A barber’s tale in London
He cuts hair in London but has never cut his ties with the country of his parents and grandparents.
He is proud to tell people that they were migrant workers.
On 31 Riding House Street, next to BBC London and Oxford Circus, is Champs Barbers, a boxing-themed barbershop where many celebrities and sports personalities go for hair grooming and styling.
Splashed on the walls are boxing memorabilia, including some autographs of boxing history’s greats. It has gained a loyal following, not only from people all over the United Kingdom, but also from other places in the world. One of the reasons: It employs the most number of Filipino barbers, including a Pinay haircutter.
The most experienced guy in the shop is Troy Argones, a Filipino born in the UK whose parents were also brought to the same country by their parents. Still young and energetic, Argones embodies the new generation of migrant workers, Filipino in looks, culturally mixed but has not forgotten his roots.
“I am the first of the Argones family to be born in the UK and also the first in a long time to take up a career on this trade,” he says.
Argones’ parents came to the UK as teenagers and met while they were growing up in London. Originally from Pangasinan, his grandmother was a grade school teacher who, together with his grandfather, migrated during the ’70s. His mother and uncle spent a few years with their relatives in Bulacan province before they were petitioned in 1983.
His grandfather on the father’s side was a Bicolano architect and worked as building inspector in Makati when it was still a municipality. His dad, two brothers and sisters, also came to their adopted country in the late ’70s.
Argones’ grandmother was once featured in London’s newspaper Daily Mail while being put under house arrest for failing to disclose that she had children when she migrated to the UK. She helped the famous journalist John Pilger in making it possible for families to migrate to the UK by taking part in protests and petitioning the UK government.
Family of barbers
His great grandfather had a salon with four chairs and his grand uncles helped out whenever they were on leave from the Philippine Army.
At Champs, Argones is a favorite among many children of overseas Filipino workers. His job does not stop once a haircut is finished. He makes sure the engagement connects on a deeper level.
For one, he helps young people learn the trade and share his thoughts on how one can be independent and take charge of his own early in life. He also helps in managing the shop’s day-to-day operations.
“I am in charge of allocating customers to barbers, keeping an eye on the shop’s resources, assigning tasks to the team and most importantly, looking after clients, too,” he says.
Argones has been working as a professional barber for three and a half years, the last two spent at Champs. It began as a hobby with a pair of clippers bought at Tesco when he was 16 years old. He experimented with his friends and members of the family and became good at it.
After opting out of university at age 21, Argones worked in retail jobs for five years. When he found out that he was going to be a father, he became serious about barbering.
Cutting hair is one of the longest living crafts in history, Argones says. “It has allowed me to meet people with beautiful minds, be myself and meet cool people. It gave me a chance to help build people’s confidence. Here, I am allowed to express myself creatively with different haircuts. Every day is different, so you’ll never know what kind of experience will walk through the door,” he says.
Pinoy culture at home
When not working, Argones is a family man. He likes to take his fiancée and son out or just relax with them at home. “Either way, there’s nothing better than spending it with my family,” he says. A man who appreciates small things in life, Argones likes good music, food and loves to mingle with people.
When he was growing up, Argones’ parents worked full time. He and his sister were mostly looked after by his grandmother, and that was how his love for the Filipino began. The experience made him realize how truly caring was his family and the values that he learned were something he wanted to also pass on to his children.
Filipino cuisine favorites
“For dinner, we always had a choice of two dishes our lola prepared for us, sinigang or tinola, both of which I love, but Lola’s pork Sinigang, with a splash of patis, is my favorite,” he says.
There are many chefs on both sides of the Argones family. His Lolo Abel worked in many hotels in London. His Tito Dun worked as a Teppanyaki chef in prestigious Yumenoki on West End, an aunt was an experienced chef in Japanese cuisine.
“I was surrounded by good food of all cuisines from early age. But for dinner at both grandparents’ houses, we would always have great Filipino classics, my Lolo’s adobo and my Tita Paz’s menudo.”
Because Argones was not born in the Philippines, his every trip to the country feels like a new experience. He has seen Makati’s vibrant and colorful night life and loved it. He’s met his clan and felt very much at home, spending quality time with each of his relatives.
When he last visited the Philippines, Argones marveled at the simplicity of life in Camotes, his girlfriend’s hometown in Cebu. “There is beauty wherever you go and that is what I love most about the Philippines,” he says.
He hopes to have a successful business of his own in 10 years, not just a barbershop, but also a globally recognized brand, promoting a lifestyle for young gentlemen around the world.
Before Champs, Argones was a DJ for his uncle’s Signature Sounds, a UK-based Filipino-owned company. He started by following him around, helping set up the audio systems till they wrapped up and finished the day’s work.
In his current job at Champs, Argones and his fellow Filipino barbers always do their best to please customers. The shop has a big Filipino following, mostly young, born and raised in London.
“I would love for all Filipinos to come to our shop. I have customers from all over the globe who have become great friends and haven’t let anyone cut their hair since I started at Champs,” he says with pride.
Champs Barbers was opened by Colombian Ian “Champ” Hoyos, a professional barber and boxing enthusiast, in early 2012. When he started, Hoyos made sure that Champs would be the best so he hired the best barbers around London.
To date, its popularity continues to increase due to positive word-of-mouth and good reviews it has been getting on social media.
Living in London
Argones grew up in Queens Crescent, Kentish town, “a rough area to grow up in,” he says. Here, he would often hear altercations but his family adapted well with the multiethnic community, and he, lucky enough to know the people who have kept him out of trouble.
Apart from that, UK is a place where culture is celebrated, according to Argones. “It makes my being a Filipino even more special and helped me embrace being a British-Filipino.”
Since becoming a barber, Argones has focused on providing for his family, avoiding reckless spending. He has been able to live comfortably, even spoiling his family from time to time.
His opinion on Filipinos living in the UK is shared by many new generation British-Filipinos. He sees a gap between Filipinos his age, born and raised in the UK and those born back home.
“I think lack of common social interests and also the fact that most UK-born Filipinos are shy or unable to speak Filipino creates a slight cultural barrier,” he says.
“It does not necessarily create any negative tension or segregation. Most Filipinos who meet in the UK always find some things in common like family traditions and food preferences,” he says.
Growing up in the UK and seeing the Philippines only ocassionally has taught Argones many things. “I know there are people who are not as fortunate, yet they still find ways to be happy. That’s what I find so admirable with my countrymen. It is teaching me not to take things for granted,” he says.
Words of advice he would give to Filipinos who would like to work in the UK: “It is a place of many opportunities that truly appreciates good character and work ethics. Be honest and always strive to achieve the best of whatever you can do.”
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