
Before Sarah, I was loyal to a certain barber. But one day, I went for a haircut and I did not find him. I was asked to wait. Meanwhile, Sarah was trimming a client’s hair and after that assignment, she also attended to another gentleman. After an hour of waiting, her supervisor requested her to attend to me. But I doubted her skills. In her, I found a new barber who does exactly what I want.
I have worked with Sarah for a year now. I saw her do manicure and pedicure. Then one day I walked in and there was no barber, so l asked if there was an option to which she replied that she could trim my hair. So I asked her to, since mine is a simple haircut and she went ahead. Worst case scenario would be me to go balder, but in the end she was good.