‘Parcelado makes starting a business much easier here’

Wild Geese: Keith Harris, Fortaleza, Brazil

Keith Harris: ‘There’s a great system here called Parcelado which means you can borrow from the bank regularly and repay the loans in 10 instalments’

Keith Harris: ‘There’s a great system here called Parcelado which means you can borrow from the bank regularly and repay the loans in 10 instalments’

 

Keith Harris started his hairdressing career aged 14, sweeping the floor in his father’s salon Snips in Dublin. Almost 40 years later, he’s cutting hair looking on to the rooftops in sunny Brazil, 7,000km from home.

Originally from Terenure, Harris says the humble scissors provided an open ticket to employment, transcending language and culture to create career opportunities across Europe and South America.

“I moved to London in 1986 back when hair was big, to work in the city’s salons and enjoy everything the hair revolution had to offer. It was a great time to be in London and there was so much going on culturally and societally.”

With freedom and youth on his side, he moved easily from London to Brussels. “I didn’t speak any French when I first landed. Thankfully the international language of hairdressing with all its hand gestures and waving made it possible to understand what clients wanted.”

Four years in the European capital passed quickly and, looking for a new challenge, Harris eyed up Portugal after making interesting contacts in Lisbon. “So in 1996, a few friends and I bought an old post van and drove 2,000km to our new home.”

Family business

It was in Lisbon’s trendy quarter, where he and business partners opened a clothes, bar and hairdressing salon in 1998.

“We created a new concept of hairdressing and the business went really well. I was in Portugal for eight years, but in 2004, when my dad suggested I take over the business at home.”

With a baby son and wife in tow, Harris saw Dublin as a great new opportunity to expand abilities within his trade. “My dad’s salon – Snips on Middle Abbey Street – is a wig specialist and I started working with clients who had lost hair for a number of reasons. It was a really rewarding, spiritual, sad, happy, beautiful and humbling time and I learned a lot of life lessons.”

During his time back home, Dublin was buzzing and Harris took a course in Chinese medicine, learned massage and started DJing across the city at night.

“But in the late noughties, I decided to join my now ex-wife and son, who were moving back to Brazil.”

In 2010, Harris sold everything he had – his amplifiers, decks and records – and moved to Fortaleza in northern Brazil with just two bags and €5,000.

“I had been working as a hairdresser for so long, I decided to focus on a new start and worked as a masseuse. My early clients were MMA fighters.

“But money wasn’t as easily earned and after the death of my father in 2011, I decided to continue the family tradition, albeit far from home. I was living in an artsy condo and I used to cut their hair. Lots of interesting people came to me and soon I got an offer to work in a very high-end hair salon.”

Parcelado

After working full days, he also spent evenings cutting hair at home. The demand for his hairdressing skills was such that he and his life and business partner Camila, who have been together for eight years, decided to open a salon together.

“There’s a great system here called Parcelado which means you can borrow from the bank regularly and repay the loans in 10 instalments. So we bought chairs, basins and top-quality furnishings to start our own hairdresser. It’s a great system, which makes starting a business much easier here.”

The salon opened in 2015 on a busy street corner close to the beach and is called Meraki. “It’s a word often used in modern Greek, which describes ‘doing something with soul and creativity or love’. It’s about putting something of yourself into what you do.”

Before Covid-19, the duo decided to host a party for clients and people involved in the business to celebrate their successes.

“We called the owner of the building to see if we could have the party on the rooftop. The area made available to us was over 100sq m with views of the city. It was amazing. We decided shortly afterwards to enquire about opening a salon up there.”

In 2019, the business moved upwards. “There’s a lift from the street and we have classrooms where I teach hairdressing. We have five stylists and a receptionist.”

Brazil was hit famously hard by Covid-19 and the salon closed for four months. “We survived by setting up a voucher system where people could buy their appointments online for when we opened again. We have a great clientele who supported us, but we also had some rainy day funds.”

Harris says the roof garden means clients can now wait outside and they can follow strict protocols to ensure the virus doesn’t spread there. “We’re so lucky to have this space and, since opening post Covid-19, it’s been a blessing.”

Brazil is not without its socioeconomic and human rights issues, which make it a dangerous place. “You hear gunshots. It’s a place of great inequality so there is a readiness for violence and you need your wits about you.

“Also it’s close to the equator and the temperature never really changes much. You’re either hot and wet or just hot. It gets dark early and you’re up the crack of dawn, which I love.

“I have Brazilian citizenship because my son is from here. He’s 19 years old now and studying agronomy.”

There are about three Irish people living in the city, which has a population of about three million people, so it’s handy that Harris speaks Portuguese.

“I’m very settled here and life is good. Like many Irish abroad, it’s nice to come home and I’m looking forward to a trip to see friends and family again.”

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