Morris Aberdeen: keeping London locked down

Morris Aberdeen is a locktician. That is, he’s a master of the art of making dreadlocks look elegant. Celebrity locks-wearers beat a path to him.

Morris Aberdeen styling a client at his Morris Roots Salon in Tooting, south London. Photograph by Franka Philip

There was a time not so long ago in the Caribbean when dreadlocks were not cool. At some of the more conservative establishments like banks, black women were not even allowed to wear braids. But now, as attitudes have changed and black people feel more comfortable with their natural hair, Caribbean people from all walks of life are wearing their dreads with pride.

It’s the same in the UK, where more people – white folks too – are embracing dreadlocks. There are still, however, many Brits labouring under the misapprehension that those who wear dreadlocks are Rastafarians and, by extension, ganja smokers.

But one man who has taken the styling of dreadlocks in the UK to a different level is “locktician” Morris Aberdeen. Since the 36-year-old Trinidadian opened the first of his four Morris Roots salons in 2002, he has become the stylist of choice for many celebrity locks wearers, including former Olympic runner Linford Christie, soca star Machel Montano, British actress Jacqueline Kington and soul legend Stevie Wonder.

Aberdeen has been a hairstylist for almost 15 years, and he laughs when he talks about his early days of barbering, perming and texturising women’s hair.

“People would ask, how could you have locks and be a barber, but they were curious,” he said. “They used to ask about my hair, they’d ask how come my locks were so neat.”

Aberdeen started wearing dreadlocks in the late 1980s, influenced by the “funky dread” trend popularised by London group Soul II Soul.  But by the time he got to London in the mid-1990s, dreads had receded as a fashion statement.

“When I first got to the UK, most of the people with dreadlocks were Rastas, and they weren’t wearing their dreads for fashion. But people would see my dreads looking funky and it attracted a lot of attention.”

Aberdeen was always drawn to natural hair products and he did extensive research into the use of plant-based products in hair care. His quest took him to Chinese shops for herbs, and eventually he ended up at London’s top herbalists, Neal’s Yard Remedies and Baldwin’s, where he found products to experiment with on his own hair. He then collaborated with chemists who helped to develop formulas for his own range of Morris Roots Hair Care products.

A visit to Aberdeen’s salon in Tooting, south London, soon made it clear why his clients are so loyal. He pays the utmost attention to his clients, making everyone feel special by offering drinks and doing anything else he can to make them feel comfortable.

Aberdeen’s success is also the result of astute planning. He has a very clear vision of what he wants to achieve and is confident enough to just get on and do it. As a result the man who was brought up in the tough area of Laventille, Port of Spain, now owns at least two of his business properties.

He says he never faced any of the prejudice from the banks that many black entrepreneurs have complained about. In fact, he says his bankers always supported him from the beginning.

Another important consideration for Aberdeen is location, location, location. None of his salons are located in typically “ethnic” areas like Brixton. He did this so that his salons would stand out and be unusual rather than “melt away” among a host of other similar businesses.

Aberdeen’s main focus is to develop his newest salon, which also incorporates an academy for training future lockticians. One of the things that he will be stressing to his charges is proper customer service, something he is very passionate about.

“If you can’t have a good attitude with a person, then forget it,” he said. “For me this isn’t about money… [but] once you treat people good, your pockets will always be full.”