Born and raised in Macau, Sara Fonseca went to Portugal for her studies, took a course in hairdressing, and has been working with a multitude of scissors, clippers, and razors ever since. Continuing that profession from Portugal to Macau in a series of salons and barbershops and even at-home service, she has a number of devoted clients who have become friends, and recently, Sara decided to open up her own barbershop in Macau called The Macau Barbershop. We sit down with her to talk about her barbershop and the challenges of owning a small business.
What is the concept behind “The Macau Barbershop?”
The story behind it is simple, I’m really thankful for my clients who have enjoyed and supported my services at my own place. The Macau Barbershop is just a place where I can professionally perform my skills and also at the same time a place where my clients can just relax in a more spacious environment.
Why did you decide to set up a barbershop in Macau?
I could’ve stayed in Portugal where my family was, being Portuguese but I was born and raised in Macau and every time I came back it just felt like home. It was more than an attachment, it was a place where I envisioned my own shop. Even before my plans on opening a business materialized, my chosen destination was Macau.
How is your barbershop different from the other barbershops in Macau?
I personally don’t think there’s any difference in terms of the flow and outcome of one barbershop, but I think what differs is the concept of each barbershop. My perception is to take care of my clients, I don’t want them to leave the room unsatisfied, I want to make them happy and be able to enjoy the whole experience and think of my shop as a very chill and homely place where you can either choose to stop by for a cut or a chat.
What service is most popular amongst locals?
It definitely has to be the haircut and wash, but we’ve recently noticed that hair graphics are the trend these days. Our bookings for graphic cut reservations rose after posting one photo on our page. And it’s a nice sight to see Asian culture slowly adapting to the present age of hair designs.
What is your recommended cut?
As barbers, I think it’s very important to always put ourselves in the shoes and minds of our clients. With regards to the client not knowing what they want or telling us to work our way with it, it’s always important to read them from their style, status, and stability. I tend to have a little chat with my clients before giving them a cut to have a brief idea of what they might like to have or how I can envision myself cutting to their liking.
Describe the desired customer experience? What can they expect when they come here?
Once they step into the shop, they should feel very comfortable and no intimidation at all. They can spend an hour or two of their time in a peaceful environment, with good music and a chill ambiance and also where they can put their hair in the trusting hands of the barber leaving the shop feeling good.
What are the biggest challenges with having a small business like yours in Macau?
Challenges in opening a business are never easy, but for my shop, I think it would have to be the waiting process, the time frame of everything from how to start, where or what to do first, and others. Envisioning everything is completed as planned just doesn’t work and in reality, it takes more than that.
Do you anyone else working with you?
Yes. The barbershop has three barbers: Me, Wilson, and Sérgio.
What is the biggest misconception about barbershops?
The biggest misconception is that barbershops curate with just one style, especially in Macau when you hear the word barbershop immediately what pops up in the local’s minds are those old vintage barbershops that are in hidden corners run by the elders that are a rare sight in the scene these days. But it’s more than just cuts, buzz, and graphic hair; it’s more about how a barber’s job is to amend a guest’s hair to suit their needs and not just about what’s in trend or what the barber themself thinks works best.
What are some of your favorite places in Macau?
My favorite place is the place I call my second home, The Macau Barbershop, where I spend most of my time. I have a few places I called “second home” as well: I can say Sintra Square used to be where I spend most time skating and meeting new people. And Coloane; it’s not an area I go to often, but it’s a good place to reset your energy from the city environment.
Macau’s dining scene is big… What are some of your favorite cuisines and restaurants in town?
I’m a big food person. And surprisingly, Macau still has places that I never tried! But I love small local restaurants if you could call them restaurants–they’re more like a “tasca” as we say in Portuguese. So it’s really hard for me to name them specifically since I can’t really read the name so I normally just make my own name for them!
When you have friends over from abroad, where do you take them (eating, visiting, and more?
I normally just show them different types of Macanese food and Chinese food. Hot pot, noodles, Chinese desserts, and more. And, of course, a bit of the tourist areas. The Ruins of St. Paul’s, my old school, Escola Portuguesa de Macau, and the casinos like The Venetian Macao, Grand Lisboa, and old Taipa Village.
What do you do in your free time?
Like hobbies, I do a lot of sports, so I like to do as many sports as I can on my days off. Even if it’s just a run, play tennis with friends, go to football training, or even skateboard with my old friends at Sintra Square.
This article was originally written by Hannah Estenilo in 2018 and updated by Leonor Sá Machado in November 2020.