In the morning of the first Thursday of every month, there is a group of beaming elderly queueing outside Thetis Beauty Salon (Thetis), located at a corner on the fourth floor of Siu Sai Wan Plaza. Thetis opens a few hours earlier on this special day, offering free haircut services to people aged 65 or above.
When you enter Thetis, the first thing you notice is how simple and stylish it is, thanks in part to its spacious interior and bright-warm light. Though it does not look like a hair salon that the elderly would visit, on a recent Thursday morning, there were already about 7 to 8 grey-haired elderly people queueing outside Thetis at around 7am.
On this particular morning, hair stylist Daniel, who organises this community initiative, volunteered the services together with a team of fellow volunteers. After taking stock of the small crowd of waiting seniors and instructing the volunteers, he began giving the first of the morning’s free haircuts. Starting with a few words of greetings and checking the hairstyle preference of each elderly participant, Daniel trimmed with his scissors quickly. During the course of the morning, each haircut recipient went home with a new hairstyle that they were thankful for and proud of.
In ancient Greek mythology, Thetis is the goddess of the sea. Though Daniel is not the goddess, his big heart is like the ocean which never freezes. Since Thetis moved to Siu Sai Wan Plaza in 2018, he has offered these monthly volunteer haircut services. Around 50 senior members joined the event this month. Daniel said most of the participants are those who seldom get a haircut or can barely afford a haircut at quick barbershops. “By offering free haircuts to elderly people in need, it is my hope that they can save a few pennies, so they have the chance to go for dim sum,” he said.
With this simple calling, Daniel leads a team of about 10 hairstylists and volunteers to give back to the community with their haircutting expertise and a pair of scissors.
The seventy-something Mr Lau and his wife were among the participants. Lau said that before meeting Daniel, he used to visit quick barbershops from time to time. At those no-frills places, the barber usually just trimmed off his hair without asking his preference. “They never bothered asking me what I wanted and just told me to take off my glasses before trimming it short,” he said with a dissatisfied smile.
When Lau heard of the free haircuts at Thetis from a friend, he gladly joined. “Not only is it free of charge, but the hairstylists here ask me what my preferences are,” he said. “More than that, the volunteers also take care of my mobility-impaired wife.”
Even though each haircut takes just 10 to 15 minutes, the volunteers take the time to chit-chat with elderly. Daniel noted the importance of this, saying, “Although it’s just small talk, I hope it helps the elderly people who come here realise that there are always people who are willing to listen to them.”
Get rid of the prejudices
Daniel, a member of the post-80s generation, started working in a salon after secondary three graduation. He recalled that he had not been interested in learning, and finding a job was difficult, so he made the choice to train as a hairdresser. “My family was not supportive, and they preferred driving to earn a living.” After four years of apprenticeship and five total years of advanced training, he has not only become a hair stylist but started his own salon in North Point.
When he began his own business, he is determined that making profits would not be his only purpose, but also social returns. However, his then business partner disagreed, which meant that Daniel could not get started on his goal to create social value until Thetis moved to Siu Sai Wan Plaza three years ago.
During the experience of providing free haircuts, he and his fellow volunteers feel a real sense of satisfaction from using their skills to provide services for elderly people in need. Another of his goals is to eliminate prejudices about the people who work as hairdressers. “Some in this industry are indeed less educated or have gone off the tracks and they may not be time-conscious and lack responsibility,” he said. Apprentices are often looked down on by others too, as a result, this is not commonly seen as a solid career choice. “Apprentices, for instance, often receive little or no support from their families, which affects their sense of success at work and makes them lose motivation gradually. Through this initiative, I want to encourage them by showing them that this profession can give a hand to others regardless of the social stereotypes.”
Caring for the elderly
Living for most of lives, most of the elderly are not lack of time, but warmth. "We don't just trim the hair of the elderly people who come here,” said one of the volunteers, Mr Au, who is a retired primary school principal. “We also genuinely care about them.”
Au was influenced by a student of his who went on to become a hair stylist, so he decided to learn hairdressing and met Daniel when participating at another free haircut initiative. On this Thursday morning at Thetis, Au was responsible for registering visitors at reception. When asked about Daniel, Au immediately lit up. “In a way, Daniel undercuts his own business by giving free haircuts, but he does it for all the right reasons. He’s a good businessman but an even better person. I am always touched when I come here to help,” he said.
For Daniel, haircutting is important but not a top priority. Instead, he values the chance to chat with the elderly people who come every month. “In some cases, their family members rarely visit them, but I like to show my support and let them see that they are appreciated.”
The initiative has been so successful that Daniel plans to extend the service scope to nursing homes to reach more elderly people as well as terminal patients. While Daniel understands that his efforts have cost him in some ways, he is more strongly aware of how much he has benefited. “Although it’s cliché, it is truly more blessed to give than to receive.”