"Everyone pulled together and made it happen," — Hilly, King Koby


Legendary director David Lynch describes accidents as "gifts", believing they can "open the door to a future that didn't even exist". At King Koby's Chop Shop in Leeds Corn Exchange, a happy accident has opened a door to the past – and inspired the barbershop's future.

The first customers walking into King Koby's flagship store following its February refit were greeted by a piece of Corn Exchange history.

Facing the shop's entrance, proudly gleaming after decades under plaster, are the gold and green tiles that adorned the walls of a merchant's office when the building was a centre of agricultural trade.

"We started stripping the plaster off the walls and noticed these old tiles underneath, which we think might have been part of the original unit," says Hilly, one of the longest serving members of staff at King Koby.

"We were planning to have white tiles but discovering these old ones completely changed our plans. We decided to keep them."

Sometimes plans find their own direction. The King Koby team had intended to keep the old flooring that had served them for nearly eight years at the Corn Exchange, but fate intervened once more.

"We tried to save the floor," Hilly explains. "We tried cleaning it, sanding it, and even corking it but it was collecting too much hair. After two days' graft we decided that the best plan was to get a whole new floor put in."

With a new look emerging on the walls and floor, the team turned their attention to the ceiling.

"The ceiling was our main concern," says Hilly. "It was a scary prospect as we thought we might really do some damage.

"We wanted to raise the level of our ceiling but we had to be careful not to affect the unit above us. I was so worried that I didn't want to be involved, but that turned out to be the easiest job in the whole refit!"

Having poured years of sweat and love into establishing one of Leeds' most distinctive, stylish brands, the tightly knit collective approached the refit carefully.

"With our two other shops, in Leeds central arcade and in York, we went with a clean-cut look," says Hilly. "But this is our original store and we wanted it to carry our trademark, nitty-gritty feel. We wanted to keep up with the times and be the best looking barbers in town.

"With all these changes due, we decided to overhaul the whole shop and create a more spacious environment, with a lot less junk around. We didn't want to change the vibe but we've created something with a bit more of an industrial feel than what we had before."

King Koby is a brotherhood of barbers, bound together by years of hard work and the many hours spent in each other's company each day.

The installation of a key piece in the shop refit felt somewhat symbolic of that friendship.

"Our friend who is a joiner sourced us this concrete desk. It weighs 440 kilogrammes," says Hilly. "For a few days it was sat outside the front doors, waiting to be lifted. It took all the effort of six people to carry it, inch-by-inch, into the shop.

"We don't like to rush things," he adds.


That carefully considered approach and spirit of cooperation has been at the heart of the King Koby ethos from day one.

Another crucial factor in the growth of this thriving Leeds business is the network of family and friends who support and encourage the team, and were on hand to muck in with the refit. 

"The whole process was really good. Everyone pulled together and made it happen in true King Koby style," says Hilly with a smile.

"We want to thank Sam Thompson from Raw Furnishing for doing the joinery and Paul Simpson for doing the electrics and flooring. Also TONE, who came in to do the artwork, and Dock Street Designs, who did the vinyls as they have on all our shops.

"We owe it to the entire team, and all the family and friends who helped us – including the kids who were running around the whole time!"

King Koby is named after the son of founder Neil Smedley, and while we are chatting Hilly points to a smiling baby girl sat a few yards away in the airy brightness of the Corn Exchange.

"That's Juno, Koby's sister," he says.

"She's just turned one. We might have to do another shop for her soon!"

Jennifer Lee O'Brien