Student hairdresser brings new style to area

March 2, 2006, midnight | By Daniel Klein | 18 years, 1 month ago

Senior Dena Tran is an artist, but she doesn't paint landscapes or chisel stone. Her canvas is hair, and her tools are her scissors and a brush. Tran washes, streaks, straightens and trims her masterpieces.

Just down the road from Blair on University Boulevard sits the "Family Hairstyling Barber," a quaint, white-brick building where Tran's parents run a barbershop in their home. A bright neon "open" sign hangs in the window, and a blue-and-red barber pole spins outside. The shop welcomes all customers inside. Still, customers can't help but feel a little apprehensive about putting their hair in the hands of a teenager.

But Tran hardly lacks experience. She began working with her parents two years ago and discovered that she had a talent for cutting hair. Since becoming a stylist, Tran's reputation at Blair precedes her: She is the go-to girl for beautiful, professionally cut hair. Because of her work, her name has become synonymous with great cuts in the Four Corners area.

Putting in the hours

Upon entering the store, Tran's mother, a short, dark-haired woman, greets customers glowing with anticipation. She shouts in Vietnamese at a chirping, bright green parrot - the family pet who often hops around the hair scattered on the floor - before turning and smiling, ushering customers towards a black-cushioned chair. Proud of her work, Tran's mother never hesitates to show off the family's barbers licenses, which hang on the wall next to photos and newspaper clippings praising the shop. Recently, Tran has taken her dedication to hairstyling even further, successfully acquiring her own barbers license, which now hangs alongside her parents' licenses.

According to the State Board of Barbers, earning a barbers license requires proof of completing either 1,200 hours of student training in barber school or 2,250 as an apprentice under a master barber, followed by a state exam. Luckily for Tran, getting the hours did not require extra effort; it was just a matter of "coming home and getting to work." Tran registered for her license as an apprentice under her parents, who both hold master barbers licenses, and took her license exam a few months ago.

The license exam includes everything involved in hairstyling, from the basics - how to execute a perm or shave with a razor - to more technical skills, like knowing first aid and understanding the biology of cutting hair. The experience of taking the test showed Tran exactly what was involved in becoming a hairdresser.

Having received her barbers license, Tran is now working towards her master barbers license, which requires 15 months of additional experience and another exam from the Board.

Her customers say that they are impressed by her credentials. "She really knows what she's doing when she sits you down for a haircut," says Junior Avi Edelman, one of Tran's loyal customers. For over two years, he and his family always get their hair cut at the Family Hairstyling Barber, where they are always greeted like friends. Edelman says he wouldn't consider getting his hair cut anywhere else. Tran smiles and asks, "So, what can I do for you today?" It is time to get down to business.

The ins and outs of cutting hair

Setting up to get started, Tran pulls her scissors from a nearby drawer and the conversation begins to flow freely, covering everything from the dangers of chemical hair color to natural tricks to great highlights. "The secret is to mix plain yogurt and lemon juice. Then, just wear it like conditioner when you go to the beach. It's much safer than chemical highlights," advises Tran's mother as she searches for a broom to sweep away the fallen bangs from an earlier cut.

Tran says that while she was training for her license and working hands-on with her parents, they instilled in her the need to connect with customers, and that message has stayed with her since. "In barbering school, you're taught to do everything quickly, and cutting hair becomes like working in a factory, but because I work at home, I like to take my time and make my customers feel at home," says Tran.

As her scissors move in swift, controlled cuts, Tran describes a regular patient who works as a doctor. "She'll come in at 10 at night sometimes, when she finally gets off her shift, and she normally curls up and falls asleep right over there," she says, pointing at one of the empty barber chairs. For Tran, the relationships she builds with her customers are what make the job rewarding. "It's a great feeling knowing that I've made someone feel welcome," she says.

A cut above the rest

Along with a home-style approach to running a barbershop, the family prides itself on maintaining a loyal clientele. Tran even boasts that the quality service her family gives has convinced customers who were loyal to stylists in other locations to abandon them. "There are people that come in saying they've been with the same stylist for 15 years," says Tran. "Well, after one trip here, we see them come in again and again."

Along with her personable nature, Tran brings a young, fresh perspective to her parents' business. "When someone walks in, I automatically get a sense of what would look good on them," says Tran. Then, she uses the customers' descriptions and her personal style to determine how to cut their hair. What's most important to her is capturing what her customers want to express through their hair.

However, in doing so, Tran walks a fine line between creating a gorgeous hairdo and a garish crime against style. "I can't stand seeing a person go out our door with 'oh-my-god' hair," says Tran. She pulls a brush from her pocket and begins to layer a customer's hair with the comb-and-snip technique of a skilled stylist.

With a knack for creating stunning hairdos, Tran's skill and amiability has attracted younger customers into her parents' shop. The once-small family barbershop now styles for weddings, homecomings and proms. These events require a different kind of cutting and even more effort from Tran. With weddings and proms come the more complicated up-dos and buns that give her the chance to test her limits as a barber.

Setting aside the scissors

Finishing up, Tran unsnaps the apron, letting the hair that remains slip off and fall to the floor. She holds a mirror to the back of the customer's head, looking expectantly to see his reaction and beaming when a smile crosses his face.

But despite her experience working in her parents' shop, Tran has decided not to pursue an education or professional career in cosmetology; instead she plans to work as a pharmacist. "I am the first one in my family to go to college, and I really want to make something of it," says Tran.

Still, Tran doesn't plan on leaving hairstyling for good just yet. She wants to attend college in Maryland so that she can commute to school and maintain her business. Although Tran doesn't want to go professional, her love of styling keeps her in the shop. "If I didn't see what I do as an art, I would get so bored of cutting hair everyday," says Tran.

Daniel Klein. Daniel Klein is a junior in the Communications Arts Program and excited for a great year on print staff. When not working on a story he enjoys playing for Blair's awe-inspiring, breathtaking and downright cool boys' lacrosse team (and encourages everyone to come see us … More »

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