Hi everyone, my name is Emily LeMay, I have been a barber for the last 16 years and I have been asked by Dear Barber to write a blog for International Women’s Day.
What made me become a barber?
Well, to cut a long story short, in my teenage years I had aspirations to become a teacher. Having had a few things happen that was no longer a career option for me and after some family discussions, I found myself enrolling in college on a hairdressing course. I wasn’t naturally gifted and, if I am completely honest, I didn’t have an instant passion for the trade.
I did everything within my ability to finish my course as soon as possible and as best I could. I found college classes distracting so I worked as hard as I could and in 6 months I had completed all of my assignments, assessments and key skills.
When I then left college, I started work as a self-employed stylist. I hated it! I didn’t like the job, the shop or the staff. I had the feeling that I had made a terrible choice and wasted my time on a course I was never going to use. A turning point for me was when a friend rang me telling me of a barbering position available where she worked. I had not really cut men’s hair properly and had no real idea what the difference was between a barber and a unisex hairdresser other than one just did men’s hair and one could do both ladies and gents.
I did a week or so on the shop floor, half the styles and things people were asking for I had either not done or heard of before. It was like everyone around me was speaking a foreign language - What was a Boston back?!
Needless to say, I wasn’t very good at that point. I remember my boss yelling and shouting at me, telling me how rubbish I was and that I’d never be a proper barber.
That was it, I went home in floods of tears, vowing I’d never step foot in there again and I hated everyone and everything about the hair industry. Having time to sit and think to myself in my sorrowful state I realised I was not going to have this given to me on a plate and I had to actually work hard at it. Rather than giving up, I got up the following day, got ready, got in the car, drove to work and shocked everyone at the shop that I had actually returned! From then on I watched everyone when I wasn’t cutting, asked questions and basically got on everyone’s nerves trying to learn as much as I possibly could to actually stand a chance of making a career.
Where did this lead?
Once I started to truly learn about the industry, I found new respect and passion for the job. I made it my mission in life to learn anything and everything to do with the industry.
I worked in a number of shops over the years, starting as a junior and working my way up to shop manager, in every place I worked I tried to learn something from everyone I worked with. I also invested time in visiting and participating in industry shows where I was able to meet like-minded people, forge strong working relationships and lifelong friendships.
In 2013 I had decided that it was time to open my own shop. I had my fair share of successes and failures whilst owning my own business, everything was a learning curve.
I was responsible for everything to do with the business, staff, stock, clients, bills, licences, advertising, decor, pricing, opening hours, the list is endless. Eventually, in 2017 after 4 and a half years running the business, I found myself craving a new challenge, I wanted more time with my family and I wanted to free up time to explore other avenues in the industry.
I put the word about to my industry connections that I was looking for a change. I was introduced to Darran and Leigh Gould, owners of Gould Barbers, who had just partnered with supermarket giant Tesco. Within a whirlwind of a fortnight I had had an interview with Darran Gould, accepted their offer and moved from Kent to Kings Lynn in Norfolk.
To my surprise, I was the first woman to join the company and the first female barber in Kings Lynn! The locals were slow to realise at the start that I was a barber, not a hairdresser wanting to change jobs or an apprentice, but in time I was treated just like any one of the other barbers.
Whilst, working for Darran and Leigh we often talked about the possibility of setting up an education system for the company and the idea of opening up an academy. These ideas started to build momentum and after discussions, plans and organising, Gould Barbers collaborated with Mike Taylor and the GBBA and in October of 2018 The Great British Barbering Academy – King’s Lynn opened.
It’s funny how your career can take unexpected twists and turns and sometimes it can come around full circle, after 16 years I had the opportunity to become something I always wanted to be, a teacher.
Not only could I pursue a career path within an industry I had grown to love, but as Head Educator for GBBA-King’s Lynn I could pass on my experiences and knowledge to the future of the industry.
What have I achieved so far?
I have progressed from a learner at college to a barber, manager, owner of my own barbershop, an educator and I have also had the opportunity to demonstrate my ability and knowledge on stands and stages at industry shows, and been asked to represent companies abroad.
Through my social media presence, contacts I have made within the industry and from working with various people I have been made been an Ambassador for Armour to Barber, a non-profit charity that helps retrain and find employment for ex-service personnel within the barbering industry.
I am also an Ambassador for Dear Barber whos products I fully recommend as I found them easy to use, good value for money and their products are beautifully presented.
Most recently I was approached via social media by Versum, a company that provides a complete salon management system designed to revolutionise how salons and barbershops organise their client data, staff rotas, online and in shop bookings, payments, financials and stock inventory. I am delighted to be their exclusive UK Ambassador.
Alongside my fulltime job of educating the Gould Barber apprentices at The GBBA Kings Lynn I offer workshops, private tuition, training days and guest spots at other people’s businesses and shops, I go under the name UK Lady Barber.
Why UK Lady Barber?
This name came about as a bit of a tongue in cheek moment on Instagram. At the time I chose the name there was a lot of discussions and opinions on social media about “Lady Barbers”. I have never seen myself as a “Lady Barber”, my gender has had nothing to do with the positions I have applied for and held, affected my ability to perform services, changed the outcome of a competition I have entered or article I have written.
I decided to ironically call myself this on Instagram as a bit of a joke as there were people that were segregating themselves from their colleagues, trying to use their gender to push themselves ahead in the industry. Little did I know that it was actually going to stick! People were starting to recognise my work on social media as “UKLadyBarber” and also commenting the tag on group discussions, so I ran with it.
I am proud to be a woman in a male-dominated industry, I am thankful for all the opportunities that have come my way but I wouldn’t put them down to my gender. I will support anyone wanting to join the industry, who is in the industry or needs advice on anything.
I will admit I love to see my fellow girls doing well and succeeding in this job, I have admiration for some ladies in the industry who are lightyears ahead of everyone, their skill set, their ability to teach and their presence within this amazing trade.
There is a lot of talk about ladies not having their fair share of opportunities within the industry, I know that this is somewhat true of the past but the industry is getting much better and as long as my fellow Ladies put themselves out there, stay humble, be confident in their ability and what they can offer the industry opinion will continue to change.
There are 1000’s of women snipping and shaving away in barbershops all around the globe and they have just as much talent and ability as any men in the same positions. I will say the only difference is lads will never understand the joyous feeling of removing a hair-filled bra at the end of a hard day’s work.
My final piece of advice?
Girls, don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t succeed in this industry, I am not the exception. If you remain determined, work hard and remember there’s always something to learn you can achieve as much as you want to.