On September 20, 2021, Cal Poly’s freshmen officially began their college experience. However, for two students, classes weren’t the only thing on their schedules. Psychology major Nailah Dubose and civil engineering major Jesus Vazquez both have their own small businesses in the hair industry. Dubose braids hair, while Vasquez cuts hair — all from the freshmen dorm halls.
Dubose began braiding hair when she was 14 years old and started her own business at 15 years old. She claims to be “tender-headed,” so she wanted to be able to braid her own hair as well as her sisters’ hair.
Dubose was also inspired by her mom, who was a hairstylist.
“She inspired me to not just love my inner beauty, but you know, appreciate my outer beauty as well. I know that we always want our hair to look good, or look nice or presentable at least,” Dubose said. “Sometimes the struggle is that we can’t do it ourselves. So any way that I can help, I want to be there to help women know that they’re beautiful – that they’re confident.”
For Dubose, her business was all about promoting boldness and positivity, so it was important for her to continue her business in college. She especially wanted to bring her business to Cal Poly because it is a predominantly white institution where there aren’t many braiding salons nearby. Dubose wanted to provide a service for the African American community where there previously were not many options.
“I thought, ‘here is an opportunity to be more productive, more effective [and] find a way to impact our campus community.’ So I decided, you know what, I’m going to bring my braiding business here that way. Other African American students and other students of color, and anyone who wants their hair braided, can have that opportunity and not have to go out of their way to get their hair done,” Dubose said.
With this idea in mind, Dubose had a smooth business transition. She reached out to the Cal Poly 2025 Instagram account, which has more than 2,500 followers, and received a shoutout for the Instagram page dedicated to her business. She also passed out business cards during Week of Welcome so that people could schedule an appointment.
One of her most fond memories from her business is passing out her business cards on campus and witnessing the relief on people’s faces when they realized that someone in San Luis Obispo is willing and able to braid hair.
Dubose schedules all her appointments through Instagram direct messages and usually braids on Tuesdays and Thursdays, as she has found those are the days she has little or no classes. She has a $10 non-refundable deposit that goes to her materials, such as hair and aftercare. She braids in her dorm room and takes COVID-19 safety precautions, such as sanitizing and wearing masks. Dubose notes that the braiding process can take up to eight hours, but that the time is spent talking, laughing, and, of course, braiding.
Braiding is not the only on-campus hair service available. For those in need of a haircut, @J.Cutz.z has you covered. Vasquez, like Dubose, started his business before coming to campus, and his business Instagram account also received a shoutout from the Cal Poly 2025 Instagram page.
Vasquez began cutting hair during quarantine, as he and his brothers were given two options: buzz-cut their hair or grow it out. He decided to try and buzz his and his brother’s hair using beard trimmers, and when the cuts came out better than expected, Vasquez invested in clippers. He knew that he wanted to work during college, so he pursued his haircutting business.
“Going to college was the main reason I chose to start my business. I can create my own schedule and slowly see my business grow,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez also capitalizes on the convenience of cutting hair in the dorms.
“I know people would rather get their haircut on campus than trying to get a cut off-campus and paying a lot more,” Vasquez said.
At first, Vasquez was unsure if he possessed the necessary skills to be a barber, but support from family and friends was what he needed to pursue his business.
“I knew I needed a little push to fully motivate me to go for it. A couple of days later my barber messaged me that he was gifting me a pair of hair trimmers, and my cousin also said he would invest in the rest of the barber supplies that I needed. I knew right then and there, that I had to go for it,” Vasquez said.
After moving into the dorms, Vasquez began planning out how he would operate his business. He found that the dorm bathroom had ample lighting and space for him to cut hair and that his class schedule allowed his business hours to be Sunday through Thursday. Customers are able to schedule an appointment through a link in his business’ Instagram bio. Vasquez charges $10 for a haircut, and it typically takes him 45 minutes to an hour.
“Seeing improvement in my experience is what pushes me to keep going. I love seeing personal progress within myself, and as my haircuts get better and better, it proves that I am doing the right thing,” Vasquez said.
Not only does he like his personal growth, but his favorite part is seeing the evolution of his clients due to his handy work.
“Another favorite part of my business is seeing my clients transform after a haircut. Many people see their hair as a defining attribute of themselves. Some people let their hair define their beauty, and some people just want to be creative with their hair,” Vasquez said.
Both hair businesses, while new, have already booked appointments and are currently transforming hairstyles on Cal Poly’s campus.
Emma Hughes is an English major and content writer for KCPR. Ryann Swift is a graphic communication major and designer for KCPR.