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From Texas to Cornwall, how one barber has embraced our community

Sandy Cooper has come a long way since the days of sitting out on her parents’ porch in a never-ending Texan summer, clipping the hair around her dad’s head from the age of 12.

Sandy embraced a new life in Cornwall after moving from the US in 2012

Raised in Texas, Sandy made the move to Launceston in 2012 after giving a charming, ‘overly polite’ Englishman a chance at love. Since then, she went on to integrate into the community and open the very first female-owned barbershop in town.

Raised by her parents in the intense heat of Texas, Sandy left home at 17 and joined the American military, but she had a very different talent behind the scenes, admitting from the age of 12 she had a pair of clippers to cut her dad’s hair, and in the military she would pull up a chair outside her room and shave heads for $5.

Her best friend recognised her underlying talent and encouraged her to do something about it, one day dropping Sandy off at the local college and instructing her to go in there and get a degree in barbering - and that’s exactly what she did, leaving with a masters degree in cosmetology and barbering before going on to work for herself.

Some time afterwards, with travel plans to Ireland and England in the pipeline, she was surprised to see an email from Alex Cooper, a man from Cornwall who had got in touch via a dating website. Unbeknown to them at the time, both Sandy and Alex had been set up by their best friends, but the timing was perfect.

“He was so stinking polite,” Sandy joked. “American men and women are very blunt, but you British are extremely well-mannered!

“I came over to England for the first time in 2011. I got off the plane, went out of the door and through the gate - I was the last one out because I was so nervous - and I saw this guy running over to me. It was Alex, and he proposed to me right there and then. I said yes and here we are!”

Sandy left the States on 1st May 2012 to begin her new life in Cornwall with Alex, and soon wanted to plan her career. In her new hometown of Launceston, the idea of the ‘Mad American’ began to take shape.

“I raised my children in Atlanta, Georgia, but I grew up in Texas where you would find music festivals and buskers in the street all the time. Everyone was super friendly, and if you got chatting you’d often be invited up onto the porch for a glass of sweet tea,” she explained. “I became known as the ‘Mad American’ in Launceston because when I first moved here I would often be found sitting on the bench outside the Coop chatting away to people. There are some really lovely people here in town and I wanted to integrate myself into the community. It was about stepping off the ledge and getting stuck in - but everybody thought I was mad!

“The truth is, I chose Launceston because when I stepped off the bus for the first time I loved it. It just felt right!”

Utilising her talents for barbering, in May 2016, the Mad American Barbershop opened. The following year, Sandy moved the business to the town centre, where it remains on Church Street. She is supported by a stellar team of barbers, and takes pride in the fact it is a female-run barbershop. Sandy has trained the majority of the team herself, and has helped to springboard previous members of the team into starting and running their own businesses. There are now five team members in total.

The Mad American Barbershop team

“We’re a female-run barbershop and we’re the first one in a really long time,” Sandy said. “Since we moved into our current premises we have gone from strength to strength, and one thing we all say is that we’re a community - there is no competition.”

Making the business accessible to neurodivergent people is something that is very important to Sandy. As a result, the shop now belongs to the Autism Barber Alliance and also has a ‘quiet room’, ensuring the team can support their neurodivergent clients in the best way possible. Adopting some US barbering licensing guidance, health and safety is a big part of the business, as well as providing training to ensure the team feels confident with their clients.

She said: “For us, it’s about having a safe space for everyone, so we had to learn to communicate that way and cope with the differences in those circumstances.”

The team have mastered their own styles, offering a level of ‘diversity’ for clients. Sandy said: “I thought it was really important to have some diversity and that makes a difference. They have all been

doing it for so long, so they all have their own styles now.”

Sandy hopes the Mad American Barbershop is seen as a safe space for everyone in the community, and believes the most important thing businesses and residents in Launceston can do is support one another. She added: “I really believe what’s going to save all of us is the sense of community. Sharing the knowledge and keeping each other’s names on the tongue will keep us all going. I don’t think there’s a magic formula, but we all need to keep positive and uplifted - we all need to be doing our part.”

The Mad American Barbershop is open six days a week and is a non- appointment shop. Find them on Facebook: themadamericanbarbershop

Photography by Mark Theisinger


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