Why no shortcuts to success

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On a Saturday afternoon in Newtown, the barberhops are busy. Here at Cultural Cuts, run by Mohummed and Raed Aldani, two former Syrian refugees, a steady stream of groomed and weekend-ready clients exit onto the pavement where more waiting clients hang around, laughing, smoking and getting some of that changeable Wellington weather.

The business of trimming beards and working on those zero fades seems to be a bit of a trend here these days, or so Lazarus, of Iraqi origin and a bit of a Newton regular, says.

Mohummed and Raed Aldani (R-L)

Mohummed and Raed Aldani (R-L) Photo: Kadambari Gladding

“You can’t go wrong with a Middle-Eastern barber – the skill is there. I mean just look at our beards” Lazarus laughs.

“Lately a lot of celebrities and known figures are growing beads, it’s as if our cultural lifestyle has gone into the social lifestyle. A lot Middle-Easterners are opening up barbershops shops lately. I guess it’s a trend for former refugees coming here.”

Mohummed, 25, and Raed, 23, have come a long way from escaping the conflict in Syria. Arriving in 2014 along with family to New Zealand at 18 and 16 years respectively, providing for their mum and their five sisters became a driving force to their success.

Their story is as much about small-business success as it is proof of their sheer ambition to make it work in their new country, despite arriving as former refugees with next to no money, no English and no educational qualifications. It’s also testimony to the opportunity that an incredibly mixed neighbourhood like Newtown brings.

Lazarus makes music and is a friend of the brothers who run this barber shop. But he’s not here for a haircut today.

“I have a lot of family that are barbers … so I often go around to the different barbers just to bring a vibe.”

And it definitely is a Newtown vibe.

Hours get spent here at the barbershop catching up, joking, people watching, and generally, yes bringing a vibe.

This barbershop particularly seems a hub of sorts for Arabic speakers from the neighbourhood and in fact attracts a cross-section of Newton’s diverse demographic – men from all over the world really – Somalia, Vietnam, Tonga and beyond.

“I love cutting African hair, because it’s thick, shiny and fades look so good” Raed says smiling while focusing on his his long-time Somali client’s buzz-cut.

While Raed learnt from his brother, Mohummed practically learnt by simply watching his first employer, an Arab barber, in Wellington. Mohammed worked for free to clean the shop while learning the tricks of the trade through observation. Eventually after a few failed and some successful trials on cousins and neighbours, he started slowly giving haircuts to willing volunteers.

“In Syria, people go to the barber at least once a week, they really love to look after themselves. Also because we do salaah, our Friday prayers – if we’re going to meet with God we need to look sharp, dress well, smell good,” Raed says.

Hard work, community, focus and sheer drive has seen the brothers open another barbershop on the same road this year.

It’s a new life in Newtown, but their memories of life in Syria still remain fresh.

“I remember all of it. I remember buildings coming down in front of us .. .we’ve pulled women, babies from under the stones. You can’t forget this,” Mohummed says.

“For me this is enough … I feel like a new person,” Raed says about being in Wellington.

“Our parents never taught us to ask for money, they taught us to go get it. But not through bad things or ripping people off. We don’t want easy money. We can’t feed our family with that,” Mohummed says.

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