After learning how to cut hair in the South Korean Navy, John Choi moved to Australia and opened Good Barbershop on Park Street, South Melbourne in 2017. With a laid back, contemporary fit out - complete with a drawing of Boba Fett wearing Supreme and Visvim by American pop artist John Woo on the wall - and a mix of hip hop and jazz on rotation, you’d be forgiven for not realising the double meaning behind the shop’s name. We spoke to John about the importance of Good Barbershop’s involvement with local charity work, his time in the navy, and what his plans are for the future.
Good Barbershop doesn’t just owe its name to good hair cuts; it’s committed to continual involvement with various charities that improve the lives of the local community. Which charities is Good Barbershop currently working with?
We are currently working with Hug Project, which I am a director of (other directors include travel agents, and restaurant owners), an educational support organisation in developing countries, and a group that helps local homeless people called Salt and Light.
I noticed that customers receive a complimentary drink in exchange for a coin donation to the Hug Project tin, is that correct?
To be precise, we contribute a part of Good Barbershop’s profits to the Hug Project. It’s good to donate a lot of money. However, we also want everyone to be able to participate more easily in sharing, so we offer gold coin donations. When the Hug Project tip box is filled, it is used differently depending on the situation. Recently, it was given to homeless people. Drinks are basically free, you can just donate a gold coin.
And how is Good Barbershop affiliated with Salt and Light?
One of my friends was volunteering there and told me about it. I’m currently doing haircut services two or three times a month there for the homeless.
Why do you think it is so important for a business to give back directly to it's community?
I think it is for joint development rather than simply just helping anyone. Companies must exist with consumers. The distribution of profits is also a promise for the future and an investment for the enterprise.
A variety of characters must walk through your doors, have you made any friends from the shop? Do you have any memorable stories that have been told to you?
Everyone that has visited our shop over the past year has been friendly and kind to my staff. We once had a customer who came in to cut and burn his hair to mourn the death of his friend who was also a barber, that was really memorable.
Your style of cutting hair is different to other barbers that I've seen work, where did you learn to cut hair?
I'm not sure, is it different? Haha. My first job was in a barbershop onboard a South Korean navy battle ship; that’s where I learned to cut hair. Maybe that’s why it seems different.
Tell us more about your time in the navy…
Whenever I talk about the military in South Korea it becomes very boring, haha. I was in the navy, and when I started my military life, I was only 19 years old. In Korea, an adult male who has no physical ailments is obliged to serve in the military. I also spent two years in the military service. Not all enlisted marines are on a battleship, nor are they able to get on a battleship and go abroad. I was lucky, I worked for two years in the best battleship at that time, and I got to travel to various places like Japan, USA Russia, New Zealand and Australia. I think my military life was a really good experience, but I would not want to do it again.
The store has a unique aesthetic compared to a typical Melbourne barbershop. Where did you draw your inspiration from for the theme?
I had the help of two talented friends who help me set it up. Because we’ve been really close friends for a long time, they know me better than anyone else so they were able to turn my idea of applying Korean and Asian people’s genuine coolness to the shop into a reality. I would like to say thank you to my friends for their help.
What is your favourite thing to do in your part of the city?
The main reason that I love South Melbourne is because of the South Melbourne market. I think it’s the best market in Melbourne.
What do you hope for the future of Good Barbershop?
Good Barbershop is my first business and we’ve only been open for a year, but it’s my aim to eventually open many different types of barbershops so that many people can be happy. But for now, the goal is to become the most loved barbershop in South Melbourne.
Why does Good Barbershop make people happy?
So glad you think that way. I will do my best, every moment. I want to create a space where the worker, the guest, and everyone will be really happy. I hope it continues to be a place where many happy stories are made.
Before we say goodbye...
Favourite style of hair cut? Always a skin fade!
Your next book? A man named Ove by Fredrik Backman.
Favourite food to eat in winter? Seafood Udon. I love Japanese food even more than Korean food.
If you could have any super power, what would it be? Since moving to Melbourne, there have been so many happy and beautiful moments that I felt sad to have pass by. So I’d like to have the ability to stop a moment in time when I have not wanted it to pass.
A motto that you like to live your life by? Everybody is happy when I give up a little of mine.
You can find John and his team from Tuesday to Saturday at Good Barbershop in South Melbourne.
246 Park Street, South Melbourne
Tue to Fri 12pm - 8pm
Sat 10am - 5pm
Words by Claudia Aughey