Being in college means, to many of us, living on campus and missing the comforts of home. In a true-life example of not needing something until it’s gone, nothing seems better than a home-cooked meal or the family dog after just a few weeks on campus. Even something as simple as picking up a package or getting a fresh haircut can bring challenges not faced while growing up.
But in a University Crossings apartment, Drexel sophomore Emmanuel Okyere is trying to bring at least one comfort from home to his fellow students: the friendly neighborhood barber.
“You know most bathrooms aren’t this big, so I was pretty glad to get this spot,” Okyere said this week as he showed off a fairly large bathroom for a college apartment.
Despite the shower and toilet on one wall, Okyere’s sixth-floor bathroom is still able to accommodate a full-size barber chair and counter tops lined with clippers, scissors, and powders of all makes and sizes with plenty of room for Okyere to move around his customers as he practices his art.
Perhaps it’s the very official barber chair (ordered from, like everything else at college, Amazon.com) or Okyere’s friendly demeanor (he insists his customers call him ‘Manny’) but a growing number of students are finding out just how comforting an old-fashioned trim can be during their busy terms.
“Last year it was just meet and greet, ‘Hey, I cut hair on campus, come check me out,’” Okyere said. “A few people came and, word of mouth, it started taking off. I ended my freshman year with maybe 30 or something regulars.”
Already this year, he’s had 70 customers who came back for more and an active fan community on his Manny’s Cuts Facebook page.
“I also try and help other people out too, you know. People helped me out with word of mouth, so I try and help them out too,” Okyere said as he motioned to a sticker for a student-run music project clinging to a door. “I actually have a wall here I just started, for people that come here often, to put up things they’re doing because they helped me out. So that’s the best way to network. Hopefully by the end of the year, I can kind of fill this wall with my customers’ stuff.”
Okyere, who recently switched majors from engineering to construction management, began cutting hair as a ninth grader growing up in Philadelphia.
“I was actually growing up, and my hair looked terrible,” Okyere said, his current closely trimmed cut a far cry from this younger hairstyle. “I had a set of equipment in my house, so I said ‘whatever’ and decided to start to cut my own hair.”
From there, Okyere would cut his brother’s and his dad’s hair on the weekends until he eventually spent a few months during the summer working with a barber at a local shop picking up tricks and tips and learning several different styles.
“I can do pretty much any cut. If you showed me a picture, I can pretty much imitate it. Asians, black guys, white guys, I like to pride myself on the fact that although I’m not the master of one particular style, I can pretty much do anything,” Okyere said, adding that the diversity of a college campus demanded that he be able to change between styles in order to cater to his mixed group of customers.
On one wall, Okyere has selected some of his best cuts to showcase with a collage of some of Drexel’s more recognizable heads.
“The sports teams,” Okyere said while pointing out a row of pictures. “They help me get a lot of recognition since a lot of people know them. I gave them a little section since I pretty much do the whole basketball team, and I know a lot of people are familiar with them.”
Okyere, who once worked at a campus Starbucks as a freshman where he would pass out his ‘Manny’s Cuts’ business cards, also acknowledges that it was challenging to run a moneymaking operation and still be able to study and go to class.
“I pretty much work 24/7,” Okyere said laughing. “Last year I cut my roommate’s hair at, like, three in the morning. Working around class and stuff — it’s not tough, but it’s kind of a challenge working around any schedule.”
Despite the number of cuts he does, Okyere says he’s not looking to make his skill into a career.
“I’ve actually gotten a few requests around here from a couple of barbershops, but I feel like it wouldn’t be fair if I left the campus. I’m doing a service to my friends by doing it here, and if I left for a shop: One, I’d have to probably work for their hours and I probably wouldn’t make as much money, and I’d be cheating on my friends, and that’s just not fair. Most shops in Philadelphia are like $25, and that’s just not fair.”
Alternatively, Okyere charges only $8 for his cuts, and he says he’ll keep it that way as he tries to make a little cash while paying for college.
“That’s my main thing, keeping it cheap since no college student is rich,” he said. “I actually started out at five when I didn’t have as many customers, and then this year I kicked it up to eight, but I don’t think I’m going to go any higher because I know money is pretty tight.”