Beck Katira, more commonly known as BK, is a hair designer with a decade of experience working in one of Seoul's premiere boutique hair salons. His affinity for contemporary hip-hop culture has influenced his approach to hair styling which has attracted the likes of K-hiphop superstars from AOMG, Amoeba and Hi-lite records. In this interview, BK tells us about his start, his ambitions, and a little bit about the 뻔하잖아 (You Know) music video shoot.
Interview Gissella Ramirez-Valle, Photography Park Sujin, Art Sam Cello
How did you first become interested in hair styling?
BK: I came to Korea from Kazakhstan when I was 18 years old. My mom married a Korean guy and brought me over. She recommended that I learn a practical skill at the time. So I found a job at a hairsalon. That’s where I met Baek Soonsik. Six months later he opened his own hair salon, Soonsiki, in Anyang and I followed. In 2008, Soonsiki moved to Hongdae and I came along as well. At this point it’s been over 10 years working here.
Soonsiki is now known as Hongdae’s #1 salon. How did this happen?
BK: Well first of all Baek Soonsik is the Master of Soonsiki. He has years and years of experience and he consistently keeps up with the latest techniques and technologies of the field. He’s even been leading seminars in France and Malaysia recently. I’m a Specialist at Soonsiki, which is the level that follows the Master. At Soonsiki we provide high quality service and a customized experience for each customer!
Marketing also helped build the reputation. Soonsiki opened up a Youtube channel in 2011. I was the one that suggested that idea. We started producing hair styling tutorials and fun videos of us at work at the salon. This was before Youtube was a popular platform in Korea, so we were early adopters. These days we are also running a Facebook page, Instagram, and Snapchat account.
Have these marketing strategies had an effect in attracting overseas customers?
BK: For sure! Each month, about 20% of our customers are foreign visitors. They typically come from all over the place such as the U.S, Europe, Hong Kong, and Singapore. The fact that we also offer a 20% discount for foreign visitors is an incentive to come!
I’m wondering, how would you describe the typical Soonsiki customer?
BK: At Soonsiki we don’t do normal hairstyling. Hongdae is known as a neighborhood for unique and colorful people. Baek Soonsik and I are hip-hop fans and Hongdae is a hub for hip-hop culture in Seoul. Naturally, those who want a bold and individual flair come to us.
So on that note, I know that you have some celebrity K-hiphop clients. When did they first start coming to you?
BK: Gray started to come to Soonsiki in 2009. This was before he was as famous as he is now. He was just an underground musician. He brought in Zion.T and Crush in 2010. Following that Gray also brought in Loco and Jay Park. It's just been through word of mouth.
I’m wondering what they request, and how they differ from one another. Since they are public figures under management, are there limits to the creative process?
BK: They come in every two or three weeks. Sometimes they ask for unusual hairstyles. These guys aren’t idols, they have more freedom to choose their own hairstyles and image. Idols typically have absolutely no control. Jay Park especially likes to change his hairstyle often. He likes to experiment. Zion. T also has freedom to experiment. Crush on the other hand is limited, and Gray likes a neat and clean look, so he never causes a fuss.
You worked with Jay Park and Okasian recently for the "뻔하잖아 (You Know)" music video. What was that like?
BK: Okasian has been coming in to get his hair done for a while now, too. (Interviewer's note: Okasian was at the salon with foils in his hair while this interview was taking place.) I worked with Jay Park for his previous collaboration project, "My Last". So also becoming the onset stylist for the "뻔하잖아 (You Know)" video just fell into place. It was really fun to be on set and prep them for the various scenes. It was almost a 24 hour shoot which was crazy. It was a good experience though and I want to get more experience doing fashion editorial styling next.
Hyuna was also featured in the music video. Who took care of her hair?
BK: Hyuna brought along her own hair and makeup team!
How do you keep your skills fresh?
BK: The other Soonsiki staff is really into studying. They keep up with hair shows and watch television programs. I don’t do much of that. I just do my own thing and sometimes I fail, but I keep on trying. Actually, another designer here at Soonsiki, Minam, was my apprentice and he’s caught up so quickly. He’s really good these days! He was even part of the Seoul Fashion Week hair team.
Do you feel that he’s now a threat?
BK: (laughs) It just reminds me to stay focused and never stop learning.
So BK, what does the future hold?
BK: Next year I plan to spend less time at the salon and more on freelance projects. I’ll just keep on doing my best. There’s this stylist that’s Korean and he styles for all of the superstars. He’s really respected. My dream is to get enough experience and accomplishments that make other designers say, “I want to be like BK.”