We spoke with James Harrington, AKA Hemi the Hairbender, about his barbering journey and win at The Industry Awards 2022.

How did it feel to win Barbering Apprentice of the Year 2022?
It was an unreal experience, a huge moment for me in my career. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the awards night, however my partner and I did celebrate from home – I was jumping around the lounge excited as. The barbering and hairdressing community in New Zealand is so strong and it was crazy to see so many names in the industry congratulate me on their Instagram.

Why did you decide to enter The Industry Awards 2022?
I think the awards are a great way to showcase your skills and engage with others in the community. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain from putting yourself out there. As the years go on, I see the competitions get harder and harder with more people willing to showcase their work. I have always felt supported and encouraged by the barbering community, and I hope as they years go on others will feel this way too.

Can you tell us about your barbering journey so far?
In October 2020 I was working as a forklift driver, where I was constantly getting told off for talking. One day I went home and Googled ‘jobs where you can talk and not get told off’. My top two picks were hairdressing and personal training. Due to COVID, personal training had no part time study options available. So, I chose to pursue barbering, as I thought I could teach myself. After a month in my garage, I decided I needed some guidance. I messaged as many barbershops as possible in Christchurch, but because of COVID, no one was looking to take on an apprentice.
One day, I went in for a meeting at The Barber Lounge, as they agreed to meet with me. As I was walking out of my meeting, Jerome Leatuavao, a senior barber at The Barber Lounge, asked if I wanted to watch him perform a haircut so that could go home with a bit of knowledge. I said yes, grabbed the broom, and watched him until 9pm. The next day I returned to The Barber Lounge and met with Lucas, the owner. I asked if I could watch, clean, and do reception for the day for free, which he agreed to. I spent the next 2 years working at The Barber Lounge, gaining knowledge and skills both inside and outside of barbering.

Why did you decide to complete your training through a HITO apprenticeship?
I wanted to train and get qualified but being 26 and having bills to pay meant I couldn’t take time out to do a course. A HITO apprenticeship gave me the flexibility to learn, work and earn at the same time.

What do you love most about the barbering industry?
I love meeting new faces, learning about others, and about myself. I also love making people feel confident and giving them unique, stand out haircuts.

What’s your top tip for a successful apprenticeship?
I would tell them exactly what Jerome told me during my apprenticeship, “If you want to be here, you will be here. I won’t chase you. If you want to learn, just show up.”

What’s next for you?
Recently, myself, my mentor Jerome, Jay Tia Tia and Markie A.K.A Drady Cuts, have opened up our own barbershop. I have also started training a few people up and am really looking to get involved in the education side of barbering.

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