Happy hair, happy people ... New York stylist gives free haircuts to homeless

Hairstylist Mark Bustos tends to the glamourous tresses of celebrity clients but in his free time, travels and offers cuts to the homeless

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 July, 2016, 8:03am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 July, 2016, 11:27pm

When New York hairstylist Mark Bustos is not busy tending to the tresses of celebrity clients such as Norah Jones and Marc Jacobs, he visits homeless precincts across the US and the world to do what he knows best – giving haircuts.

Born in New York city and raised in New Jersey, Bustos demonstrated his talent for hairstyling at the young age of 14.

He started off by tending to his brother’s crop, but word got out and eventually more people from his school began to get haircuts from him in his family’s garage.

While he had always enjoyed the craft, it was not until about four years ago when Bustos realised he had a bigger calling.

He had been to Pampanga, a poor province in the Philippines where his parents were from, and worked with a barber who allowed homeless children to come in for free haircuts. It was there that he had an epiphany, and knew he had to return and give back to the community.

Bustos recounted his first experience giving a free haircut to a homeless boy in Pampanga: “He was very shy and would not look up. He had his chin to his chest all the time and was very scared.

“When I finished the haircut, somebody told him he looked like he was from New York. The kid looked up and smiled. That was an incredible thing.”

After that experience, Bustos started giving free haircuts to the homeless in New York city on Sundays, when he isn’t tending to the glamourous locks of clients at the swanky Three Squares Studios.

During his vacation time, Bustos travels across the US and even to different countries, imprinting his flair on local hair. He has given free haircuts to people in China, Costa Rica, and Jamaica.

Now 32, Bustos was in town this week to share his experiences with youths, as part of a Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups initiative. He also gave a haircut to a homeless man in Sham Shui Po.

Bustos said he enjoyed talking to the man, who offered him a can of drink in gratitude.

The hairstylist said seeing the plight of the homeless people in Hong Kong “broke my heart”. The 62-year-old homeless man, who wished to be known as Mr Chiu, said he appreciated Bustos giving him a haircut which was much better than the cheap and uneven cuts he normally got.

Mr Chiu, who has been homeless for about 3.5 years, said he went for haircuts that cost about HK$30 and had hairdressers cut his hair shorter to save money.

Bustos shared some of the contents of his backpack, which had all the basics he needed for haircuts on the go: - scissors, water bottles, dry shampoo, and styling products.

He also encouraged more hairstylists to give back to the community, but warned them not to treat the homeless as guinea pigs to practise their skills on.

“A haircut can make or break a person. If you get a bad haircut, you’ll feel worse about yourself,” he said.

“It’s so easy for me to just bring my scissors wherever I go to make people happy. It’s a very simple thing.”