When you’re a teenager on the edge of adulthood, few things feel as liberating as finally breaking free from your school’s strict haircut rule. For twelve years, I had been forbidden from letting my hair touch my eyebrows, my ears, and the collar of my school uniform. So when my high school batchmates and I finally got to college, we saw it as a time for long, flowing locks, buckets of wax and styling gel, and hairstyles that our parents explicitly told us not to get. In the four years that followed, we let our hair run wild and free.
But all good things must eventually be cut short. With admittedly more than a little hesitation, I traveled to Kapwa Studio in Poblacion, Makati to say goodbye to my old hair and hello to something totally different: an undercut with a peace sign detailed onto the back of my head. Don’t ask.
Kapwa is a coworking creative space that most often functions as a barbershop and salon, but is open to hosting all manner of events and workshops, from dance classes to acoustic gigs. This might come as a surprise to anybody who sees the compact interior of the studio; it’s essentially just one room with two hairdressing stations, a small lower level for rinsing and shampooing, and a few closet-sized spaces hidden in the corners.
But where Kapwa really comes to life is in the details. The studio’s Creative Director, Leslie Ferrer Espinosa, took us on a brief tour and displayed how almost everything in the space is mobile, or can serve multiple purposes. The reception desk turns into a bar during parties, the blinds can be lowered and the lighting adjusted to tailor to a photographer’s needs, and the floor space can be completely cleared. Perhaps most impressive are the tall mirrors used by the stylists, which double as cabinets for their tools, and can become whiteboards when flipped around, or even full-body dance mirrors when placed side-by-side.
Leslie emphasizes how they want Kapwa to be recognized as multipurpose, unisex, and a place where any and all artists and creatives can bond and connect. It very much looks like a space inhabited and shared by a community supporting each other’s art—as seen from a painting at the back of the room, a ukulele sitting on the reception counter, an assortment of artisanal products for sale near the entrance and, of course, a fully operational coffee machine.
As a result, Kapwa feels much bigger than it seems not because of its physical dimensions, but because of the different ways its inhabitants utilize the space. “It’s like the living room we never had,” Leslie says.
It was mostly this homely living room vibe and the warmth of the staff that calmed my nerves. Leslie spoke about how everybody who goes to Kapwa is treated like a personal work of art—something I felt from the minute I sat down. Getting a haircut here wasn’t just a matter of requesting a certain style and passively staring at your reflection as you wait for it to be finished.
I first had an in-depth consultation with my stylist, Anthony “Joe” Camacam, who suggested that the peace sign at the back of my head be accompanied by some cool fading so as not to look flat. There was careful consideration with the way he was deciding what would fit my hair best, and that’s what made me let go of whatever doubt I had left. I wasn’t in the hands of a barber; I was in the hands of an artist.
What surprised me the most about the process was how delicate and thorough it was. I must have spent about an hour in the chair as Joe shaved off every layer and carved out the peace sign one millimeter at a time with a heated razor. It’s a little weird to say, but getting this haircut made me more aware of my scalp than I had ever been before. After years of only having my bangs trimmed every so often, getting an undercut made me remember the shape of my head.
As Joe started applying finishing touches with hair clay, other customers and friends of the owners arrived. My first instinct was to cover my face in embarrassment, but as they saw what Joe had done with the back of my head, I only heard voices of approval and someone saying, “That’s dope, man!”
I’ve always been insecure about having short hair precisely because of the shape of my head, so it was admittedly reassuring to hear so much support from total strangers. It would be cliché if I said I stood up from that chair feeling like a ‘new me,’ but I will say that I left Kapwa feeling much more confident than I thought I would be.
Saying goodbye to my college hair has taken some getting used to. Now when I’m out in the open, I feel like a turban-less Professor Quirrell from the first Harry Potter movie, with the face of Voldemort growing from my scalp. My friends consoled me by saying that I did, in fact, look more like Ezra Miller’s character from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them—but it was up to me if I would let that be a bad thing.
It’s not a bad thing. When it comes down to it, I’m happy to have stopped by Kapwa for this haircut—not necessarily because of how it looks on me, but because of what it stands for. It’s a testament to the sheer talent of our local stylists and artists, and it serves as a small reminder that the most important thing we can do in our divided world is to always keep peace at the back of our minds.
Produced by Alyssa Castillo
Photography by Renzo Navarro
Special thanks to Deejae Pa’este
KAPWA STUDIO IS OPEN FROM 8AM TO 11PM ON WEDNESDAYS TO SUNDAYS. FOLLOW THEM ON FACEBOOK AT FACEBOOK.COM/KAPWASTUDIO.