Matty Conrad started with one barber shop eight years ago; now he owns and operates three others and is up for Canada’s Best Barber Award. Kristyn Anthony/VICTORIA NEWS

Island barber among Canada’s best

Matty Conrad says he got into the biz to serve his community

Seven chairs form a row along the mirrored wall of Victory Barber and Brand, and rarely do many of them sit empty.

Three hundred heads will lose their locks in the run of a day, something owner Matty Conrad still isn’t used to.

“Dumb-ass luck and a lot of hard work is basically what this has been,” he says of the last eight years in a business that has grown to include his own line of hair products, beard oils, coffee and even a collaboration on a craft beer.

Now, with nine others across the country, Conrad has been nominated for Canada’s Best Barber Award, after inspiring so many in the industry.

The former owner of downtown salons The Fix and Lab, he branched off into barbering because he was tired of the old stereotype that said the only thing found in a barbershop was a shortcut to a bad cut.

“[The way men described it was] as if they were being cheap or apologizing for having gone there – ‘Oh, I just went to the barbershop’,” he says with a laugh.

He found a space on Blanshard street – it was literally just four cement walls, he remembers – and with a friend, opened Victory Barber and Brand in 2010.

Barbershops have seen a renewed interest in recent years, often saddled with the idea that they’re painfully hip.

To those who throw around that word, Conrad says, “I think people like to label things as hipster if it’s trendy and they don’t understand it, or they’re out of touch.”

The lifelong stylist is more concerned with how to sustain the “trend,” a word he uses begrudgingly.

“As barbering grows, as it moves forward, the real challenge is, can it stay relevant beyond just the trend,” he muses, pointing out that the art of barbering dates back more than 8,000 years. “That’s one thing about human beings is that they’re fundamentally vain creatures.”

But when it comes to men and women, Conrad says playing to that vanity is different. For men a barbershop evokes a feeling of pride and dignity, something they don’t necessarily find in a hair salon.

That being said, Victory made the decision to offer services based on the type of haircut, not the head who will wear it. The business model doesn’t care how others might identify a client, he says, it’s how they themselves identify. “If we can provide the service you’re looking for, then by all means feel at home here, feel included, we welcome you.”

For the Victoria boy, who has gained global notoriety and regularly travels for speaking engagements or to teach at hair shows, there’s no plan to leave the Island.

“I grew up here, this is my community, I’m not leaving,” he says. “We’ve been able to contribute to the fabric of the city and help put Victoria on the map in some respects, and that’s all I ever set out to do, serve my community.”

His community however, has grown a little bigger. Victory now has a shop in Duncan, in Vancouver’s Gastown and a few streets over from the Blanshard flagship, at Saint Franks on Broad St.

With the other barbershops in town, there’s a sense of camaraderie, a mutual respect, something Conrad is proud of. And that extends to his fellow nominees, some of whom he considers friends. “I know them and I know their work, they’re exceptional at what they do and I’m so, so proud to be on that list,” he says.

But as far as competition goes, Conrad shrugs. He isn’t worried, people will always need their hair cut. “For every barber there’s a client and for every client, a barber.”

To vote for Conrad, visit Pollev.com. Canada’s Best Barber will be announced Feb. 18 in Montreal.

kristyn.anthony@vicnews.com

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