Mane street

A walk down Tib Street in Manchester, where the number of salons shows how service industries are starting to dominate our streets

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On the edge of Manchester city centre, the Northern Quarter has enjoyed a rise in popularity over the last 10 years. Once the stomping ground for local artists, musicians, goths and bohemians, the gentrification of the area has seen the jumbled network of streets becoming increasingly favoured by hen parties and young professionals seeking trendy cocktails and bottomless brunch.

In the last six months the Northern Quarter – the area between Piccadilly, Victoria and Ancoats – has welcomed the arrival of a £12 per hour cat café. A two bedroom flat can fetch up to £1,500 a month in rent, and you’re lucky if you can find a pint for less than £4.50 in most of the bars and pubs.

“I wouldn’t say there’s a rivalry. Everyone gets on with each other and does their thing.”

The Northern Quarter’s rise in popularity has had an inevitable effect on the demographic of the area. Although most venues still proudly cling to the Northern Quarter’s alternative and leftfield roots, those who previously used the old buildings as studios are seeking cheaper rents in neighbouring Ancoats, Angel Meadows and the Green Quarter. But while some artists and musicians are moving out of the Northern Quarter due to rising costs, a different form of creativity is thriving: hairdressing.

Tib Street is a narrow street in the heart of the Northern Quarter. Populated by a number of small independent businesses including a butcher, a florist, and a dimly lit beer shop, parts of the street wouldn’t look out of place in JK Rowling’s Diagon Alley. At just 400 metres long, you can walk down Tib Street in less than five minutes, but thanks to a recent surge in hairdressers opening up in the area, there are now 10 salons operating just a stone’s throw away from each other.

Concentrations of unusual industries are not new in Tib Street. Throughout the twentieth century it was affectionately known as a pet shop paradise, where you could buy everything from a goldfish to a monkey. A mosaic marking this colourful past and Swan Street Pet Shop, at the top end of Tib Street, are all that remain of this unique history. Later on a quite different industry boomed, as sex shops became synonymous with Tib Street and the surrounding roads – today only one remains.

“It’s turning into the barber quarter, not the Northern Quarter,” says Ross Parlane, who opened up his salon RPB 18 months ago. “I wouldn’t say there’s a rivalry. I think everyone gets on with each other and does their thing.”

Parlane’s salon is minimalist. There are just three chairs placed side by side, but at 10am on a cold Wednesday morning, all of them are full.

“We’re fully booked every day,” says Parlane, leaning over to trim a regular client’s beard. “We’ve got a really strong clientele, we’re very strong on social media, we have a large following on Instagram so it’s not really affecting us. If anything we’re getting more clients from it. We’re a bit different to most of the other barber shops – we’re all online booking, we don’t have people sitting around waiting for an appointment.”

Parlane’s use of social media makes him a truly modern barber. The shop’s Instagram account has more than 14,000 followers, and Parlane posts daily updates so his clients can stay on top of the latest trends.

“We’re all offering something different and everyone always needs their hair cutting.”

Most of the styles featured on Parlane’s Instagram account play into the stereotypical Northern Quarter look. Many of the men have lumberjack beards, while others have their hair styled in a Peaky Blinders-esque undercut with a textured top.

“Every day we make sure we do an Instagram post so we can keep our clients fresh and on top of the latest styles,” says Parlane. “Many clients just pick styles off our Instagram instead of looking at other shops or other things. Instagram is used as a very powerful tool for our clients.”

Parlane uses social media well. Clients can buy RPB branded t-shirts and combs in the shop, and Parlane has posted images of customers wearing their RPB t-shirts across the globe, from outside New York’s Flat Iron Building to Amsterdam’s red light district.

A standard men’s haircut at RPB costs £24, and the shop boasts David Moyes and a number of young Manchester United and City players among its clientele. The shop is licensed too.

“When we first opened Guinness sent us 100 boxes of beer to give out to clients. We’re planning on having male grooming nights. We have some events planned for this year but we want to keep it close to our chests.

“Every man needs a haircut. If they come to their last £24, would they spend it going out or would they spend it on keeping themselves looking good? I think men always want to look good now – modern day men are so bothered about their image.”

African-Caribbean hairdresser Raimi Shoneye was the first current salon owner to open up on Tib Street. Shoneye’s salon KAI Hair might be next door to RPB, but the two couldn’t be more different in aesthetics.

Left to right: Ross Parlane, Damien Feeley, Melissa Timperley, Nick McClure, Olivier Morosini
Left to right: Ross Parlane, Damien Feeley, Melissa Timperley, Nick McClure, Olivier Morosini

While Parlane has chosen a slick, open shop front, Shoneye’s craft is done behind a veil of office-style vertical blinds, and the walls of the shop are plastered with photos of figures such as Muhammad Ali and Nelson Mandela.

“I’ve seen the area change dramatically,” says Shoneye, who opened his salon 12 years ago. “I still have the same clientele but you’ve seen a dramatic change in the passing trade. It was very intimidating in the old days around here. Not many people came around this area – it was dark and seedy – but now the Northern Quarter is the place to be.”

A standard men’s haircut at KAI Hair starts at £12, and Shoneye says around 65 per cent of his clientele is made up of people with African-Caribbean or European hair, differentiating him from other stylists on the street.

“Every shop has a different type of clientele,” says Shoneye. “If you are good at what you are doing you’re going to keep your clientele, and that’s what it’s all about – being good at your game.”

If there’s one business owner you’d expect to have had his feathers ruffled by the recent surge in salons in the Northern Quarter, it might be Nick McClure.

Four members of McClure’s staff have set up their own shops within a two minute walk from their former employer, but McClure isn’t fazed.

“Three of the shops in the Northern Quarter are owned and operated by ex-Maclure’s staff. I had a hand in training them all, but there’s no rivalry,” he says.

McClure opened his salon, Maclure Barbers, eight years ago. The shop, on Hilton Street, sits opposite Tib Street.

With six chairs, Maclure Barbers is busier than most of the other shops in the area. Burnt orange walls, a large oak worktop and metal beams give the shop a modern but industrial feel.

The staff in McClure’s shop work on a self-employed basis, and McClure allows them to set their own prices. When the business makes extra revenue, McClure splits it with the staff.

“The problem with being a hairdresser is that everybody thinks the only way to make money is by having your own business,” he says. “I have constantly proved time and time again that that isn’t necessarily true. The best way to make a good living in hairdressing is to work with a group of likeminded people and to share the revenue.”

Melissa Timperley is the newest salon owner on the street. A former Vidal Sassoon stylist, Timperley opened up in December in a new building at the bottom of Tib Street. Despite the high concentration of salons already operating in the area, Timperley wasn’t put off.

“The Northern Quarter for me has always been the creative hub of the city,” she says. “I like that this street has a lot of hairdressers. We’re all offering something different and everyone always needs their hair cutting. With the Northern Quarter I think people like it because they’re not paying a big company – you are supporting local businesses.”

Timperley says her new neighbours welcomed her onto the street with open arms, with one fellow hairdresser even bringing her a celebratory bottle of gin when she opened the shop.

“We’re not in competition with the barbers because it’s a totally different service. At the barbers they get the cool guys who come in for a quick service, whereas our appointments are an hour.”

Damian Feeley opened P&D Haircutters with partner Patrick Bethune in March last year. Both barbers worked in the Northern Quarter previously, and Feeley says it was important for the new business owners to stay local so regular clients knew where to find them.

Feeley compares the high concentration of barbers in the area to high street coffee chains. “There’s no real animosity,” he says. “I don’t even think that comes into it – the more the merrier really. I’ve been doing it long enough to know that if you concentrate on your own thing you can be next to someone and it doesn’t matter – just look after your own thing. You see Starbucks next to Costa; if what you are doing is right you’re going to be all right. It’s not a race or a competition. I just want to earn a living.”

Turkish barber Ali Aziz opened his second Northern Quarter shop six months ago. Istanbul Barbers sits opposite Melissa Timperley, KAI Hair, P&D and RPB, and Aziz’s other salon, on Oldham Street, is connected via a walkway at the back of the shop.

“There are a lot of hairdressers but they’re all different,” says Aziz. “We have other shops who send clients to us for a hot towel shave. They will do the haircut, but if the client needs threading or a beard trim they will send them to us. There is no rivalry.

“If you do a good job you will survive because people will come back to you. This job is not about people coming once, like in a petrol station. We need the same people to come back so we try to make sure every client comes back.”

Like Shoneye, Olivier Morosini opened his Tib Street salon 12 years ago. Morosini’s salon is arguably the most traditional on the street, offering colour packages and standard cut and blow-dry services. Despite the influx of fresh competition in the area, he is positive about the changes.

“It’s always good to have competition because everybody brings their own style and their own price range,” he says. “It’s great for the street because for a long time we had a lot of empty shops. I like that we’re all in one place. It’s healthy competition.”

Photos: Rebecca Lupton

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Fringe benefits 

Although Tib Street’s trendy inner-city location is not truly representative of high streets across the UK, the boom in hairdressers in the Northern Quarter could reflect a wider shift in nationwide spending habits.

A report by The Economist last year detailed how “consumers” are now happier to spend money on experiences, such as a trip to independent hairdressers, than on clothing and food.

In 2015 there was an 8 per cent increase in year on year spending on recreation and culture, whilst expenditure on clothing and footwear dropped by 2.8 per cent.

An increase in the number of style-conscious men and the convenience and better prices of online food and clothes shopping are influencing changes in consumer behaviour on the shopping streets of Britain.

It seems that unless technology develops to the possibility of somehow getting your haircut online the increased prevalence of salons in areas like the Northern Quarter is something that the UK should get used to.

The Tib Street hairdressers’ acceptance and encouragement of one another creates an alternative sense of community. Rather than displaying rivalry, the business owners seem excited to be a part of a network of creatives working together in such close proximity.

Economists recognise this tendency. They talk about a concentration of like-minded businesses increasing trade for everyone, rather than giving each a smaller slice of the pie. They also identify clustering – the process where businesses attract their suppliers into an area. There are three hairdressing academies on Oldham Street, including Nicky Oliver, and a couple of hair accessory shops nearby.

And all this is good for local economies, as Pat Karney, Manchester city centre councillor, is happy to acknowledge. “The Northern Quarter has always been at the cutting edge when it comes to independent businesses and we welcome them all. It’s a close shave but I’d say it’s the most independent minded part of the city centre – with many fringe benefits.”

Ben Cartwright 

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