Groomed for bigger dreams
> He makes it look smooth like butter, but Kevin Tan reveals the sacrifice and support needed to master a few trades
FROM music to journalism, then men’s grooming; Kevin Tan has dabbled in quite a few different fields in his short 26 years of living. While music has always been a passion of his, and writing was discovered soon after, Tan found that he wanted to be more like the people he interviewed back in his days as a journalist. “I was always interviewing people who create things, or do something innovative,” he said. The more he interviewed them, the more he wanted to create something as well, which later led Tan to create his own hair product.
What made you create your own pomade? I’m a very heavy user of pomade, so I’d finish it within a month or even three weeks. I’d been spending a lot of money on it, and I was even in Facebook groups for pomade enthusiasts. Most of them are from the US and Australia, and they’d share about products that they use and “homebrewed” ones. It was then that I realised that you can actually make your own pomade, so I texted one of them and he gave me a basic ingredient list to work with.
Why did you name it Mentega? Naturally the product is light yellow, and because it’s oil-based, it scoops and feels exactly like butter. I wanted to name it Butter because it contains cocoa butter, but I came across this brand – Bottega Veneta – in a magazine and it was a light bulb moment. It sounded like mentega; and that’s perfect because it’s localised, and easy for foreigners to pronounce at the same time.
You’re also currently barbering – how did you get into that? After my journalism stint, I helped out in my friend’s music store. Then, the current owner of Amplitude Barbershop wanted to fuse his shop with the music store (which is now defunct). He said that he’s always wanted to teach me barbering since he knew I made pomade. It wasn’t supposed to be a career, but I wanted to learn and thought it’s a good skill to have. After training me, he said, “Why don’t you charge your first client?” So I charged my first client, then my second, my third – and now I’m here.
Was it a difficult skill to learn? Learning how to cut hair was really difficult for me, firstly because I’m lefthanded. Holding the scissors with my right hand felt a bit weird for me at first, but you do need both hands anyway. It’s also easier to buy righthanded scissors.
But some things came naturally to me, such as the straight razor. After barbering for a while, I remembered the days when I would look for straight razors to try out, and now I’m actually doing it professionally.
So you’ve done journalism and music; now you’re barbering and creating your own product. What’s next for you? With making products, I never really had a chemist’s experience in formulating products, so one of my goals would be to learn that. I’d like to expand my range of products and be an expert in cosmetology. The goal would be to form a brand that makes its own products. I love barbering, but I don’t think I would spend my entire life doing just that.
How do you feel your life’s path differs from most people your age? I never really thought of it as different. But it is difficult trying different things – especially without a solid foundation – and not knowing how it’ll play out. You have to hustle really hard.
A lot of people say, “Be yourself, follow your heart. Do what you love!”
It comes with a price and it isn’t always like the freedom you think of – in fact, I feel it’s the exact opposite. You won’t have freedom because you have to work all the time to succeed. Eventually, you’ll get there. But you need to sacrifice time and energy even while everyone is asleep. You also need people to support you, especially close friends and family. I don’t think I’d be where I am if it wasn’t for them.
Tan recently opened his own barbershop, The Oven Cuttery in Damansara Utama.
He had to tweak his pomade formula about 20 to 30 times before he got the right one to suit our tropical weather.