Sine Qua Non (Si-Ni-ˌKwa-'Nan) : noun.
1. Absolutely indispensable or essential.
2. The absolutely needed.
Sine qua non can be translated literally as "Without which, not” – a reference to the people, places, and things that are inherently necessary – the crucial elements required to create something else.
At James, we find inspiration in the idea of the indispensable. The people that make it all happen, and the tools they rely on. Yesterday, today, tomorrow. Everyday.
In Sine Qua Non – Volume 3.1 we meet up an indispensable pioneer of the UK's revolutionary barber movement, Paul Hewitt. Without Paul, our image of a modern take on the traditional barbering experience would be entirely different.
By his own admission, Paul Hewitt has never felt bothered or obligated to do what others expected, or to fit neatly into any defined and established style.
At the surface, you’d imagine Paul to be a pretty gnarly dude, given the general public’s reaction to face tattoos… but spend a minute with him and you’re quick to realize that your stereotypes and initial assumptions don’t fit his personality. He’s open, honest, and humble. Questions quickly turn into stories, and before you know it, deep, almost existential conversations.
As with anyone who’s helped to pioneer a movement, Paul has been equal parts inspiring and polarizing. His journey has taken him all over the globe and garnered him features in the press. It's helped him into long-standing relationships with some of the world’s most classic skate and streetwear brands, and elevated his unique personal brand to prominence within the global barbering community. But reputation and notoriety come with their ups and downs, and through it all Paul realized that what truly matters the most to him is his time behind the chair– and a renewed focus on the traditional barbershop customer experience.
Paul grew up in small village in the UK, his father an architect and his grandfather a groundskeeper. From an early age he gained a respect and affinity for making things with his hands, a natural thing to do as he watched his father build their house from the ground up. Add that to the fact that every time the family went on holiday, his father would always pick up something from a local vendor. Eventually he filled the family home with objects baring the distinct marks of being made by hand. In school around the age of 15, Paul found a job as a stablehand and began to work with his hands himself.
It was around this time Paul started to carry a penknife. Similar to his father and grandfather, for Paul it became an indispensable tool in daily tasks.
Those early experiences created a profound respect for craftsmanship, functional design, and the confident sense of purpose that working with your hands provides. As Paul found a home for himself within barbering, his affinity for the heritage and simple function of classic tools worked its way into the other parts of his life. It eventually landed him as an ambassador for classic brands like Vans and Dickies.
At this time in his life, Paul was spending nearly every free moment playing basketball, and eventually he left his job at the farm to pursue a career at the semi-pro level under the coaching of a former Harlem Globetrotter.
Opportunities in basketball eventually led him to move to Spain where he found a spot on an amateur team. Quickly however, life as a professional baller drained his love for the game and he became exposed to the allure of the Spanish nightlife.
After close to four years abroad, Paul moved back to the UK and fell headfirst into the bar and club scene. He quickly transitioned to tending bar and eventually found himself running a club, and subsequently, partying almost every night. With pressure from his Mom and Dad to get out of the bar scene and the associated debauchery, Paul luckily stumbled across an inspirational hairdresser and quickly took up an apprenticeship at a renowned salon.
It was almost immediately apparent he'd found his true calling, and under close tutelage Paul was able to complete what is typically 3 1/2 years of training in just under 2 years.
Upon leaving the salon, he hit the ground running, and landed a working study at Proper Barbershop in LA under the supervision of Vinnie Morey.
Looking back, this was Paul's first introduction to the world of traditional barbering– the second the first client walked into the shop, the entire atmosphere would change, to an entirely personal, professional, and refined grooming experience. At that moment Paul realized that he needed to bring that vibe back to the UK, and that if he could do so he could provide an experience entirely different from anything else available. After leaving Proper, he worked all over California, New York, and New Jersey, eventually returning to the UK and bringing his interpretation of American culture and customer service back with him.
Fast forward 4 years, and not only had Paul been successful in bringing Proper Barbershop's traditional experience across the pond, but was making good on a longstanding dream of his to start a streetwear brand alongside his wife, Anna, who as a graphic designer brought AONO's (Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned) look and feel to life. On top of all that, Paul had opened 4 barbershop locations in under 3 years and was fostering a rapidly growing social media presence.
Back to basics.
Paul describes himself as having a bit of an animal inside when it comes to hustle. He believes that there is so much that can be achieved when you step outside your comfort zone and get after it.
In his eyes, his crew was the first group of barbers to go do just that. They wanted to have a community and open up a network around the world. To have the network to reach out, meet new people, and forge strong friendships across the community– but it became a double-edged sword. People began to see them as kind of a target or a bit of a threat. Some members of the barbering world started to pick up the animosity and began wanting to be competitive and better than the next guy.
Eventually Paul realized that to stay happy with their direction, they needed to zero back in on the goal of what they'd started– to provide a new take on the traditional barbershop experience.
Traditional barbering is not about the barber, its about the client. It’s about knowing exactly what they want, and exactly how to do the job. It’s about listening to clients' needs, evaluation, asking questions, and seeking to fully understand. The ultimate goal is 40 minutes of making them feel as if they are the only person in the shop.
Paul describes himself as having somewhat of an addictive and obsessive personality.
And this obsession for the process and the details shows up in his work. 18 years in, and he still wakes up every day with a mission to keep the shots going, and stay constantly getting after it with a focus on his roots. Taking a step back and re-centering has helped push his new shop, Black L’Amour, forward, with a renewed concentration of the customer service side of things.
Paul got into the game kind of a bit from frustration. Before social media they were documenting what was happening in the barbershop, but couldn’t really find anywhere else similar to what they were doing and lacked an effective outlet to share their story with the world.
Then Instagram came around and everything opened up. The platform offered an opportunity for outreach– the ability to find somewhat similar shops and approaches. But in the beginning everything they found was all kind of in the event space and offering kind of one thing. Paul knew that he could offer so much more.
These days Paul has come back to the basics, with a renewed focus on being in the shop, fostering relationships with his regulators and welcoming newcomers. He still travels the world doing pop-up shops in partnership with Monster Energy, but feels less urgency to be present at every event.
Never one to stop the hustle though, Paul recently launched a new barbering accessories brand, Cape Gang UK, bringing his style and attitude into barbershops around the world.