Talking men’s grooming with MENSPIRE’s Josh Lamonaca and Charlie Gray.
MENSPIRE have made big waves in the male grooming space since launching in 2012. The salon and academy, which specialise in men’s hair and grooming, aim to bridge the gap between the traditional barbershop and the contemporary hair salon.
Co-founders Josh Lamonaca and Samuel Palmer opened the salon in 2014 in Hertfordshire in the UK, and it has since gone from strength to strength, outgrowing its initial space in just 18 months. MENSPIRE’s education academy was formed in 2015 to teach solid foundations in barbering to those interested in the evolving skill of male grooming.
After bringing their unique style of education to Hair Expo in Melbourne in 2016, the boys returned to Australia for Hair Expo’s 2017 edition in Sydney with even more to showcase. We sat down with Co-Director of MENSPIRE, Josh Lamonaca, and Art Director, Charlie Gray, to see how they fared.
Can you tell me a bit more about your sessions at Hair Expo and how they were received?
Josh: “We started off on the ManStyle Lab stage…”
Charlie: “It was nice because it was a bit of a warm-up. I think we were a bit jetlagged still and weren’t at our top, so we were able to ease our way into it a little bit.”
Josh: “The Main Stage was absolutely fantastic. Everything went really well, it was structured well, the audience was good. Yeah, that was really exciting – I felt we made a huge impact on that stage. On Sunday morning, we had our rehearsal for the GenNext show, and then straight after that, we had our Look ‘n’ Learn, which was also fantastic.
It was nice to see ourselves on a big stage with a massive screen, in front of the crowd. It was really humbling to see the people who selected us consciously and came to see us work. Everyone jumped on the stage afterwards, and we ended up getting kicked off because we ran over time and everyone was asking so many questions on the stage at the end. Then we had the practical workshop in the afternoon, which was a really enjoyable session – we hadn’t done anything like that.”
Charlie: “We both did two separate haircuts and the class split up, so they picked which haircut they wanted to learn about. We just took it in turns to talk about the styles and we took up the whole three hours. It was nice and relaxed, step-by-step, nice and simple. And everyone got a great result with their model and the feedback from that was fantastic as well.
Then in the evening, we had the GenNext show. So it was literally from one thing to another – it was a long day. I remember walking home from the GenNext show and I was like a zombie, walking to my hotel and I was half asleep.”
You guys obviously met a lot of Australian stylists – was it predominantly barbers who came to see you?
Josh: “I’d say it was more hairdressers.”
Charlie: “Yeah, definitely more hairdressers.”
Was that surprising?
Josh: “I’d say so… I’m not sure how much of a following we have with hairdressers, so I’m not sure if it was just that they happened to be there at the time or it was something they wanted to learn more about. It was interesting overall, really.”
Charlie: “I think we are quite well-known with a lot of the barbering scene in Australia now because of [Hair Expo] last year. It was nice to approach a lot of the hairdressers this year and drum into that.”
Josh: “In England, we have so many barbers on our case, it’s quite refreshing to have people who want to learn more. Because, obviously, now we have this shift where barbers want to learn how to do scissor work, sections, and layering; and hairdressers want to learn fading and clipper work. We’re constantly showcasing a lot of scissor work and section work for barbers in the UK – so it was interesting and refreshing to be able to do that over here.”
Why do you think that people want to diversify?
Josh: “We have to grow. If you don’t grow, I think it’s quite evident that you’re going to get left behind. And if you’re left behind, you don’t feel inspired. If you don’t feel inspired, then you don’t enjoy your job. And I think we’re in an industry where everyone has the capacity to enjoy their job and fundamentally it comes from learning new things. You keep active and you keep mindful of new stuff, to the point where you can use it day-in and day-out in your salon.”
Charlie: “I think one of the main things that a lot of people said to me this year, was that there’s not a lot of education in Australia for barbering. That was quite interesting to hear. I think a lot of people say that Australia is like a year or so behind the UK, in certain things, I think a year or two ago that was the case in England as well. And now, it’s absolutely booming – everyone’s trying to do education over there. So I think it will get to the stage in a year or so where the education will really start coming through.”
Why do you think that you’ve done as well as you have – is there a point of difference?
Josh: “I think it’s because we are so relatable. The haircuts we do stem from social media and I think that what we put on our social media is relatable. And what I mean by relatable, is that we don’t post pictures of models all the time. We post pictures of our clients.”
Charlie: “Yeah. It’s raw material – sat in the chair, just after they’ve had a haircut. No makeup, no editorial. The pictures are purely based on skill.”
Josh: “I think a keyword there is purity. The fact that it’s based on, most of the time, execution, as opposed to something quite visual.”
A lot of people look up to you – who are you inspired by?
Josh: “I think there are three concepts – you can talk about the general inspiration for hair, you can talk about the general inspiration for business and you can talk about the general inspiration for life in itself. So first and foremost, if we’re looking at inspiration for hair, who I find inspiring, is Allilon, the Sassoon craft, Mike Varela (The Kingly Hair Group).”
Josh: “For business, I would say Allilon as well, Mike E. Gerber, Sir Richard Branson, Simon Sinek. Life inspiration I can get from anything. People in the gym I find really fascinating, because of the mental conditioning that they have.
I had a man make me a coffee one time in Canada, and just as I was about to take the coffee, he took it away and said ‘actually, I’m going to remake that’ – I looked at it and was none the wiser, but he knew his standard and that’s what was inspiring for me. His craft is that he makes good coffee and is passionate about it – and we can relate to that because we know our standard. So we can’t do a haircut that isn’t up to standard – we can’t compromise on our standard.”
You guys travel a lot as well, is there a particularly memorable place that stands out to you?
Josh: “I think one, was probably Melbourne last year [for Hair Expo].”
Charlie: “Yeah that was one of my favourites. I think it’s because it was a whole new experience for us as well, coming all the way to Australia. It was our first time in Australia.”
Josh: “It was incredible.”
Charlie: “It was all a big buzz anyway, and Melbourne was such an amazing city. And just the way Hair Expo welcomed us last year, made us feel ready to come back again and do it this year. We’re sort of part of the family now – we want to come back now every year and do it! I mean, I like anywhere I go in the world, to be honest. I try and keep an open mind and absorb it as much as possible – that’s why I love what I do.”
A lot of people don’t necessarily prescribe to trends, but if you were to predict emerging trends in the industry, what do you see as getting really big in what you do?
Josh: “Well, I think quite commonly, we’re so used to people reviving trends, talking about inspiration from the 90s, the 70s, and all these eras. I think for us, the way we look at trends, is that we’re trying to consciously submit ourselves forward. I think that’s what allows us to be innovative with technique and style.”
Charlie: “These days, to stand out in hair or fashion or anything, you need to be doing something completely different to anyone else, to capture people’s attention. I think anyone can get inspiration from what’s hot right now, and just copy – monkey see, monkey do. But to be able to have your own vision as a collective team and push your vision forward, that’s quite a powerful force. When you get it right, that’s when everyone starts to pay attention. Everyone in our salon is in the same boat; we’re all pushing forward for something different.”
Following that then, what’s next for MENSPIRE – what are your objectives?
Josh: “Building an online platform so we can educate people throughout the world. We get a lot of requests that we can’t always accomplish, so building an online platform for education is what we’re looking to do next.”