Growing up, all Steve Purcell wanted to do was surf and skate.
On the weekends, he’d dash south from his home in Brisbane to the Gold Coast or north to Noosa, while in the week, he’d spend hours on his local vert ramp, conveniently located in his grandparents’ back yard. It was a focal point for the scene at the time and Steve grew up surrounded by all the local shredders, a crew he says moulded his character and introduced him to all kinds of interests that have endured long into adulthood.
With his parents usually hard at work, he’d spend most afternoons hanging with his grandad, who’d regularly pick him up from school and take him to the pub or local barbershop.
“Poppa had been seeing the same barber for over 40 years,” he says, “the same shop, the same chair – it was always the same. Poppa and his barber were just like best mates, it wasn’t so much about the haircut, it was more about just hanging out and talking shit.”
It was the late 90s and barbershops around Australia were on the wane. “Around that time, men’s style started becoming a bit more metro and blokes were going to hairdressers – or Poodle Parlours as Poppa would say,” remembers Steve. None the less, there was something about his grandad’s old haunt that appealed to him.
“I just fell in love with the heritage,” he says, “the old school feel and the sense of community that the traditional barbershops had.” So, when Steve turned 14, he took up an apprenticeship to learn the trade for himself. Back then, cutting hair wasn’t really something teenage blokes aspired to do and in the beginning, Steve remembers copping all kinds of shit from his mates for it. However, they generally changed their tune when they figured out he could give them a cut on the cheap and save them a trip to their mum’s salon. Before long, Steve had a chair set up in his parent’s garage and his mates would pile around after work to hang out, shoot some pool and have Steve practice his new skills on their hair.
When his apprenticeship came to an end, with no barbershops left locally to offer him a job, Steve decided he was just going to have to set up his own.
“I wanted to recreate that same feeling that my grandad’s barbershop had,” he said of his inspiration, “somewhere that dudes would want to just come and hang out, feel welcome and at home.” Along with his other half Keira and an old mate from his back yard vert ramp days named Luke, he scraped together enough to rent a shop in East Brisbane and after plastering the walls with emblems of surf, skate and DIY culture, The Barebones Barbershop opened its doors.
“To be honest, it was really scary,” concedes Steve. “At the time, it was the only shop of it’s kind in Brisbane, and probably even Australia. Most blokes were still going to the Poodle Parlour.”
“I had to convince people to come to a barber to experience the shop. I said to them, ‘You’re not going to get a hair cut next to your mum’s best friend while she gets her perm’. I told my mates to come and get looked after properly and not get butchered by a stylist.”
The first six months were a grind. But gradually, through their distinctive style of cuts and the shop’s unique atmosphere, word started to spread around town. Then, one day, Steve turned up for work and was met with a queue out the door and down the street. His next challenge was finding the right kind of product to put in all that hair.
“I been barbering for about 10 years at this stage and still couldn’t find anything on the market that I actually liked,” he says.
“So, I started cocktailing a few different products until I found my mix – and it worked really well. I had customers coming back and asking what I used in their hair, so I’d write out my little recipe – a fingernail of this, a big scoop of that and half a dab of the other stuff.”
“Then I thought to myself – why am I getting people to mix this – I should just combine it into one. That’s where the Deluxe Pomade started.”
Although the barbershop resurgence was still in its infancy, it didn’t take long for requests for the product to start coming in from far and wide. “There were only a few barbers globally who were really into the same subcultures that we were pushing,” says Steve. “We really just all gravitated towards each other – I’d send them samples of the products and they started using it. It was really just organic.”
As the Uppercut Deluxe range developed, the barbers they were working with, along with the surfers, skaters and bike builders who regularly hit them up for product naturally morphed into a crew of unofficial Ambassadors, which has been growing ever since.
“It’s never really been about the money or exposure,” says Steve. “It’s just been casual – we support the guys who support us. JJ (Wessels), Scotty (Stopnik) Eric (Dressen), they are just guys who have always liked our product and backed us from the start.”
Although inspired by classic cuts and the vibe of a traditional barbershop, Uppercut Deluxe has always been at the leading edge when it comes to developing new product and earlier this year they dropped what they hope will be a game-changing addition to the range.
“Back in the day, heavy oil-based clays were huge – Matte Clay was one of our best products for ages,” explains Steve. “Guys wanted something that was tough and wouldn’t come out of their hair – they just wanted to mess it up and it to stay messed up.”
“But in the last 10 years, male grooming has come so far. Now guys are chasing a very specific look and expect a product to do exactly as they want. With some new ingredients available, we started looking at improving the Matte Clay.”
“The result is Clay – a really strong product that is natural looking with a dry finish, and that washes out tonnes easier.”
Although just launched, tins are already rolling out to Uppercut Deluxe’s network of hundreds of barbershops across the world and while Steve says he hopes the brand can continue to spread its wings and grow, for him the most important things is making sure they always do things authentically and properly.
“We aren’t going out for the quick wins or the fast dollar,” he says. “We don’t fake it, this is who we are.”