Razor Sharp: Marshall senior fulfills passion for cutting hair

Andres Ruvalcaba placed a giant fan on his desk and sat his client down in a large barber chair, which had been swapped in for his desk chair. The room also housed a small couch and a TV playing a Travis Scott music video. On the wall was a framed barber certification next to some pictures with friends. Ruvalcaba fished his razor out of a drawer and assessed the state of his client’s hair. 

The client, Max Wintroub, requested his typical cut. Wintroub, Ruvalcaba’s housemate, has been going to him for haircuts for the past two years. This was nothing new for him. 

“He’s the homie, and I trust him,” Wintroub, a junior majoring in music industry, asserted with confidence. “He’s a professional.” 

Ruvalcaba, a senior majoring in accounting and business administration, has certainly earned his clients’ trust, given his seven years of experience. He began cutting hair when he was a sophomore in high school. Tired of paying someone to cut his hair every week, Ruvalcaba decided to purchase his own clippers and enroll in a part-time barber school program. 

“It was a big commitment,” Ruvalcaba recalled. “It was Monday through Friday 4 to 9 p.m. and Saturdays 9 to 5 … for 16 months straight.”

The course was fundamental to Ruvalcaba’s growth and gave him an opportunity to sharpen his interpersonal skills, perfect his time management and learn from his older peers. 

The training, which totalled 1,500 hours, paid off quite literally. Ruvalcaba has an impressively large clientele in his hometown of Concord, Calif., and among the student body at USC. 

“Back home, I have a list of like 200 clients, so I was able to stay busy,” Ruvalcaba said. “Over here, I probably have like 75 clients that text me regularly. Back home, I would do like 80 people a week. Here, maybe I’ll do like 10, 15 at most.”

Andres Ruvalcaba has cut and styled hair for hundreds of clients since he started his barber shop business as a sophomore in high school back home in Concord, Calif. (Andrea Diaz | Daily Trojan)

Balancing a rigorous course load and a stacked appointment schedule has not always been easy for Ruvalcaba. For instance, he would have 80 appointments in a week while he was still in high school. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving he expects to do 20 haircuts in one day. 

Ruvalcaba said he spent a semester working part-time at a barbershop near USC and found it difficult to focus on his academics and maintain a heavy work schedule. He would spend an average of 20 hours a week at work. But he credits this challenge with helping him develop a strong work ethic that he hopes will propel his career as an accountant. 

“Trying to study in a barbershop atmosphere is impossible,” he said. “Everyone is always shooting the shit, kind of just talking, hanging out.” 

So, to exert more control over his schedule, Ruvalcaba chose to continue his work cutting hair at his home on Menlo Avenue. His room is equipped with a barber chair, hardwood floors and all of his equipment. While the setup is not perfect, he said it is functional and comfortable for him and his clients. 

“I’ve always done it out of my house. I had always cut my friends’ hair,” Ruvalcaba said. “My mom and dad were super accepting, so they were OK with 20 people a day coming in and out of the front door.” 

Ruvalcaba stressed the influence his parents had on him. They gifted him his first tools. They encouraged him throughout barber school. They opened their home to his clients. 

“They were super supportive,” Ruvalcaba said. “Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do any of this.” 

Another creative source for Ruvalcaba has been his friends and fellow students from his time in barber school. He said he stays in touch with them through social media. 

“My inspiration for my haircuts are my peers, like learning stuff from them, what they’re doing, their new skills and just trying to incorporate everyone’s techniques and building my own craft out of it,” Ruvalcaba said. 

However, there is something about Ruvalcaba’s approach that differs from that of his peers. 

“I’m an accountant,” he said. “I have no artistic feel. I’m sorry. People see haircuts as like an art, like a sculpture. I see it as numbers. I can look at someone’s head and I could tell you what number it is on the side.”

According to Ruvalcaba, it’s his analytical approach that makes him an effective barber. He emphasized the importance of effective communication between a barber and a client, and he considers a pre-cut consultation a necessity. Ruvalcaba revealed that the easiest appointments for him are those in which the client knows exactly what he wants. He also assured that his main goals were making his client comfortable and giving him a cut he loves. 

Austin Lowe, a junior majoring in business administration, said that the combination of a comfortable, friendly environment and Ruvalcaba’s professional demeanor keeps him coming back. 

 “I would recommend Andres because one, he treats you like a real client, it feels like you’re at a barbershop,” Lowe added, “and two, you’re getting a great haircut.”

The magic of Ruvalcaba’s at-home barber studio is that he is able to gain his clients trust and give them confidence in their haircuts. 

“Being a student, I’m really more in with the trend, [the client and I] have more to relate about and talk about,” Ruvalcaba said. “It’s actually like a service, and like you feel appreciated, and I really just listen to the client. I don’t assume what they want — I want to know what they want, and I want them to know what they want.” 

In the future, Ruvalcaba expects he will spend less time cutting hair as he focuses more on his career. But he was sure graduation won’t be the end of his passion for cutting hair. 

“If I end up having a son, for example, I will definitely teach him how to cut hair,” Ruvalcaba said. “That’s the way I’ll continue, is just me passing on what I’ve learned to someone else.”