The dropout who never gave up

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Village barber, Ilisoni Simmons, attends to one of his customers. Picture: SUPPLIED

Ilisoni Simmons did not have any academic credential that would get him a white collar job. The only real opportunity available to the high school dropout was to start his own business.

And he did just that to earn an honest living and support his family He started Nakoro Barber at his home in Naseakula, not in a rented space but in his own living room or in the village outdoors with the blessings of fresh air and trees.

Simmons, charges his customers $5 for a haircut and he has been running his small home-based enterprise for the last three years. Cash raised from the business has helped put food on the table and pay for bills.

It also allowed his mother to renovate their family house. “I taught myself how to cut hair,” he said.

“My first time was nerve-racking but enjoyable. When I had dropped out of school, searching for a career, it (cutting hair) was something I would enjoy but feel productive about.

The 22-year-old’s defining moment arrived when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. While it heaped havoc it was also a blessing in disguise.

“It opened a door for me to utilise the skills that I have and helped me to stand on my own two feet,” he said.

Simmons’ mother, Kalisi Vudikaria, pushed him to start his own business in 2020.

“She always encouraged me to use the talents and skills that I have so that I could make a living for myself and be my own boss.”

“She bought a hairclip to start my own business.”

Simmons regularly cut the hair of some businessmen and prominent people in Labasa including Naseakula chief and Tui Labasa, Ratu Jone Qomate.

“I have shaved and cut hair off the heads of many people, some of whom have become my regulars and as a barber I upgrade myself with the the latest hairstyle trends,” he said.

The Mali Island lad also visits homes to offer his services.

“I work on appointments,” he said.

“My day starts at 8am and finishes at 5pm, six days a week.

“As a business operating from home, I juggle cutting hair, taking care of my cassava plantation and other chores at home.”

While his business continues to grow, operating it from the comfort of his own living room comes, while affordable, comes with its own challenges, Simmons said.

“Some people would have their hair cut on credit and would not pay their dues on time,” he said.

“Now, before I give anyone a haircut, I would say ‘money first’.”

He has to give up ‘family time’ and ‘socialising with friends’ to serve his customers.

“I don’t just cut hair, I create a personalised look for my clients. Some clients will want a simple haircut, others will want a more intricate hairstyle,” he said.

“Every client will have different hairdressintg and grooming needs so I perform a variety of tasks, from hair cutting to shaving.

“One of the best parts of being a barber is having the chance to give people a hairstyle they love. Nothing feels better than helping others feel their best.

“For many people getting a great haircut can turn their entire day around, you are making a difference in people’s lives and that is a great reward,” he said.

Three years into the business, Simmons is now more confident and skilled.

He knows what haircut will look best on a customer’s face and head shape.

“I have become good at what I do so much that I enjoy my work,” he said.

“Three years as a barber has taught me to be committed in what I do and to give my all because only then everything will fall into place.”

He said there was nothing impossible if talents and abilities were put to good and responsible use.

“People may say it is hard to start a business but a leap of faith will help. It is all about believing in yourself. Anybody can start some form of business venture simply by trying it out,” he said.

“We need to put our every effort into our dream and ensure we achieve it.”

Simmons dreams of owning a barber shop in Labasa Town and to employ young people who will share his passion for his trade.

He also hopes to be an example to other school dropouts, through his hard work. He believes there are no shortcuts in life.

  •  NACANIELI TUILEVUKA is a freelance journalist based in Macuata, Vanua Levu.
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