Founders Note: It has been my absolute pleasure, and an amazing journey, to meet the women who make this industry tick. Every event I’ve attended, every time someone has used the #HerChairHisHair hash tag, and every trip has resulted in absolute awe at how we have grown into our role as barbers and men’s hair specialists.
Although it has been quite a while since I’ve posted an interview, I have never stopped thinking about how I can share someone’s story while trying to give them a platform they so rightfully deserve. These women all demonstrate grace, strength and talent while taking on additional roles such as caretaker, mom, or business extraordinaire.
I took the time to fall back in love with this industry, to reconnect with beautiful and supportive souls who believe in us, and to build a team that cannot be stopped.
With that being said, it is an honor to share this particular story of a woman who, in my opinion, has the soul, determination, and talent of an absolute winner. She has officially graced our stage at the second annual Her Chair His Hair showcase in New York City to benefit ‘Cut It Out’, a program that benefits domestic abuse survivors, and therefore absolutely deserves to have her story told now more than ever.
Watch the video content or feel free to read along below and see photos of Keila and her work.
A Story of Triumph: @KeilaLaBarbera
Keila, also known on Instagram as @KeilaLaBarbera, is currently located at MVPS Barbershop in Worcester, Massachusetts. Don’t know where that is? Neither did I, so you’re not alone. About 45 minutes from Boston, she is the self proclaimed First Lady of her shop, and she definitely deserves that title.
A born hustler, Keila is constantly thinking of ways to improve her shop and experience for her clients. However, her passion and hard work doesn’t stop there. When I had the opportunity to interview her last January (I know, I know, I’m slacking!), she was already working on her second year with the Massachusetts Barber and Beauty Convention in her hometown. Putting together a part of the show called “Hair to Empower”, the hairstylists battle to completely transform their models from head to toe.
The catch? Keila personally interviews women from homeless shelters and selects them based on inspiring stories or their desire to want help for themselves. At the end of the battle, the women not only walk away with new looks, she also provides them with baskets from participating sponsors, local businesses and guidance so they can obtain education and work. Prior to show time, Keila interviews each of the women on camera so that when the models and stylists go on stage, their interviews are on the big screen for the audience to see the final transformation.
I asked Keila what inspired her to become a barber and she told me that it was never something she planned on pursuing. “I didn’t choose barbering, barbering chose me,” she continues to say that it was always an aspiration “to become something great, I just never knew how.”
Coming from a broken home, Keila enrolled herself at a local community college to study Behavior Analysis in pursuit of achieving something great. Unfortunately, being a single mother and in school while working, she encountered some dark times and decided to defer college for a semester. That’s when she decided to give the Cosmetology program at Robroy Academy in Worcester a try.
Developing A New Path
At the time, Keila was in a very abusive relationship that, like many men and women in the same situation, she found very hard to get out of. Where did she manage to find happiness? “The only light in my day was when I was in school working towards my new career,” Keila tells me, “…Before I knew it, school was over and I obtained my Cosmetology license. But with ugly marks on my face and a broken spirit, it was very hard for salons to hire me.”
Managing to leave her relationship, Keila moved forward and later found out that a when someone was making terrible comments about her, a man who worked at her previous hair academy stood up for her. Returning to her school to pursue a job search, she of course wanted to know who the kind stranger was.
Many of us know this man for his talent, but most importantly for his grace and friendship.
Walking into the room to search for him, Keila immediately realized it was @GeeTheBarberWheelz. Describing him as “the man who forever changed my life, my partner in life and business for five years (now six) and counting.
She instantly enrolled in school to become a barber that day.
On Being a Woman in a Man’s Industry
Every woman’s story is different and I’d like to take a moment to say that this industry is wonderful because of both the women and men who put tireless work into their craft every day.
For Keila, people are “pretty surprised and intrigued” when they find out her profession. She mentioned she is often asked if she’s “any good at it”, which she has admitted that she hates answering it verbally. Our firecracker would “rather show them”, because what better way than to prove you’re the best?
I asked Keila how she handled any clients, especially if they refused her, when she first started in the industry. Apparently, she used to be refused all of the time! Now, she’s proud to say that on average she currently sees 10-15 people every day working from open until close, seven days a week. This cutting machine is booked primarily in advance but tries to accommodate walk-ins between appointments if the shop is extremely busy. She’d rather take that extra client than see them walk out the door and take their business elsewhere.
So how did she handle clients when they used to refuse her? “You’re refused especially when you’re a woman, so my personality is very inviting as well as professional,” Keila tells me. She often finds herself being told, “I’ve never had my hair cut by a woman before.” Building a reputation for herself in Worcester, she notes that this doesn’t happen often anymore.
Growing Beyond Hometown Roots
Not only is she the First Lady of MVPS Barbershop and an accomplished hair battle producer, Keila is also on the famed Xotics team created by Curtis Smith. She admits she looks forward to getting back on the road for the Xotics HairBattle Tour while also keeping some other projects under wraps while she develops them further.
When asked what she hopes to do for the industry, Keila says, “In general I just want to inspire others the way I was and still am inspired.” She also points out how she’d like to shift the focus away from “attention and credit of other barbers when they are not the ones putting money in our pockets.” A prevalent issue I sincerely agree with. “Our clients are paying us. So instead of caring about the opinions of our competition, professionals should focus more on their reputation in their current and future clients’ eyes.”
Facts and Trivia
So anyone that has read Her Chair His Hair before our re-launch knows that we always showcased a few fun facts about our featured ladies.
Keila apparently loves Funyuns, so I highly suggest a solid tip and a bag of those to get priority seating in her chair.
For our barbers, she says that she loves her Wahl Magic Clippers and shears.
Keila’s biggest pet peeve? “I absolutely cannot stand when clients or co-workers take my tools off my station to use without asking. Just like when Eve would instantly become upset when someone took her apple juice from the movie Barbershop.”
Want to learn more or book an appointment? Keila can be contacted at KeilaOlivencia@gmail.com.