It’s an hour before One Block Barbershop opens for business for the day. Michael Phillips plugs in flat irons and blow dryers, plugs in the kettle for complimentary tea and coffee, and prepares the lemon water. A stick of incense is lit, leaving the shop smelling like anything but a hair salon.
Phillips, 28, is the owner of One Block, located in Halifax. Just like the shop itself, Phillips has his own flare. He has peach coloured hair, tattoos, and is wearing an over-sized galaxy-printed shirt, and baggy, fake leather pants. For him, owning the hair salon is more than just about cutting hair.
“[One Block] is also a venue that’s available for people to use. There is an indie-rock choir that practices here on Sunday nights. It’s pretty cute.”
One Block has hosted around three dozen events at the salon. The events have ranged from unofficial events during Nocturne, to late-night dance parties, to music shows, and art installations.
Hairstyling is just one aspect of what One Block has to offer.Even still, being a hairstylist was not something he had dreamt of his whole life.
“I was never combing doll’s hair or anything,” he says. “It was more of a career, or life, decision to do something that was a trade.”
Before making the decision to pursue hairstyling, Phillips parents convinced him to get a university education at the University of Prince Edward Island. They offered to pay for everything, including buying him a car.
“Their hearts were in the right place, but I just flunked out of all my classes because I didn’t want to go.”
Nineteen years old at the time, living in Charlottetown, all he wanted was an excuse to leave. He had a friend who was a hairstylist. This intrigued him so he moved to Halifax and did his training for 11 months, which he says was standard East Coast training, at a hair school that is now closed.
“I trained, graduated, then worked one to two weeks at a hair salon in Halifax until I had like an irresponsible teenage crisis, so I moved back home to Charlottetown.”
After working a year and a half there, he moved to Ottawa and received what he deems as his strongest training. He would later return to Halifax for work, but leave that job after six months.
“The reason I moved to Halifax is because I wanted to settle down somewhere. I specifically chose Halifax, like I was really committed to Halifax, but then I was desperate and didn’t know what to do cause there wasn’t a salon that I wanted to work at.”
Phillips wanted a certain size, and a certain feel, which he says just didn’t exist in Halifax. He wanted a surrounding that reflected his personality. In his time off he started to build the idea of One Block Barbershop. Even though it is labelled as a barber shop, it’s not exclusively for men.
“I liked the idea of opening up a hybrid that was a salon and a barbershop,” he says. “I just kept on talking to people, asking questions, and it slowly started to guide me down this path.”
Phillips says he never had any second thoughts. He was full-steam ahead the whole time.
“It was hard because I was learning everything for the first time. On my mental health, it was really hard. My brain was like crazy.”
Phillips says his business plan for a Gottingen Street salon was denied funding at first because of its location, though it was ultimately approved.
“I’ve never really understood the stigma attached to this street. I understand that it is real because I hear people saying it, but I think a lot of it comes from just not knowing.”
Gottingen Street was the only street Phillips looked at for available spaces. He says that it had always been his favourite street. Also, business wise, it made sense because there was no other hair salon on the street.
“I remember my original business plan. It was gonna be for people who wanted alternative haircuts, quality haircuts, and it was going to be a queer safe space.”
Including Phillips, there are three full-time employees. Kat Cochrane says he is “pretty fair.”
“I learn a lot from him. One Block has a really positive reputation in the social and hair community. They are known for doing really interesting things.”
As for inspiration, Phillips draws from anything, no matter where he is.
“The other day, I was getting inspiration from people’s fashion at the Subway in Dartmouth. I was also in Detroit two months ago, and just the people there I was hanging out with, I was taking note of their fashion, and thinking about how I could bring that back to Halifax, or incorporate it with myself.”
If he can’t put it to use directly for hairstyling, he uses it for seasonal editorial photoshoots that One Block does, which is another creative outlet he uses.
Phillips says he believes in constantly evolving with the world around him, personally and business wise. He says, “It’s always updating things and changing things to keep it interesting and fresh. You can’t just open a business and not change it for five years, otherwise it’s stale.”
Phillips syas they’ve tried to evolve with social media. They recently deleted their Facebook account because he felt that advertisers were pushing too much onto the user, so they moved everything to Instagram.
“You want the people to come here and feel that things are exciting and changing, because it also shows that the person is constantly thinking and also evolving. That translates to hair. They don’t need to get the same haircut every time. It’s about thinking of new ideas and evolving themselves, and their ideas about hair.”