Barbers are masters of small talk and, in the case of Big T, they have neck tattoos and hold a straight razor to your throat while you rattle off your interview questions. Big T, a.k.a. Tobias Olsen, is a self-made man, a shining example for anyone thinking of changing their life path and doing what they love. Olsen, now 41, long toyed with the idea of cutting hair at his own shop before finally doing it, formally educating himself at a New York barber school only five years ago. Currently living and working at his much-beloved shop, the Royal Barbershop in Stockholm, Olsen was recently visiting New York, so we caught up with him for a straight razor shave and some expert advice on caring for yourself and your skin.
Q. What’s one thing every man should know?
How to take care of themselves.
Q. What are you working on right now?
Ooh! I’m finding new barbers actually. I’m expanding like crazy and I can’t find any barbers.
I remember when I was like 15 or 16, I took the ferry with my big brother to London, and the first thing I did was go to a barbershop to get a shave.
Q: Who or what influences you?
Hmmm, that’s a good one. The Ramones. I don’t know why, but they’ve always been around and been my favorite band.
Q. If you could go back and tell your 16 year old self something, what would you say?
Listen to people who know better than you. Don’t do stupid stuff.
Q. When did you start cutting hair professionally?
Professionally? Oh, like 20 years ago, but not full time. It was in my spare time because I had a boring day job. So I became an intern or a trainee for an old guy back in Gothenburg [Sweden] where I lived back then. It went well, so I started working weekends and weeknights, but I still had my crappy job, and I hated it. So it came to a point where it was like, no, I’ve got to go for it.
Q. What happened next?
So that took a couple of years, and that’s when I checked out the barber school here in Tribeca, the ABI — the American Barber Institute. That was in 2009. It’s a six month program.
Q. What first drew you to cutting hair?
I’ve always been attracted to it. I remember riding my bike to school and seeing those old barber shops. It’s always been fascinating. I don’t know what it is, but all those grumpy old men in there getting their haircut. It’s was the whole atmosphere. And that’s it. I had this thing in the back of my head. I remember when I was like 15 or 16, I took the ferry with my big brother to London, and the first thing I did was go to a barbershop to get a shave. So I’ve always been fascinated by it.
Q. You are expanding your barbershop. What would you say has led to your success?
Honest work, service with a smile, and good haircuts. You can’t cheat around a good haircut. You know? The clients won’t come back. And always remember, keep 100 percent of your focus on the client. It’s not my ego that’s working now, it’s satisfied clients.
Q. How many barbers do you have working for you now?
I’m the only one.
Q. What’s the story behind the name Big T?
Oh! To be honest, it was my first graffiti tag back…25 years ago or something. I remember I saw some graffiti documentary about Big D from New York. His name was Derrick I think, and my name is Tobias so…Big T.
Q. Where do you get your hair cut?
I don’t. [Laughs.] I haven’t found a barber yet.
Q. So what do you do?
I go to random places. I always get disappointed, and then I go to another place, and it’s okay…but screw it, I’m not going back. [Laughs.]
Q. You said every man needs to know how to take care of themselves. What’s your number one piece of advice for taking care of yourself?
Get to know your skin and how your hair and beard grow. Then you can know which products you should use to take care of yourself.
Q. What’s your best piece of advice for the perfect shave?
Always shave after a shower and use pre-shave oil and a great foam. Go with
the grain and — if your skin allows it — shave again, but go against
the grain. But in practice I mostly recommend to only go with the grain. Clean your face with medium-hot water to get rid of the shave cream and then splash with ice cold water to close your pores. After this use a nonalcoholic moisturizer/aftershave product and, if you want to use a cologne, use it behind the ears and on the side of your neck.
Q. What’s your best piece of advice for finding the best barber?
Check pictures and read reviews, listen to friends, etc…but always remember that their taste might not be yours, so don’t be afraid to try a new one. It’ll grow back!