Almost every weekend, radio-television-film senior Joel Leal prepares his bathroom for an appointment. He lays down newspaper sheets on the tile floor, drags a chair from the kitchen into the restroom and lays down an assortment of razors, trimmers and scissors on the sink counter.
Leal provides free haircuts for other students out of his West Campus apartment. Through a Facebook page called West Campus Cuts, he schedules appointments with other students and meets them wherever and whenever is most convenient to cut their hair.
Leal started offering haircuts to his friends as favors in exchange for rides to H-E-B, a meal from Wendy’s and even studying tips in November 2015 when he was still living in Jester West. The informal haircuts also allowed him to practice his craft.
“Growing up, I was really good at drawing,” Leal said. “And with hair it’s kind of the same thing. It’s kind of like sculpting for me.”
Computer science freshman Shrey Desai, who had his hair cut by Leal twice, said Leal introduced him to many different hairstyles.
“When you go to the barber, you come with a preconceived notion of what you want for your haircut, but (Leal) suggested different styles and recommended different things,” Desai said. “He’s super passionate about it, and he’s not a boring guy at all.”
Another one of Leal’s earliest clients, economics junior Mauricio Prieto, developed a close friendship with Leal after his haircut. He said the time they spent figuring out a fitting hairstyle allowed them to get to know each other well.
“Even though (the haircut) took long, it was a good experience,” Prieto said. “I told him he could do whatever, so he just spent the time practicing and trying different things.”
Leal began getting to know more people through his haircut favors and found that he was enjoying meeting many people and providing favors. He bought extra razors and clips and started the Facebook page to reach out to students better. He also encouraged his friends to like, share and leave reviews on the page to increase his legitimacy.
Leal said slow weeks will leave him with two or three appointments. On busier weeks, he cuts hair up to eight times per week. He estimates he’s given haircuts on over 200 separate occasions since offering the service.
“For me, getting to meet people and getting to just sit down and talk to them has always been very interesting to me,” Leal said. “I’ve cut hair in almost every dorm on campus and multiple apartments throughout
With his skills and comfort growing since starting to cut hair for free, Joel says he plans to expand the service. He plans to buy better clippers and to launch a YouTube channel featuring video tutorials on cutting hair and adjusting different hairstyles.
But for now, he is happy to provide a favor for the UT community by doing what he enjoys.
“A lot of them come to me for the security of it all,” Leal said. ”They want a fresh start, and I want to give that to them.”