From their dorms, students offer an array of salon services

David Wignall

The Mark Hopkins room that belongs to Hector Hernandez ’23 looks halfway between a single and a salon. In one corner, there’s a bed, a desk, and the usual piles of coursework. In the other, there’s a full-size mirror and a dresser covered with the tools of his trade: razors, scissors, combs, and hairbrushes.

Elsewhere on campus, other rooms have been similarly transformed into makeshift headquarters. There are many services that are hard to come by in Williamstown, including haircuts and manicures. Enterprising students have begun offering their services to fill the gap.

The Record spoke to three students who started providing services to classmates out of college dorms during the COVID-19 pandemic.

(David Wignall/The Williams Record)

Hector Hernandez ’23 — Cuts By Hector

Hernandez, the founder of Cuts By Hector, got his start in haircutting during quarantine when most conventional barber shops were closed. 

“My brother and I had a really hard time finding people to cut our hair,” Hernandez said. “And so we decided, why not try it ourselves? And eventually, … when I came back to campus last spring, I decided: Why not make it a business?”

Without any previous experience, Hernandez started learning through YouTube — and practicing on himself. “There was a period of time when I actually buzz cut my hair,” he said. “I was just practicing on it a lot.”

Hernandez started offering his services out of a bathroom in Mission Park, and his operations are now based out of Mark Hopkins. His first customers were his friends — people who were willing to put their hair in the hands of a novice haircutter. “My closest friends, I told them, ‘Hey, if you want a free haircut, I got you,’” Hernandez said. “So there was a month and a half where literally … for anybody who wanted a free haircut, I would … cut their hair.”

This school year, thanks to word of mouth — and Hernandez’s instagram account, @cuts.byhector — the Mark Hopkins single-turned-salon has taken off. According to Hernandez, he has cut more than 130 students’ hair at $20 apiece, with no sign of demand slowing soon.

“I think cutting strangers’ hair has put some pressure on me to become good at cutting hair,” Hernandez said. “The hardest thing I had to do was turning people away … [when] I’m really tired, [and] I’m really overwhelmed.”

Overall, Hernandez said he enjoys the experience. “It’s really nice meeting new people,” he said. “Some of my best buddies … came from cutting hair.”

“At Williams, everybody seems to know one another,” he said. “But you truly don’t get to understand just how big the school is until you cut the hair of a very diverse set of people.” 

Next January, Hernandez plans to offer a Free University course for students who want to learn how to cut short hair. And while he doesn’t plan to cut hair professionally, he said that he believes his experience working in Mark Hopkins will inform his future endeavors.

“My goal is to hopefully work at a startup after college,” Hernandez said. “Addressing a need that people need fixing, or that people need a solution for, is a very rewarding experience. This business came out of a necessity — I needed my hair to be cut. I wanted to look good.”

(David Wignall/The Williams Record)

Taylor Braswell ’23 — Spunky Manis

In Sage, a common room has been converted into the headquarters of Spunky Manis — a manicure service run by Braswell, who is a Junior Advisor (JA). 

“When I was home over the summer, I got a really terrible manicure, and it cost 90 bucks,” Braswell said. “When I got that terrible manicure, I was like, ‘I could have done this myself.’”

Braswell ran with the idea. She bought materials and learned to do her own nails through TikTok and YouTube videos. “I’ve been really interested in things like this since I was a little kid,” she explained. “I just started, and I guess all the [nail art videos] I’d been watching for my whole life came back — and I figured it out.”

(Photo courtesy of Taylor Braswell.)

Braswell’s first customers were her co-JAs, but she quickly expanded to friends and others who saw her work in-person on fellow students or on her Instagram account, @spunkymanis.

“Places in Williamstown are notoriously expensive,” Braswell said. “My goal is to make nail art more affordable for students who want that… But also, because I’m also a student, it’s more approachable and easy for students to ask for what they want.”

Braswell estimates that she has served more than 50 students since the start of the school year. “I’ve gotten very good at small talk,” Braswell said. “It’s interesting because usually, I struggle with talking with people I don’t know. I tend to feel very anxious. But for some reason, when I’m doing people’s nails, it comes super naturally to me.”

“I’ve had people open up to me and share really vulnerable things about their lives,” she continued. “It makes me feel really honored that they trust me, not only with their nails, but also with these stories.”

Next year, Braswell will be living in a co-op, which is less conveniently located than Sage and may affect Spunky Manis’ operations. “We’ll see if people are willing to take the hike to come visit me,” she said. “If so, then I would love to continue.”

For now, Braswell is operating out of Sage. She specializes in gel manicures and abstract designs. “Nail art is like any other kind of art, just on a much smaller canvas,” she said.

(David Wignall/The Williams Record)

Molly Arts ’24 — ThreadIt

A newer service than Cuts by Hector or Spunky Manis, ThreadIt is an eyebrow and facial hair threading service started by Arts in mid-February. “I’ve always done my own eyebrows,” Arts said. “And I liked to do it for some of my friends last year… So they were like, ‘You should make a business out of it.’”

Some of Arts’ first customers were her teammates on the swim and dive team. But when she went public with @threadit_arts on Instagram, she encountered immediate demand, she said. “I’ve had eight appointments this week,” Arts said. “I’m surprised how quickly people found out about it … The fact that I’ve had so many strangers come has been really surprising.”

Arts credits her fast start to a lack of accessible alternatives. “There’s nowhere near here that does [threading],” Arts said. “Certainly if somewhere on Spring Street was, I would not be having a business.”

Instead of Spring Street, Arts operates out of a Currier single. “At first, I felt a little odd about it,” she said. “You know, it’s like my own intimate space… But honestly, it’s forced me to keep my room very clean. I always want to have it clean because I know people are coming.”

(David Wignall/The Williams Record)

“It would be nicer to have a whole setup … like a chair or a table I could have my customers on,” she added.

Arts plans to continue running ThreadIt through the summer, before pausing next fall while she studies abroad. According to Arts, every appointment offered before Spring Break has already been booked.

“It’s honestly satisfying and cathartic for me when I do someone else’s eyebrows,” Arts said. “It’s nice to be able to offer a service for people who can’t get it somewhere else.”