In our next choppin' it up sesh, we connect with Nick Benitez aka @madebybenitez – a multi-award winning barber based in one of our favourite cities in North America –Montréal. You know it, that Canadian Montréalais vibe hits different.
Nick, originally from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), made a life-altering decision putting himself on a fast-track path to mastering his craft. He now cuts at the widely popular barbershop institution La Maison Privée – here's what he had to say.
To start things off, how did you get into barbering, was it something you set out to do?
I started cutting hair in a barbershop at the age of 14. I was lucky enough to find a shop that was willing to offer classes to anyone who wanted to learn how to cut. I went in religiously every Monday, and was guided step by step, some cuts for real took 2 hours! As time went on I was invited to come in during my free time to observe and to watch the environment, to understand the culture, to learn new techniques, and of course, sweep. I did this for 9 months, and honestly, I had no idea why I was doing it but it felt right. You see, I love working with my hands and talking to people, and ever since then I never wanted to do anything else.
Considering you've reached multi-award winning status as a barber, how would you describe your journey so far?
At a young age, competing in barber battles taught me that over time, ego takes you nowhere. I use to walk into competitions with the mentality that I was the “best barber in the room” or “I was 15 years old and doing my thing” etc. but I would never win. Once I started not to care, and came to the realization that events like these were a showcase or a trade show, everything changed.
It was really about your mentality, especially at a young age. Being part of the industry while it was booming, it really got to my head. When I started to focus more on my health, going to the gym, eating right, everything then started to fall into place. My confidence bloomed, my conversations were more positive, my clientele wanted to invest more in me. From that point on I wanted to challenge myself. I was taught that, if you want to get stronger, you have to add on more weight. I used that principle in my life, and challenged myself to move out to another city...to add weight to my life experiences.
I know you started working with Maison Privée this summer, one of the top barbershops in Montreal, how did that process come about?
When I first moved to Montreal I started at a barbershop downtown. Unfortunately it wasn’t working out for me financially. I heavily considering moving back home and returning to the previous shop I was based in, then after some deeper thought I realized that moving back for me wouldn’t change anything for me as a man, the whole reason why I came out to another city was for growth. I was lucky enough to have a last minute meeting with Oliver Kult, completely forgetting it was on Father's Day, who he himself is a father, haha. I was so amazed by how incredible the shop looked. The moment I stepped in, I knew I had a great opportunity going for me.
How has working at Maison Privée helped you?
I realized nothing has been the same for me since I became a part of Maison Privée. My French improved (ish), my clientele expanded, my exposure to the Old Port expanded, my own personal business fully supported. (Maison Privée is incredibly organized, from contracts, to lawyers, taxes, etc. And as a self-employed person it helps a lot.)
But one of the biggest things that happened was that I was signed to DannyCo as a part of the Canadian Babyliss Barberology team. Since then I’ve given back to Toronto & visited my former hair-styling school as a Babyliss representative. It’s truly a blessing for me and I’m thankful to Maison Privée.
Would you have any advice for anyone trying to get there foot in the door with a top barbershop?
It’s hard to catch up to where the industry is at right now. Especially if you’re someone starting in their home, cutting friends, etc. The hair world has exploded, and that’s all everyone sees. Don’t do it for the hype. It really bugs me when young barbers get into this just because it looks cool. I was taught that we, barbers, don’t become barbers to “be somebody”, we do it because we love hair.
What qualities do you see are necessary to succeed as a barber/hairstylist that also carry over in life in general?
This isn’t for everyone. I believe that, you either you have it or you don’t. One super important thing to realize (something I’m very passionate about) is that barbers and hair stylists are called to be community people. Everything about the town you’re cutting from will navigate its way into the barbershop. All the drama of the community and the gossip of the town will be said in the chair. If you, as the barber or stylist, is someone with a big mouth and loves to gossip then this industry isn’t for you. Client to stylist confidentially is a HUGE thing to have. In a world we live in with social media your reputation will be destroyed as a business because of the “he said - she said” talk. Honestly we need to do a podcast!
Yes we definitely have plans to launch a podcast soon - would love to have you on!
So what's next for you? I noticed you've started doing your own workshops, is that an area you plan to explore further?
That, I can’t share. But you’re on the right track...
What are some bucket list goals, personal or professional that you are gearing up towards?
I want to die in San Diego, La Jolla. That’s the end goal to everything that I’m doing.
Why San Diego, La Jolla?
Why, because it's my version of paradise 😎
For more West Island Co. content make sure to hit us up below— peace ya'll!