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Humans of WEGO: a cut above

Senior Chris Montoya has been building his barbering business for the past several years.
Chris Pena
Senior Chris Montoya smiles while cutting a customer’s hair.

The sound of the trimmers fills the room with a dull buzz. In one corner, a group of friends is laughing about some inside joke or the latest video game showdown. Bright lights flood the room with daylight, even though the time is half past six. Hair cascades to the floor as the scissors work their way through a customer’s hair.

Music plays in the background as the client checks himself out in the reflection of the mirror. The barber behind him cleans his trimmers and gets ready to cut the next person’s hair.

Such is the life of Christopher Montoya, a local barber in West Chicago saving people from embarrassment.

Montoya is currently a senior in high school who plans to go to barber school after this year to pursue a passion that began during the pandemic. Back then, Montoya saw a fun opportunity to cut hair. Barber shops were largely closed, and his friends had the idea that he should cut their hair. So he did.

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“I mean all the friend groups at the time, they weren’t getting haircuts. I was getting really close with one of my middle school barbers – the dude who introduced me to that, Brandon, encouraged me to start cutting hair,“ Montoya said. 

At first, the idea was uncomfortable for Montoya, who did not picture himself as a barber. Loki was the one who purchased Montoya a set of clippers and trimmers, and encouraged him to work on a much larger scale.

From the beginning, Montoya found support for his blossoming interest, particularly from his dad, who was the first person he ever gave a cut to. 

“It was just like the close people that I had at the time. Those were like the first ones that I would mess up,” Montoya said.

Over time, though, Montoya created his own business, Cutz by Chris. For the last two years, he has consistently cut hair, mostly for friends and family, out of his house. He is able to take electronic bookings via Booksy, where he maintains a solid 5.0 rating. One of the keys to his success has been building his social media presence, and Montoya credits friends with helping him do so; they provided tips to grow on social media and suggested he post his improvements as a barber so he could attract more clients around West Chicago. Montoya did, and now has 2,300+ followers.

“Slowly, I started getting more confidence for cutting hair. And I feel like I should have made content from the start, and took it more seriously at a younger age,“ Montoya said.

Montoya has built a solid client base as well.  A few months ago, he only averaged about 5 to 10 clients a week; now, he is constantly giving 15 to 20 haircuts per week.

“I started going to him shortly after he got after his garage. He’s my best man. I would go every two weeks. He takes time and dedication to all of his haircuts,” senior Jaime Cuautli said.

The staff at ART OF FADEZ also had a big impact on his journey as an up-and-coming barber; they gave Montoya advice and encouragement. ART OF FADEZ is a barber shop with workers who graduated from West Chicago Community High School. One of Chris’ good friends there provided him with good advice.

“Always reaching for a stronger reason to keep going will be the way to stay motivated, and consistent, and help build that discipline,” barber Brandon Magana (@Brandon.Blendz) said.

Magana explained that he knows the struggle of not having a mentor to guide a developing barber in the process.

“If I have the opportunity to provide some guidance, I will do so,” Magana said.

Montoya is thankful for the advice he has received, which has helped him grow his talent – and his business. 

“I had a lot of support coming from ART OF FADEZ. They were really supportive about my decision about starting to cut hair,” Montoya said.

Throughout his senior year, Montoya has attended high school part-time (three days a week) so that he can simultaneously work. He is hoping to obtain a position at ART OF FADEZ later this school year.

“I want to get my hours in to move up, and get my certificate for teaching, too. I want to put in the extra hours for that,” Montoya said.

A teaching certificate would allow Montoya to mentor others, as Magana has done for him.

“After high school, I do want to be at the shop for awhile before I open up my own barber academy nearby, because [while] there’s a lot of barber [academies], and I feel like they’re all far away, you know? They’re not in this area. It’s so important to me because it could save someone’s life – mentally – or just help them get distracted and grow a passion for the art,” Montoya said.

Montoya’s ambition comes as no surprise to those who know him well.

“I’ve known Chris Montoya for the past three years.  I was his AVID teacher during his sophomore year.  Since then, we have become friends.  Our conversations have been about business and the business of styling hair.  I have no doubt that his academy will be a success.  This has been his goal all along.  He has the respect of older barbers and young aspiring stylists alike.  I can’t wait to see how his dream unfolds and comes true,” teacher Rich Kost said.

The article was updated to include further information following an interview with an additional source.

This story was originally published on Wildcat Chronicle on February 17, 2024.