It has been an amazing climb for Zenu Lee, who once cut hair and sold grocery in a makeshift shop to send himself through primary and secondary schools in Jamaica.
Lee, 32, now owns a posh barber shop with four workers at Calgary in Canada.
The native of Union district in Lluidas Vale, St Catherine, told The Beacon that he was 12 years old when he became fascinated with barbering after watching some of his relatives deliver fine haircuts.
He eventually got a hair clipper, which he first used on himself – going bald over and over again. As his skills and confidence improved, Lee started to cut his friends’ hair.
He eventually opened a makeshift barber shop in the most central part of his rural community.
That first shop, Lee explained, was made of bamboo, zinc, and old car parts. The floor was neither concerte nor ceramic tiles; it was gravel strewn on top of dirt.
Shortly after the barber shop was opened, misfortune struck. The battery-powered hair clipper stopped working, forcing Lee to quit.
By that time, however, Lee had developed a good reputation as a barber.
When he turned 15, he started to work part-time at Presley’s Barber Shop in Lluidas Vale. At that time, he was still enrolled at Lluidas Vale All Age School.
Lee was not only proving to be a superb barber; he also displayed excellent business acumen.
He left the part-time job at Presley’s Barber Shop, and opened a grocery shop in his community.
“I was sending myself to Kellits High School in Clarendon from the grocery shop, and working in the grocery shop – selling dumplings, frying fish and festival and those things,” Lee explained.
He noted that, in addition to operating the grocery shop after school, he would take his barbering tools to Kellits High and cut students’ hair during lunch break.
The multi-talented Lee, after graduating from secondary school, enrolled at the HEART training institute in Kellits where he studied Food and Beverage.
He still operated his grocery shop in the evenings and cut hair for people studying at the institute.
The certificate Lee acquired at the skills training centre in Kellits opened the door for him to find employment in the hotel industry, starting at Beaches Boscobel in St Mary. Although he applied for a waiter post, he willingly accepted the sanitation job that was available – cleaning floors and scouring pots.
The certification eventually paved the way for Lee to leave Jamaica for Canada in 2008.
After spending nearly a year in Canada, he returned to Jamaica and worked as a barber at Fusion Sports Cut in Montego Bay, St James.
It soon became clear that history would repeat itself.
Lee returned to the hotel industry in Jamaica; he later returned to Canada.
After a few months in the Canadian hotel industry, he reunited with his first love – barbering; this time at a salon owned by Lebanese natives.
Lee subsequently spent five years at another barber shop where he named his rented station Zee Cuts.
The name Zee Cuts, he explained, derived from the fact that a number of his clients called him ‘Zee’ because they struggled to either remember or pronounce his first name – Zenu.
The Jamaican, in 2018, opened his own barber shop – Zee Cuts – in Calgary city, Alberta, Canada. He has four workers.
Some of the people who have patronized Lee’s business include Jamaican celebrities Konshens, Fancy Cat, and Sarge (from Apache Chief and Sarge).
Looking back at his journey, Lee, who has been with his Canadian wife Mandy Lee for almost nine years, said he does not regret the tough road he has travelled to success.
“I never knew I was going to be at this level, but I knew what I wanted and I pushed myself,” said the father-of-three. “There is no limit to how far you can go. There will be a lot of ups and downs, but you just have to keep pushing.”
Lee, who encourages more Jamaicans to start taking business risks, implored his compatriots living abroad to never forget their past.
“We should always remember where we are coming from – that’s number one,” he asserted.
“Furthermore, before you reach overseas, you should have a plan – what you want to do in life. You can’t leave your country and don’t have a plan – and make sure it is a positive plan,” Lee further advised.
By Horace Mills, Journalist (B.A. Media and Communications, CARIMAC, UWI)
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