When Linda Ha first opened her own barbershop, in King Edward Park in 2011, things were a little slow. “The first two months, we had no one in there,” she remembers. “We’d go shopping and give out our [business] cards.”
The drought didn’t last. Pretty soon the media got wind of her concept—a modern, stylish take on the classic men’s barbershop—and before long Barber Ha was attracting fashion-conscious clientele from all over the city. In response to the demand, they squeezed a third chair into the 500 ft2 space. Then they extended the hours. But within a year, it was clear: they needed to move to somewhere bigger.
Today, Barber Ha operates out of a bright, airy second-floor space on Whyte Avenue that’s more than three times bigger than its original location. Ha now manages a staff of 15 employees, and demand for what’s become known as “the Barber Ha cut” hasn’t slowed down one bit. For her part, Ha still seems in disbelief at how far the shop has come. “To be honest, I just wanted a two-chair barbershop where I could do my own thing,” she says. “The way Barber Ha is now… was not the plan. But it just goes to show how great the need was.”
As Edmonton’s barbering industry starts catching up to the trends Ha first spotted in Europe a decade ago, her priorities for the shop are shifting. Now that there are multiple places in town a person can go for the short-on-the-sides-and-back, long-on-top special, she knows that Barber Ha needs to be more than just a barbershop. “It’s not even about the haircut anymore,” Ha says. “It’s about the community. We constantly ask people, ‘Why do you still come here?’” All things being equal, Ha believes that customers will choose to spend their time—and their money—at businesses run by people they genuinely like.
That emphasis on building community is also why Ha decided, back in 2014, to become a sponsor for Free Footie. She sees parallels between the way her shop has created a network of like-minded customers from across the city, and the way Free Footie has done the same with underprivileged kids who dream of playing on a soccer team. “I really believe in what they’re doing,” she says. “And obviously there’s a need for it.”
Ha relates to the kids on a more personal level, too, as the child of immigrant parents who moved to Canada from Vietnam in the late 1970s, and who never had enough money to sign her up for organized activities. But Ha’s mother did try what was, in her mind, anyway, the next best thing: driving her daughter out to these events so she could watch the other kids play. “She had good intentions,” Ha says, “but I was like, ‘Why is she doing this to me?’”
It really is a natural partnership. Just as Barber Ha has been making the men of Edmonton look good for seven years running, now they’re helping provide the jerseys, shorts, and socks that make every single player on the Free Footie field look like a pro.