The Answers With… Feroze McLeod, who reflects on his journey through tattooing, starting a barbering industry in Singapore and owning his own fashion label, and why keeping it real always matters
Feroze McLeod is a door-kicker, a glass-ceiling-basher, and an intriguing singularity of resolved contradictions. He is adorned with tattoos and he is immaculately well-dressed, in threads from his own luxe-facing-but-street-born label Pharaohs Horses, no less. He is a disciple of the progressivist philosophies of hardcore and punk music who is positively channeling their revelations in the mainstream. At 36 years of age, he is a bona fide captain of industry: when he cut the ribbon on the now-barbering-institution Hounds of the Baskervilles in 2012, he effectively revolutionised men’s grooming in Singapore and offered an elevated perspective from which how men dressed and presented themselves could be considered and actualised.
Eleven years on, Feroze remains as committed as ever to the essence of his guiding light: the unshakable duty to upholding authenticity and fostering a sense of community throughout the various businesses that bear his name, which now include the widely popular Hounds–now boasting a beverage programme wherein strict attention is paid to coffee and cocktails–the widely popular traditional tattoo bastion Bada Bink Tattoo Firm, a Bali-headquartered surf brand Meru, and a bespoke fashion line Pharaohs Horses.
In this chat with us, he unpacks why working intentionally, authentically and towards a communal good has been crucial to all his endeavours.
It’s known that music has been a pivotal inspiration for you throughout your life and career. How has it kept you going?
I grew up in a boarding school in New Zealand. It was a boring time and there weren’t many people who were into music. Back then, it was a big deal to care about music because you actually had to seek it out, whether in magazines or by buying CDs. What drew me to punk was its opposite: I saw people enjoying music that I thought was brainless, like ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’. I went the other direction and punk was it for me. Lyrically, it was so rich, especially when it came to staying positive even though things are bad. Those lyrics have followed me my whole life, a key one of which is, “We laugh at the waves as they crash on us”.
How has it shaped the businesses you’ve started?
I grew up with hardcore and punk. I saw it as the only music that was authentic. There was no dress code here. It was neutral and it didn’t require anything of you other than you being true to yourself. That’s the parallel I drew when I started one business after another: make sure it’s authentic. I have a surf brand called Meru and I have store in Canggu, Bali called Maison Meru. But I’m not a beach-y guy, so the authenticity I bring to it is that I’ve framed it as an urban surf brand, free of palm trees and things that aren’t true to it. Anything I do has to be as authentic to me as possible.
Branding. It’s a huge and nuanced world. How do you approach it?
This is a big one. I had to go halfway around the world to learn about it, even though it’s tied to me and my aesthetics. But it’s only when I started Pharaohs Horses that I realised that there’s so much more to it. You have to create an identity and language and make sure you hit the correct points and be consistent about it for as long as you want it to exist, that’s the important thing.
Once the brand becomes big enough, you have to be even more aware of what it is. The people working with you have to be on the same page as you on that as well. Every evolution, every next move has to be curated and natural. It’s a very sensitive topic.
Was being an entrepreneur with a diverse portfolio something you’ve always wanted to be?
Well, growing up, anything I wanted that I couldn’t get, I’d just make on my own. If I wanted to do something, I’d just find ways to do it. This started when I was 14. I began silkscreening T-shirts by hand then. I was sick of waiting around and complaining about things not happening. That’s the main reason I do what I do. For example, I started my surf brand because I couldn’t get surf supplies and surfboards from Singapore. So, my main motivations for starting businesses were need and necessity. There wasn’t really a deliberate aim on my part to start a bunch of different businesses. When I see a gap, I’ll fill it.
What has been instrumental to you having a plan and seeing it through all the way?
I focus on specific things really hard. I go a bit crazy and I dream big. My mind wonders into all sorts of possibilities and I feel an intense satisfaction when I execute something. It’s once the project is out in the world that I get bored and think up something else to do next. That’s the entrepreneurial spirit in me. A lot of it also comes down to me always wanting to share things that I find beautiful and interesting with people.
So then, what is success to you?
That’s a deep one. Often, I hear people tell me they think I’m successful. It’s a very grey area for me. I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I’ve ‘succeeded’ in something. I feel an immediate satisfaction when I translate my ideas into reality, through execution–that’s success to me. I like knowing that I’ve pulled it off. So, success is a quick rush for me: from the point of me getting an idea to when I manifest it to the best extent that I can. That, I know for sure. I will never compromise on execution. I’ll be the best that I can be at whatever it is I’m doing, whether it’s tattooing, running businesses or jiu-jitsu.
I don’t think that in my journey so far, I’ve seen success. I’ve succeeded in the things that I’ve set out to do but that’s where I keep myself grounded for now: in the accomplishment of small tasks.
And what is one accomplishment in your trajectory thus far that is special to you?
One thing I’d consider to be a major success is that I set out to start barbering industry and I did it. I didn’t just want to set up a barber shop. I was sick of men going to hair salons. In the early 2010s, a lot of men were going to hair salons and I wanted to change that. I wanted to create an industry where men could get the best haircuts by qualified barbers who knew exactly how to provide that service. That’s one thing I’m proud to say I succeeded in.
How would you say you’ve proven the ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ critique wrong?
It’s something that I think about all the time and it’s something that I battle with a lot. I know that it can be true. When you’re not focussing on one thing, you’re not keeping the blade sharp at it. But I’ve been lucky in two ways: 1) I’ve been able to apply myself thoroughly to what I do and 2) I found partners who keep me at my best and ensure the same from the team as well.
I’ve been blessed to have people with me who always keep me focussed. That way, even though I’m doing a lot of different things, I’m abreast of all of them.
Do you ever battle self-doubt?
Wow. When I started Hounds, it was incredibly successful and popular and it proved how right I was about a lot of things. But it meant that so much of the responsibility for the welfare of the 12 people I worked with fell on me. I started to get really scared of failing and began to imagine everything crumbling from that point. I was right for so long that I was so afraid of making a mistake. The self-doubt that I had was turning into self-sabotage – it was the biggest killer, mentally and emotionally. It was the first time I fell into a dark place in my career in business.
What helped me get past it and set me on a very good road was me confronting myself. I had a period of intense reflection where I retreated into myself so I could face myself. After I looked inside, I was able to navigate the nuances of dealing with people again. I realised that how you project your energy is what you attract.
Lastly, how important is the idea of community to you?
As with authenticity, community is very important to me. Almost everything I do is based on community. Without community, there would be no gain for me at all. Whether it’s the tattooing, barbering, the surf brand or the fashion label, everything I do is about community in the deepest form. I want to make what my friends and I enjoy.