Barber Matt Robinson talks about experiencing homelessness, finding his religion, working backstage at the SS17 London Collection menswear shows and becoming a model at 38

 

Exclusive interivew for Hologram by Catherine Vonledebur

 

Matt Robinson. Photo by Arthur Lvivsky
Matt Robinson. Photo by Arthur Lvivsky

He’s garnered a reputation as an ‘inked minister’, a gorilla barber, a homeless crusader and fashion model.

But it is faith that drives Matt Robinson.

At his Rugby barbershop, Mister Robinson’s #‎keepithandsome is the ethos. “It is more of an attitude than a look. If we cut a nice haircut people feel good and that handsome attitude spreads,” explained the 38-year-old.

  #keepitreal #keepithandsome

A photo posted by MISTER ROBINSON’S BARBERSHOP (@mrrobinsons) on

“We encourage people to bring clothes and food for the homeless in exchange for a haircut, beard trim or shave, particularly at Easter and Christmas.” Matt, who was homeless as a teenager, has been involved in organising the Hope4 winter night shelter for several years, providing supper and B&B for up to 15 rough sleepers. He helps raise money for Rugby Foodbank, most recently by selling limited-edition #Keepithandsome t-shirts.

Matt is also partial to a spot of ‘guerrilla barbering’ across the UK. “A group of us commandeer a shop, set up a pop-up barbershop and donate all the cash to a homeless charity,” he said.

 

The dapper bearded father-of-three from Brownsover bears a strong resemblance to Tom Hardy’s character Alfie Solomons in the BBC 1 hit 1920s gangland drama Peaky Blinders, set in Birmingham.

He can frequently be seen walking around Rugby town centre in stylish three-piece tweed suits and a Fedora hat. Matt’s distinctive look has captured the attention of Midland fashion designers and Modern Barber magazine who have asked him to model for them.

Interest first started at pop-up barbering shows while he was working at the Download Festival and on the Skin Deep tattoo tours. “A lot of people started to take photos of me. I don’t charge. I ask for copies of the images, put a caption on them from scripture and I post them on Facebook or Instagram. I am able to get out the gospel message in a new way.”

Matt was then invited to model handmade Fedora hats for Birmingham designer label Dark Traits, founded and established by K-ci Jones in 2015. He is one of the models featured on the clothes label’s gritty, hipster online publicity campaign stylishly shot in an urban landscape –  darktraits.co.uk/instagram-gallery

The company’s hats and t-shirts are sold via Birmingham’s Sneaker Club sneakerclubclothing.co.uk

He says: “They use the shots to promote their business; I use them to promote the Gospel. My son thinks I’m famous.”

Mister Robinson’s Instagram page now has 10,500 followers; and 3,748 Likes on Facebook (at the time of publishing).

The Barbershop has also collaborated on a limited collection of organic t-shirts with Coventry-based Fargo Village ethical clothing shop Positive Outlook. It shares a similar philosophy, creating clothing designed ‘to make you feel instantly more positive’. Their t-shirts include the mottos: Faith Drives Me; Never Mistake Kindness for Weakness; Believe, Succeed and Master Your Craft.

Matt’s interest in fashion has extended to working with top designer Paul Smith and celebrity stylist Kieron Webb, founder of The London Barber – whose clients include Zayn Malik – on the London catwalk. This season he’s been helping to style the hair of male models backstage at the spring/summer 17 London Collection menswear shows. He said: “We have just done the 1977 punk collection for Paul Smith SS17 and worked for Kieron Webb at the SS17 London Collections Men fashion shows.”

Homeless

Still haunted by the tragic death of his older brother, Matt is the first to admit he too has his own dark traits.

He had a difficult childhood and lived on the streets for five years.

“I was homeless from the age of 18 to 23-years-old.”

“I was not so much living on the street but living on the road like an Aladdin without a lamp, doing a lot of things to survive and getting a bad reputation. But a love for people and a hate for what I was seeing happen around me made me realise I had to leave that way behind or I would end up dead or killing someone.”

“I was there because I thought I had no alternative. I never belonged to that. I was dead inside.”

Matt’s life changed dramatically 12 years ago. He said: “My brother died of cancer when he was 26.”

“Realising I had absolutely no control over anything I snapped. I needed help, I needed to change.”

“It took a while for me to see it, but in time I accepted Jesus as my saviour.”

“It was the penny dropping. It was the easiest thing I ever did. I just realised he was always with me.”

“I just never listened to him before. I blanked him out with stuff, money, women – all the things that distract you.”

“When I was at my lowest he was with me and now I’m better he is still with me.”

“A love like his never leaves. He created you. He loves you from the moment he made you. He stays with you. His love stays with you so much that you have to show it. It changes you. Love changes you. It infects you and you have to spread it.”

Despite finding his religion Matt still has his “demons”.

He said: “The day I buried my brother I died myself. I am a vessel now.  I just want to be able to see my brother again.”

“I still have my demons. Don’t piss me off. I’m not perfect.”

“God gave me an opportunity and I am using it to the best of my ability. It’s given me a light, a hope and a chance: to love and be loved.”

Mister Robinson’s, Matt says, is a bridge between the church and the community.

He said: “I had a near-death experience and became heavily involved with St Andrew’s Church.”

“We have a new vicar, Imogen Nay. She’s been a real pillar and she has really helped me.  I have grown spiritually. I hope it will lead to ministry.”

 “Faith is a gift, but what good is a gift if you wrap it up and put it in your pocket.”

“Even though you may be limited, the God who lives within you isn’t!” #nolimits #letgodguideyoursteps #ascension

A photo posted by MISTER ROBINSON’S BARBERSHOP (@mrrobinsons) on

“God gave me my hands. I’ve been cutting hair for 25 years.”

“What we are doing at the barbershop is Christ-led but we do not force feed you the whole mission.”

Matt went on his second pilgrimage to the Holy Land earlier this year.

“The place is amazing,” he said.

“You have to look at the Bible with modern eyes.”

“Jesus was an extraordinary man. He was single, a drinker and his theory was to love one another.”

Like a modern-day inked preacher Matt literally wears his faith not only on his sleeve, but his entire body.

Matt was 11-years-old when he had his very first tattoo. “I had my name tattooed on my arm – and my mother beat me!” he laughs.

Most of his tattoos are quotes from biblical scriptures which have affected him.

“ I have Psalm 137:5 on my right hand,” Matt says as he goes on to quote verbatim: “’If I forget you, O Jerusalem, Let my right hand forget its skill, Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, If I do not remember you.’ ”

“I have Galatians 6:17 on my left hand; a crucifix across on my back and the Sacred Heart on my voice box.”

On his right lower calf, he has a tattoo of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns and Hebrews 13: 5: Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said: ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’; and on his left leg another one of his icons – Elvis.

Matt reveals a softer side when he confesses to a love of Disney films.

He said: “I do not own a TV. I have a DVD player. I watch some documentaries and I love Disney movies. Beauty and the Beast is my favourite. The story of a hard-hearted prince.”

“I read a lot in my spare time – I like Dickens and I have just read C S Lewis’ The Screw Tape Letters.”

Mister Robinson’s Barbershop – 46 Church Street – Rubgy

Wednesday 12–9pm
Thursday 9am–5:30pm
Friday 8:30am–6pm
Saturday 8am–4pm
Sunday Closed
Monday 8:30am–6pm
Tuesday 8:30am–9pm

Words by Catherine Vonledebur.

Main feature images by Arthur Lvivsky. instagram.com/mrlvivsky

All other photographs are sourced and embedded from Instagram, curated by Jamie Gray

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2 comments

Reply

Jamie, this is a really beautiful piece of writing about an ordinary guy from our tiny town, doing extraordinary things. It was a joy to read.

Reply

Thanks for the opportunity Jamie ❤️

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