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Doc's Master Barber, Anna Elliott

SmSh: Anna is the founder and owner of Doc's (formerly Doc Guthrie's), a barbershop with two locations in Shanghai. Address information for both right here.


My name is Anna Elliott. I was originally born in Scotland but my parents are American. My dad was in the oil industry. Everyone in the north east of Scotland is connected to oil. In some way. Yep, so I say I'm from Scotland but my accent doesn't really sound like I grew up there.

What brought me to Shanghai... Well, my wife got a job here. We were not really sure what we were doing in Scotland at the time. We just took a step back and were like, "well, maybe it's time for a change."

I started cutting hair when I was living in New York while my wife was working as a camp counsellor in New Jersey. So it was cool, like she could be there and I could work in New York. I had already been to art school — my parents forced me to go to university — and I didn't really know what to do after. I had a friend that was into hairdressing, and then I started training and I kind of realized that I really hate hairdressing. It's very... pedantic and fiddly, and there's a lot of science to color and I really don't have the patience for it.

Highlights and blow-drys, it's just such a long process, I'd rather have 15-30-minute appointments than three-hour appointments, y know.

So barbering was opened up to me when I realized that...

Doc Guthrie's, which is named after my grandfather, when we came up with it we kind of based it on the style he was into in his pictures — the 1940s and '50s, a little bit American. Vintage. Classic with a modern twist, you could say. To describe it to people, I say we specialize in short hair. We do beard trims, shaving. In terms of the haircuts, it's pompadours and mullets, but also any type of short hair. We also offer complimentary beer or whiskey, with your haircut as well. I like to think that we're a really relaxed place... we're not going to pressure you to buy product or buy memberships or anything like that.

My grandfather was my mother's father, who was a doctor in the US Navy in the war. And you can see by the picture he had an amazing haircut! He was really into calisthenics and quite straight-laced, but he was really kind of modern for his age. For his time, I guess. He came back from the war and set up his own GP practice and was kind of like an advocate for women's rights. He was big into helping women get safe abortions, which was difficult at the time. He was really doing a lot of things that other doctors weren't doing — and especially in a small town in Arkansas. So, for me, he always embodies this role and spirit — like kind of a misfit but as a force for positive change. So, that's the inspiration.

When I was working back in Scotland I already had an idea to open my own shop but I didn't really want to do it on my own because I didn't have any experience. When I moved to Shanghai, I started in a salon, and I worked my butt off. Hairdressing. My starting salary was 4,000rmb a month and I was working 60 hours a week. It was an Italian salon so at least it wasn't like one of the big corporate chains you see around town. It was a bit more mellow but at the same time I had to work all the time. After about a year and a bit, I was just tired... and so that's about the time I was hanging out with Dylan Byrne [co-founder, Shanghai Tattoo, Brash, Doc Guthrie's].

He had said, "if you ever want to open a barber shop let me know."

But barbershops weren't "cool" yet. They had just started to become cool in the UK and so I was in China looking at social media and seeing this thing happening. I started a small barbershop in that Italian salon I was working at. And then from there, it was just the right place and right time, and we opened officially in February 2015.

We were the first in Shanghai. And I think the first in China. At least for what I've been told. There were a few barbers working in this style but not any established shops.

In this style, I mean. Of course there's the old school corner barbers — they've been there forever and will be forever.

It took a little while for people to understand it, I guess. People thought we were opening a gym! [Laughs.] At the beginning, we were getting customers that really didn't get the concept of a barbershop. Like, ‘what does that mean? You don't cut women's cut? But I have long hair, you won't cut my hair?'

We had to be strict from the beginning. Like: we do men's hair. In order to avoid that issue. We used to get bad reviews. A girl came in and said I want a perm — sorry, we don't do that.

But we found our audience. Partly because Dylan was very involved in the expat community. But we found our people. The dive bar people. The dive bar people that could afford to come here. [Laughs.] Or were at least willing to pay for it. Because that's the other thing. Our prices are on par with that of a salon but compared to the local shop on the corner cutting men's hair, it's expensive. But we try to provide that more in-depth experience and service.

When we started we really went deep into the vintage style. We had the white coats and the whiskey and all that. But since there's been this surge of barbershops. With this surge in popularity, it seems like there is this sort of barbershop starter kit, like white coats, whiskey bottles, coca cola, and vintage pictures on the walls. As soon as a saw those I'm like, "right, we're redecorating. Paint everything black, get some neon in here." And just generally trying to get into what barbering will look like in the future as apposed to always looking in the past. That's where we are now.

We also do events. Once a month I run a party called "Lezcut Club", which is kind of a space for female indentifying people who maybe want to get a fade, or a more "masculine" haircut style that you might not be able to get in a salon. Like, "why does a girl want to have hair like this?" People like myself who don't want to get a big production salon hairstyle.

And we do parties as well. We have one coming up, which is a collaboration with Sick Rose Tattoo Parlor to exhibit some of their artwork. So you should come check that out!

How do I like living in Shanghai these days? Shanghai these days is, I think... not that different, actually! Not that we're "post" pandemic. But somewhat back to normal, I guess? Post shutdown maybe? But I feel like a lot of people want to leave for a holiday maybe but none of us can. So there is a kind of urgency about that. But for me, I feel that if I leave, when I get over there I'm just going to want to come back, so, for me, I'm getting kind of used to staying here. I'm loving my life here. I love that I get to pick my own schedule.

We have a good life! We have a dog... we have good company...

What do I like about living in Shanghai. I like that nobody gives a shit too much. I can go out and walk the dog in my pyjamas and no ones going to say anything. I like transportation. I like that I can ride my bike every day. I'm trying to explore more around Shanghai. Finding different parks or going to different islands in the south.

It's easy to get negative about some aspects of the city but I try to keep positive.

Eating and drinking. Hmm. I would say Jing'an district has changed drastically in the last 6 or 7 years we've been here.

People used to say, "I want to come to your shop but it's so far away." Now nobody says that anymore. [Laughs.]

So there's lots of places to get a drink around here. Mikkeler is a good one. My wife always runs a club night called "HTTP", which Is a queer friendly space. She does it mostly at Elevator so we end up going there quite a lot.

I kind of end up at a lot of places that are friends of the shop. Martin from Mikkeler. Chase from The Rooster....

Being around for six and a half years I feel that not many places last that long, so the one's that are still here we band together....


[Shanghai Famous]:

Shanghai Famous is a SmartShanghai column focusing on people out there in the city makin' the scene. They're out there around town, shaping Shanghai into what it is, creating the art, culture, and life around us. We asked them what's good in Shanghai. We asked them what's bad in Shanghai. We asked them to tell us more, more, more about their wonderful selves.

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