LUKA CHITTY – CHAT SH*T, LOOK SHARP
Written by Joff Alexander-Frye, Photography by Nick Hook
There are very few things in life that give you a confidence boost more than a fresh haircut. A fresh ‘do’ can give you a spring in your step and a much-needed boost ahead of a date, an important business meeting or a significant life event.
In this respect, Luka Chitty (co-founder and co-owner of Luka’s Barbers on South Street, Exeter) is the man to know. As one of the UK’s most respected barbers and with bags of character and personality, he has created not only a very successful business but a brand that embodies so much of modern barbershop culture.
As I walked into Luka’s Barbers on a roasting recent Monday afternoon, along with photographer Nick Hook, I was immediately met with banter-on-tap, great music, a Playstation battle in mid-flow and an awesome café racer parked up against the wall (which I day-dreamed about riding off on several times that day). Add to this the fact that I identify closely with a lot of the associated music, lifestyle and culture of a modern barbershop and it is fair to say that I was pretty pumped about meeting Luka and finding out more about him and his story.
I was in for a treat as, over a haircut and a beer or two at The Beer Cellar, we talked about business, music, films, nicknames, extreme sports, mental health and tattoos. It was the sort of chat that easily could have extended into the evening over a few more beers without really having to think twice about it. He is a total straight-shooter; always up for a laugh and completely comfortable in his own skin. He changes for no-one and that isn’t a bad thing.
We started by comparing life stories and it turned out that we share a fair amount of common ground, including travel to California and a love for Modelo; a Mexican beer which we each drank a bottle of as we chatted.
I was intrigued to hear him talk openly and vulnerably about his upbringing, his troubled journey through adolescence and a tricky few years as he moved into adulthood. Growing up in Taunton, Luka described how he had felt the need to get away from negativity, damaging friendships and some bad personal memories. He pressed into the world of Motorbikes, racing motocross and, after a serious injury, downhill biking. He also travelled abroad where he produced and performed Drum & Bass and Dubstep music under the DJ name La Luka (a name given to him by some Spanish bouncers at a club near where he used to live). For several years, he enjoyed being young, free and single, experiencing the world and going to a party or two!
Upon returning to the UK, he went through the darkest chapter in his life to date, falling into a prolonged period of depression, barely leaving the house and sleeping on a friend’s sofa. He eventually started working at a hairdresser in Taunton and it was during this difficult time in Luka’s life that he started to visit Exeter more often, spending time with a good friend James Humphrys (or Jimmer for short). Increasingly, he started to feel that he could offer something creative, unique and attractive in the city.
It was one of those ‘go big or go home’ moments and, after a short journey helping to set up another barbers in Exeter, he made the brave decision to set up Luka’s along with Toby Tagg (or Taggy as Luka calls him) his best friend and business partner. Luka described Taggy as ‘a firestarter’ whose infectious energy and enthusiasm has helped him to push the business forward. Sort of like the ‘Wolf of South Street’. Or something like that. Luka is the wild-hearted creative and Taggy the charismatic businessman – a potent combination, if the roaring success of Luka’s is anything to go by.
Luka described how he intentionally wanted to create a fun, relaxed environment where he could be himself and, therefore, other people could be themselves too. With beers chilling in the fridge, bottles of rum dotted around the place, sick tunes playing all day and more pomades and waxes than you can shake a stick at, Luka has created a mini-world for people to come into and experience. It really is something better experienced than explained.
As impressive as that environment is though, more than anything else, Luka places the highest value on having incredibly high standards when it comes to cutting hair. The entire success of his business is built upon the reputation for excellence that he has earned as a barber. Don’t confuse his laid-back attitude and friendly, disarming personality with a lazy approach to barbering. As soon as his scissors and comb are in-hand, Luka has a laser-sharp focus that only a true master craftsman has.
So, how did a heavily-tattooed, dyslexic, self-confessed tearaway from Taunton make a success of himself in Exeter?
With the same vulnerability as Luka displayed throughout our chat, he stated, “Taunton was suffocating me, filled with bad memories and constant reminders of people that I have lost. I needed a change to break the cycle of depression that I was in and moving to Exeter helped me to regain my confidence and believe in myself again. Moving to Exeter saved my life. Taggy was a massive part of that process. He knows me as well as my missus does – he’s my work wife! We’re best mates before business partners and it just so happens that we’re pretty good at running a business together too.”
Now engaged to his fiancée (Nina, a financial manager) and with two dogs (Bear, a Chihuahua and Bobby a Pomeranian Cross), Luka expresses how he feels completely settled in Exeter and is now on a mission to repay the city that he feels saved him. He described his passion and focus on improving Exeter one haircut at a time and also starting to give back wherever possible; be it to the younger generations, his staff or the wider community. He is more focused on creating a legacy than amassing wealth just for himself.
He also shared how the faithfulness and support of his fiancée has been a rock for him during turbulent times, particularly as he opened additional chains of Luka’s Barbers in Plymouth and temporary pop-up-shops in Bristol and Cheltenham. Despite Bristol and Cheltenham not becoming permanent locations for Luka, Exeter and Plymouth are absolutely flying. Focussing solely on these two locations rather than spreading his time, energy and money too thinly between four locations has been a welcome relief for Luka.
In fact, it has been such a relief that it has given Luka and Taggy a fresh injection of energy and vision. When I asked him what the future held for Luka’s, he confidently said, “The best is yet to come from us. As a barber, we use a lot of hair products and, unfortunately, sometimes the new ones that we try are really shit. In fact, there are so few good ones around that we’ve decided to launch our own line of hair products. With such a strong brand and two really strong shops, we feel in the perfect place to take a risk and kick things up a gear.
We have collaborated with my mate Stu who is the owner of Electric Ink, to create this new range of hair products and we can’t wait for the world to see them. We’ve chucked a bunch of money at the products and we’re about to start a crowdfunding project to raise the rest of the funds that we need to do this properly. They’ll be on sale later this year all over the place. It’s going to be cool as f*ck, so watch this space.” If it’s anywhere near as cool as what he has created so far, then we are in for a treat when Luka launches his new product line.
As our time together drew to a close, Luka spoke at length about the love he has for his team, many of them previous clients who have become not only colleagues but close friends. It is clear that they have become a redemptive community for him, positively replacing some of the tough stuff and negative people of his past. He finished by saying, “With their creativity, skill and passion, there is no limit to what they can achieve. They are my A-Team and I believe completely in them. When I have moments of concern or stress about the future, one of the main things that calms me down is thinking of the people I work with. They’re f*cking amazing.”
Keep smashing it Luka. Our city needs people just like you in it – thinking creatively, being brave, taking risks and being absolutely bloody hilarious.
To find out more about Luka, visit lukasbarbers.com or follow Lukas Barbers on Facebook