The Man Behind The Scissors
The founder of Rogue & Beyond opens up about his choppy journey towards setting up his own men's hair studio in Singapore.
Thanks to his outfit of pinstripe suit and Vans, Joel Phua looks quintessentially dapper. His jet-black hair is slicked back, a comparative testament to how he wants to rejig men's hair in Singapore for the 21st century — bringing contemporary classics infused with effortless cool.
His studio, Rogue & Beyond, opened its doors three months ago in a shophouse attic on Telok Ayer Street. Here, the 31-year-old shares why he decided to go rouge after 11 years in the business, embarking on a solo-stylist career — for now.
How did you get started in the hair styling industry?
I’ve always loved hair, especially my own. And I told my mum that if she sent me to school, she’d probably waste a lot of money because I knew that I was more of a creative guy than book-smart.
I remembered watching a programme on VH1, it was the 40 Fabulous Things About 2004, or something like that, and Oscar Blandi appeared before my eyes. He’s a celebrity hairstylist in New York and he was charging US$500 for a haircut. I didn’t realise you could make such money from hairstyling. I said to myself, let’s try this, and I went to hair school and thankfully loved it. It was for me, I understood it, it wasn’t hard. I was there every day, I even stayed there every night, hanging out, it’s how much I love the industry.
How did you hone your skills?
I went to school at Paul Mitchell in California and after that, I honed my skills at Vidal Sassoon, one of the best hairstylists in the world. I think if you want to be the best, you have got to work for the best. At Vidal's, I completed my apprenticeship and worked there for a couple of years, learning about hair structures. They didn’t follow trends and worked with what’s best for the client according to head shape, hair texture and the person’s lifestyle.
In your opinion, what makes a good hairstylist?
I think there’s a foundation to it. It’s kind of like a building: you need to build everything from the bottom up. I personally think this isn’t something that can be self-taught. Fine, if you have the talent, it’s meant to be but in hair-cutting, you need a little bit of a foundation in the form of training, and if you understand the art, then it will no doubt be easier as you’re probably a bit more gifted. But today, you find teachers and plumbers becoming part-time barbers because it’s a cool thing, people learn how to cut hair on YouTube! If you’re really passionate about cutting hair, learn it the right way. I mean, of course, you can get tips off the Internet but to understand the foundations, you need to really invest in it.
How does having your own studio compare to working in a chain hair salon?
Working on your own, it gives you the freedom of creativity, you don’t have to ask for permission, you can think outside of the box. The last few companies that I worked for, especially in Singapore, we didn't have the same vision, and I strongly believe we have to be on the same page to make a difference. However, I think a team is still better than one person — to bounce ideas off one another, to take an idea and tweak it — the more brains the better. But the brains need to be united, if a worker doesn’t agree with the boss, the worker won’t perform.
What inspires you the most when it comes to creating new hairstyles?
Architecture is a big part of my inspiration. There’s lines, structures and hair designs. At the end of the day, we’re building structures in the haircuts and we understand hair fall, natural hair growth and texture. I’m also inspired by fashion and love flipping through magazines for inspirations. When you’ve been in this industry for a long time, you tend to lose inspiration because every day can be the same. You’ll eventually get bored and you won’t feel motivated anymore, so it’s important to absorb what’s out there and put your own tweak on it and make it your own. Sometimes, you need to inspire yourself, to do something out of the box and not do the same thing every day - persistence and consistency is important.