If you know anything about getting a good haircut in London, then it’s more than likely that you have heard the name SliderCuts.
With more than 15 years in the barbering game, Mark Maciver, better known as SliderCuts, is one of the most well-known barbers in the country. From Lebron James to Stormzy to Anthony Joshua and Big Tobz, SliderCuts has trimmed some of the biggest entertainers on the planet, but it’s his commitment to bettering his community that makes him so well loved.
SliderCuts personifies London culture, and we love him for it. With more than 90,000 followers on Instagram, if you’ve taken a trip to the SliderCuts barbershop in Hackney, you’ll know exactly why: on a day to day basis, you’ll see Mark and his team delivering crisp haircuts with insightful conversation. This combination of likeability and talent has translated over to SliderCuts’ social media, and the brand’s online presence has reached international heights.
From the outside looking in, it may seem like running a barbershop is relatively straightforward, but by spending just a few hours with Mark, I was given an insight into the amount of hard work, attention to detail and the thinking process that goes into running his business successfully. And now with author attached to his name (Shaping Up Culture), Maciver is adding a certain gravitas to his profession as a Black barber.
We met up with the self-taught creative to find out how he got to where he is today.
“The Black barbershop is a place of healing and resolution.”
COMPLEX: The origin is just as important as the end result, so tell me: what made you want to start cutting people’s hair?
SliderCuts: When I watched TV as a kid, I would pay attention to the haircuts that people had. I remember this guy from a show called Hang Time, he had a high fade, and I said to myself, “If I ever get to go to the barbershop, I’ll get that haircut.” I used to look at Carlton from The Fresh Prince’s haircut and Kid N Play’s haircuts as well; I just had a fascination with it. I didn’t really have money to go to the barbers at the time, so my mum used to cut mine and my brother’s hair. I picked up the clippers because I thought I could give myself a better haircut than she did [laughs]. I was around 13 years old and I wanted a haircut like some of the people in my school; I messed up a lot at first, and I even had to cut my hair off at one point, but I just kept on trying. I used to put the fact that I cut my own hair down to poverty, but now when I look back on it, I realise I did it because I loved cutting hair. Other kids would draw cartoon characters on the back of their school books, but I would draw haircuts.
How did the name ‘SliderCuts’ come about?
I just gave myself a name because everybody had an MC name at the time. I remember one of my first names, which I’m actually quite embarrassed about, I called myself Gyalis and it was funny because I didn't get girls at the time [laughs]. I had that name for about six months to a year, and one day I just thought to change it. I came up with the name Slider and I thought it was cool because it rhymed with a lot of stuff so it would be easy to fit it into lyrics. The name just stuck. Later on in life, I tried to get my business card done and I wanted to set up my own website. I was going to put ‘Slider The Barber’ on it, but it didn’t have a ring to it. After discussing it with my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, and my older brother, they both simultaneously said SliderCuts.
You’ve amassed such a large online following—how did you do it?
I got a large amount of my clients from grafting. Anybody that knows me and has seen my journey will say that they’ve seen me at work at 4am and they’ve seen me leaving work at 10pm, on that same day. I’ve had this same work ethic since I was a kid. When I started cutting other people’s hair at 15, 16, the odd person would say, “Oh, give me a haircut,” and another would say, “Give me a shape up,” and eventually I would just trim anyone that came my way. From this, I started going around people’s houses to cut their hair for free. I wasn’t thinking about money—I just wanted to cut hair because I enjoyed it. When I turned 18, I got an unofficial apprenticeship in a barbershop called D&L’s and I would work every hour possible. When I finished college, I decided to work there full-time. Sometimes I wouldn’t get a customer for the whole day but I would study the other barbers as they trimmed people’s hair and analyse their techniques to plan what I would do when I eventually got a customer. From this, whenever I got a customer, I would cut them so well that they would come back to me when they next needed a haircut.
This continued to happen and, eventually, I had long queues around the corner from the shop just waiting for me to cut their hair. When social media came about, I used to post pictures of my haircuts and it started to get me a few extra customers every week. I studied how to use Instagram properly and I learnt how to work alongside the algorithms and grow my following. It got to the point where I was getting 80-100 extra customers a month. I just put myself out there and then I put my work out there. I started adding commentary to videos of my haircuts and I put out a few tutorials on there as well, and people really bought into my personality. Plenty of barbers told me that they learned to cut hair from my Instagram stories.
When did you first realise that SliderCuts was a big deal out there?
I remember someone coming into the shop and wanting to take a picture with me. They said, “I follow you on Instagram,” and I said, “Cool!” But in my head, I was thinking: “Why would you want a picture with me?” This kept on happening and parents would bring their children into the shop and they would want to take a picture with me. I think what sealed it was when I was out on the street and someone asked to take a picture with me. Another thing is that I have one customer that comes from Coventry to get a haircut from me. He’s a young boy, around 13, 14, and his mum brings him in like once a month to get a haircut. The first time that this happened, it was his birthday gift. I said, “Wow! His birthday gift is a haircut from me?” and she said, “Yes! He’s really excited.” A few companies requested to do collaborations with me. One day, Nike called me and they said, “We want to put you and your shop in our advert.” I was in the old shop that I used to work in at the time and I said, “I’ll be honest: the shop is a bit rundown. Are you sure?” They told me that they wanted to do it, and have the real feel of a London barbershop.
You have trimmed some of the most famous people in the world, such as Lebron James and Anthony Joshua. How did you connect with such high-profile names?
A lot of it comes from word of mouth. It’s a funny story, actually: there’s a guy called Pops Mensah and he played in the NBA, but he’s originally from London. One day, he came to the barber shop that I was working at and I was just getting around to all the customers. I cut his hair without knowing who he was at the time; I just noticed that he was tall. A year later, he came back to the shop and I asked him what he does for a living and he said that he played for the Houston Rockets in the NBA. After that, he came to get cut by me every year during his visits to London in the offseason. There was a time where the USA came to England for an exhibition match, and he recommended me to the team. They hired a few barbers to cut the team but I got to the place early to set up and prepare. Some of the staff saw me and they asked for haircuts, and because I was there before the other barber turned up, I had already cut a few people’s hair. The people that followed had seen the results so most of them came to me for a cut. When Lebron James turned up, he asked for “Pops’ barber” and he said “Pops’ barber is my barber” so I ended up cutting his hair. The funny thing is that one day I asked Pops why he decided to come to me in the first place and he said that his cousin, Lethal Bizzle, had told him to come to the shop. I found that funny because Lethal B had never even been to the shop, so a lot if it is word of mouth. Other people like Anthony Joshua watch my Instagram and get in touch. It’s happened quite a few times. I remember I cut Nelly’s hair and he said to me, “Yesterday, I saw this picture on your page and I want my haircut to be like that.”
“I’ve actually managed to squash beef between different areas by cutting people’s hair. I used to speak and reason with both sides.”
You’re officially an author now, too, with your book Shaping Up Culture. What was the inspiration behind that?
Me talking to people. It started off with me just talking to people about how to set up a business, and stuff like that. I had a lot of conversations with customers individually and collectively. It got to a point where I was doing talks with the youths at church and they were telling me that I should talk on YouTube because I connect with them well. Suddenly, I was regularly doing unofficial talks in the barbershop, and I remember one talk in particular where I was speaking and the whole shop stopped to listen. I was talking about supporting local sellers in the market. It was powerful and at the end of the speech, everyone just started to clap for me. I realised that I had a lot to say. I was putting videos on YouTube about current topics and things that I spoke about in the shop, and it got to a point where I thought this information could be put into a book, so that’s what I did.
The barbershop is a staple in most Black communities. What does the barbershop mean to you, as a Black man?
The Black barbershop is a community centre. I say the Black barbershop, as there is a difference between the Black barbershop and the white barbershop. The white barbershop has a lot of different tiers: working-class barbershops and middle-class barbershops. Traditionally, the Black barbershop doesn’t have that. For example, if a Black man becomes the Prime Minister, he’ll still go to the same barbershop. That’s why you see guys like Anthony Joshua and a regular working-class person in the same shop. This is also why the Black barbershop is a community centre for networking, because everyone goes there. I see it as a place where barbers should use their influence and power in the community to affect change. For me, I do things such as The Runners Scheme where I mentor young people, pay them to work and teach them life skills. I also do a free affiliate scheme where I help people fill in forms because I know, when I was growing up, I didn’t know how to fill in forms so there were opportunities that I missed out on because I didn’t understand the forms and there wasn’t much help around. Anyone can get involved in the scheme; you don’t have to even be a customer.
The barbershop is a place that you can be yourself and it is especially important for people that work in the city. They tell me that when they leave work and come to the shop, it’s almost as if they’re taking off a mask and they become themselves. Those guys are usually the most vocal in the shop because it’s like their personalities have been suppressed all week and now, they can say what they want, and speak how they want. The Black barbershop is a place of healing and resolution; I’ve actually managed to squash beef between different areas by cutting people’s hair. I used to speak and reason with both sides. I remember one day a guy that was involved came into the shop and I asked him how things were and he said that the beef had been squashed. I then asked him how that happened, and he said that it was because of the conversations we had when I cut his hair. Shortly after that, a similar thing happened with a person from the other side.
That’s amazing, man. I think we definitely need more community leaders out in the field because it really does help. What are your thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement?
It’s just people saying they want to be valued and they want to end racism, and I agree with their stance. The other day, someone said to me that “all lives matter” and, yes: white lives matter, Asian lives matter, every life matters. But all lives cannot matter if Black lives do not. There are people that are called to the frontline but I’ve tried to play my part by giving back to the community. I give people jobs and even if I can’t give a person a job, I try to advise them and point them in the right direction. I’m trying to stay inside my community and correct the damage that has been done from the inside. The system needs to change. The Black Lives Matter movement isn’t new; it comes from the fact that Black lives haven’t been valued in America and the UK. It’s about bringing an understanding. When you’ve got the understanding, you can make your decision on how you want to think. But a lot of people are thinking and they have no understanding of the situation. A lot of people will see me online looking happy all the time, and because of that they’ll assume that I’ve never been racially abused in my life. I went to a school where me and my brother were called names. They didn’t naturally think to call me these names, though: they were taught these things in their homes, and the change needs to start there.
What differentiates SliderCuts from other barber shops?
Professionalism, good haircuts and what we’re trying to do in the community. But most of all: good haircuts! You can come in and we’re on time. We don’t curse and we don’t play any violent music, so you can leave your child here and come back. I try to create a positive environment within the shop. I’ve always seen myself as a business and this has helped me to make the right business decisions. I realised that a lot of people that came before me didn’t see themselves as a business so they didn’t choose to operate like one. They didn’t have websites, business cards, opening and closing times, brand colours, uniforms, code of conduct and stuff like that.
What kind of music do you usually have playing in the shop?
Most of the time, it’s gospel music. But not your traditional gospel: it’s a lot of Black gospel music. We also play a lot of jazz and instrumentals, but for me, the music should be in the background because I want to encourage conversation at the shop. It’s hard to create a community without conversation.
COVID-19 has obviously affected a lot of businesses around the world. What did you guys do to push through during this difficult period?
First of all, I made sure that everyone was set. SliderCuts has quite a few members of staff and, as the owner, I took leadership and paid a few of them out of my own pocket. There were others that I advised on what to do, such as applying for universal credit and other government schemes. I just made sure that everybody knew what they had to do to make it through. I remember when we closed in March, I actually paid everybody and, because of that, I defaulted on my own bills. I defaulted on my mortgage, my Virgin bill—everything—but this is what leadership is about: it’s about taking care of your people. Whilst on the lockdown, I put a lot of content on my socials. I enjoy performing, so I started doing sketches and stuff like that. A lot of people said that they enjoyed it because it acted as a break from the madness that was going on in the world at the time.
What does the future hold for SliderCuts?
Hopefully, I’d like to create an academy and make SliderCuts a franchise. I’d really like to do a barbering or hairdressing academy, where I add business lectures in so that after people get their hairdressing or barbering qualifications, they know what to do. People always tell me that they’ve finished their barbering course but they don’t know what to do next, They always have questions. It would be good if they could learn to cut hair and know the options that are available to them after this. Should they rent a chair? Should they get wages? How do they build a following? These are things that I’m always talking to people about and I want to put it into a curriculum within the academy. You can learn to cut hair and you’ll also know about the business side as well.