More than a handful of the guys reading would know this man not just as their favourite barber, but also their friend. Lex Low is the founder of OTHRS (formerly known as AmplitudeBarbershop) and he isn’t just interested in giving you the quick snip and go. Lex’s story is fourteen years in the making and it’s still going.
He had to break through the common misconception our society has towards hairstylists: “only people who aren’t booksmart end up cutting hair”. Most of us are guilty of sharing the same reservations but to Lex, this work is a gift to connect with the people around him and make a difference no matter how big or small.
How do you plan to refresh the barber lifestyle with OTHRS?
Even the name itself tells you that it’s all about people. Our barbers are from different backgrounds - we have a musician, a filmmaker, a lawyer, and even a chef. The culture we’re trying to establish here is to show people to stay true to who they are. The message is simple: being a barber doesn’t have to be boring. People look down on hairstylists because of the earning power - we are considered a low income job working in the service industry. In this barbershop, you’re not defined by the fact that you cut hair. We try to help our barbers discover what else they can do other than cutting hair because ultimately the culture of this place is the people.
You also cut hair for the homeless - how did you start on that?
Three years back when I first started my salon, I was at a point where I wanted to give up on doing hair. I told myself if I were to come back and do hair again, I wanted it to be something very special. The question I constantly ask myself is how can I make a difference in this society through a pair of scissors? So I started going around to the different homes giving free haircuts to the elderly, the orang asli, and the underprivileged. One day I decided on bringing a bigger impact by taking it to the streets and providing the homeless with a haircut and getting them cleaned up. This initiative has grown to a larger scale and many people have benefited from this.
Share with us one of your fondest memories.
There is this old uncle who’s about the same age as my late father. The first time I went to cut his hair, he never said a word. I’ve been cutting his hair for a year or so, but there were a few times where I was not able to visit him. Just last month I went back and he exclaimed, “guys, Lex is back!” and started to gather everyone to queue for a haircut. The fact that he called me by my name shows that the friendship has developed and he trusts me. When I cut their hair, they would share with me stories on how they ended up on the streets. These are people who are outcasted by society, but when me and my friends come in to give haircuts, they realise that we don’t judge them. It may not be a big deal to them, but I think it’s just the start of something great.
What was the most difficult challenge you’ve had to face after fourteen years of cutting hair?
Many years back, I developed a skin disease called psoriasis and about three years back, the condition was at its worst. My skin would flare up every night and I’d be bleeding all over. The doctor advised that I quit hairstyling; basically everything I’ve ever known for most of my life. That was so tough not just physically, but emotionally too because I’d be letting go of something I’m truly passionate about.
What was the driving factor that keeps you going?
The end goal. I know my vision, and that is to see how I can change the world and make it a better place using the skill I have. I don’t know how, but I want to see how far I can go. It’s also the love of God that fuels me. I have a God that loves me so much I can’t help but share it with the world and the reality of what His love is. Someone once told me that what I’m doing now is going to be big but I couldn’t understand how that was going to happen. Looking over the past year, I’ve received students from Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore all from different backgrounds coming to learn from me. It’s impacting more than just the community here.
In your years of experience, you have met people who come from all sorts of backgrounds be it a high school dropout or someone who is impoverished - what advice do you have for them?
I believe that no one is a hopeless case. I would encourage them to seize every opportunity not just to make money, but also to learn. There have been many times where I was faced with struggles just to learn how to cut hair, but through it all I’ve grown so much. I thank God that I received an education and now I’m able to share with others what I had to privilege to learn. Be excited about it and redefine what your work is. You have the potential to make a difference with what you do.
His mission to change the world through a pair of scissors is truly something to be celebrated. He’s not limited by what he can or cannot do with the tool he’s got, but how it can be a medium to access the world beyond the barber shop. Lex’s battle with psoriasis is one of the many challenges he’s had to deal with along the way, but it hasn’t diminished his desire to help others, whether it’s the people he meets on the street or his customers at OTHRS. His compassion for those he’s taken under his wing has given them a second chance at life and they in turn, have gone off to create impressions of their own.