Barber Bro: Helping at-risk dudes, one haircut at a time


Ex-crim turned youth worker Charles Lomu runs a barbershop from his garage in Western Sydney where he teaches young clients and trainees what it means to be a good man.

Charles Lomu is a suburban barber with a difference.

His clients range from former inmates to young men at risk of falling into crime, to ordinary suburban blokes who find comfort confiding in him.

Charles has a way of connecting with young guys who find themselves caught up in the criminal justice system – because that’s where he used to be. He did a stint behind bars in his early twenties.   

When he decided he wanted to turn his life around, Charles logged in to YouTube and taught himself how to do everything from a French crop to a fifties quiff. He then converted his western Sydney home garage in into a barber shop.

"Fundamentally, [barbering] is about service to others. It's about learning a skill and giving to other people in your community. That’s what it means to be a real man."

Western Sydney has one of the highest rates of property and violent crime New South Wales.

“There's a lot of bravado. Guys can be very territorial, and really passionate about protecting their postcode.”

This isn’t something Charles tries to sugar coat – but he’s determined to change his area’s image.

“Before I got into doing this, it was something that crossed my mind, ‘Do I want to promote my service working from home, put my address out there, knowing what it could bring?’

Charles and Kiko
Charles (left) with trainee Kiko (right).
“But then I thought to myself, ‘If I let that stop me, then what am I contributing to?’”

So why does he do it? In his own words:

“We're redefining masculinity. A lot of what I do is about helping men to open up. I think it's hard for a lot of men because it's something society doesn't encourage.

“My generation, we grew up being fathered by men who demonstrated to us that manliness was about being physically strong, being able to control your emotions so no one could see, 'cause if you did it was a sign of weakness.

"Fundamentally, [barbering] is about service to others. It's about learning a skill and giving to other people in your community. That’s what it means to be a real man."

When Charles isn’t serving paying clients, he’s running free workshops for locals like Kiko, Rua and Sione – young trainees keen to follow in his footsteps.

I just want to live my life with purpose and I want to encourage young men to do the same.

Rua says, “When you cut you always have someone different in a chair, you get to know their story. That's why I like it. You can express your feelings to them and they can express their feelings to you. We talk a lot about what it means to be a man.”

“It does get deep,” says Charles.

“Stories of depression, marriage breakdown; we have some really good talks about religion, deep struggles with alcohol. I can tell by the body language when they come in, something's happened in this guy's life. So I'll purposely probe.

“One guy come in and I was cutting his hair and I seen this big scar on his head. Turned out that he had been shot in the head.

“I have been moved to tears.”

But it’s not all heavy going. 

Charles finds out what his trainees are into and works with it.

“The guys that we're working with at the moment, they're a very musical group.”

So between stories of hard luck and redemption, guys break out in song. That’s right, the barbershop quartet lives on.

It really is a whole different world behind roller doors. 


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