Anna Tsai cuts her roommate’s hair every month, chopping off her wavy locks into the dorm bathroom sink.
Tsai and her roommate, Cara Nguyen, created a small, informal haircutting parlor within the cramped corner of the bathroom down the hall from their classic triple. The second-year physics student learned to cut hair without any formal training, practicing on her friends and family members for free. Honing her skills through YouTube video tutorials and assorted websites, Tsai now provides haircuts for UCLA students and nonstudents alike, charging just $10 for her haircuts.
“For many UCLA students, time is tight with classes, but I knew I wanted to have some kind of side project or something that was more like a job with a flexible schedule,” Tsai said. “Haircutting is a fun way to achieve that.”
Tsai and Nguyen run their business together, with Tsai providing the services and Nguyen overlooking the more managerial aspects. Studying economics and global studies, Nguyen said her background lends itself to the rigors of running their up-and-coming business, allowing the second-year to easily calculate profit margins and what they are earning.
“We charge people so cheaply because we know that there’s not a lot of other places college students can go to get an affordable cut on a budget,” Nguyen said. “Even UCLA’s haircut place in Ackerman charges at least $20 for a simple cut.”
The two decided not to rent out an official space, instead using the communal bathroom down the hall, stealing a chair from the lounge for their customers to sit in. The location allows them to cut costs on renting a space, Nguyen said, and creates a casual atmosphere. Tsai said they realized that their classic triple room was too enclosed to provide a feasible place for conducting their haircutting business.
Using Nguyen’s small haircutting kit for all their customers, Nguyen said they take care to sanitize the cutting materials after every haircut or trim with boiling water. Karen Landeros, a second-year linguistics and computer science student, said the process was straightforward and effective, with Tsai keeping a mini vacuum and trash can to clean up stray hair that fell to the floor.
“It was nice and simple, just a student getting a haircut from another student,” Landeros said. “I just wanted a haircut before a concert that weekend, and I needed it done quickly and cleanly.”
With regard to the styles that Tsai cuts, she said most people seek out a simple trim running directly along the back. The short amount of time required to complete this cut contributes to the cheap price, she said. The two students do not feel the need to compete with professional prices, Tsai said, as they want to make their services accessible to everyone.
Tsai said most of the cuts she has done do not take much time to accomplish, but a more complex cut would most likely lead to a higher price if it took more time. However, she said she has not run into this issue thus far, and rather mostly does the same range of styles. Besides a simple trim, many of her customers request layers, which frame the face and work well with specific types of hair, Tsai said.
“I mostly think about how the shape of the hair is going to end up,” Tsai said. “And how it’ll respond to wind or anything like that or how versatile it is for different hair styles, especially for cutting clients who are female.”
She said thinner hair leaves less room for mistakes, as a lock snipped incorrectly cannot be easily remedied by styling around it. Conversely, thick hair can be difficult to work with as a simple blunt cut can be difficult to cut evenly. She said curly hair can provide the same issues, and haircuts can look different depending on the type of hair.
Though she mostly has experience cutting hair for women, Tsai said she hopes to gain more experience cutting hair for men and to expand her business to be more inclusive to those types of cuts. As their business evolves, Tsai said she hopes to develop a loyal, returning customer base.
“We have zero overhead – we basically just need scissors and a comb,” Tsai said. “So it seems like a fair price given the casual nature of the business, and the thing we want to emphasize most is accessibility.”