“Stretch” and “Santos” win big at Western Slope Barber Battle and in life
Valley Campus / May 30, 2018 / Written by Margaret Sanderson
The creative barbering skills of two Trinidad State graduates led to two first place finishes at the Western Slope Barber Battle held April 29 at the Two Rivers Convention Center in Grand Junction. Horacio “Stretch” Naranjo won first place for the fastest fade, which he completed in ten short minutes. A fade is cut very close on the sides and back of the head and tapers to almost any length on the top. Santos Morales, known by his clients as Santos Manos (Spanish for hands), created the coldest (slang for best) style. They each received $500 and a large trophy.
“They both knew how to do haircuts when they walked through the door,” said Cosmetology Director, Gayle Pepper, “but they weren’t officially barbers. They both wanted to get a license, to be more than a backyard hair cutter. I am very proud of them because they took it all the way to the professional level.” Stretch finished his barber training in 2011. Santos graduated in 2016.
Both came from poor families and both worked hard to improve themselves but not before they made some poor choices as teenagers.
Stretch, now 36, was raised in Monte Vista. “We didn’t have much,” he said, “so I saved up some money and bought some clippers and started cutting hair. I saw how I could cut somebody’s hair and they would feel better about themselves. It grew into a passion. I love it.”
Stretch said cutting hair helped to pull him away from trouble, but, after he fathered a child in high school at the age of fifteen, he dropped out and got into so much trouble that he landed in prison where he spent three years of his life. He earned his high school equivalency degree (GED) there.
“I didn’t have my dad growing up,” said Stretch.
Neither did Santos who was raised in Phoenix. His dad had been killed in a construction accident two weeks before Santos was born. When Santos turned 15, he received $30,000 from his dad’s settlement. He thought he was Joe cool, so he dropped out of school, bought a BMW and treated his friends to meals and clothes. By the time he spent all the money, he was in a lot of trouble. “When you’re raised with no direction, you kind of make your own direction,” Santos said. “I was young and dumb. I was headed down the wrong path.” But once he met his wife, Jovi, and they had children, Santos wanted to be a good example for them. He had started cutting hair at the age of nine or ten when he inherited a cousin’s haircutting tools along with the responsibility of family haircuts. He would put a rubber band around his customer’s head to help him cut a straight line and he would watch barbers and then mimic them at home. “My friends would come to me,” he said. He knew if he needed food or gas, he could always cut hair.
But Santos wanted to move away from Phoenix, “to break the cycle of poverty and the settle-for-less mindsets.” First, he earned his GED. Eventually, they moved to Alamosa where Jovi had lived at one time and where Santos could study at Trinidad State to become a licensed barber. He began his studies in August of 2015 and completed the program in December 2016. At 34-years-old Santos says, “That’s the best choice I’ve ever made.” “I love barbering. That’s something I was meant to do.” He studied hard and passed both the practical and the written tests the first try.
Stretch had waited five years after he graduated to take the board exams, and he struggled. “I felt like I was going through a mid-life crisis!” he said. It took him many failed attempts before he finally passed. He credits “Miss Gayle” (Pepper) with helping him until he finally made it. “My wife, Fae, never let me give up. It was the hardest thing I ever did in my life because I failed so many times. I knew I needed to really apply myself. I never had before,” Stretch said. Now he tells new graduates not to wait before taking their boards because it’s so much harder if they do.
Although both men had met on social media a year earlier, they met face to face for the first time at the competition in Grand Junction in April. Stretch said he feels like he has known Santos for years. Santos said, “We have the same hunger. We’re barber brothers now.”
After Santos graduated in December of 2016 and passed his boards, he began barbering in a local shop, owned by a Trinidad State graduate, but he wanted to be his own boss and use all the time he wanted for each cut. “I’m all about quality, not quantity,” he said. A sign he read in a barber shop shares his philosophy - “Cheap haircuts aren’t good. Good haircuts aren’t cheap.” Four months ago, Santos began driving his bright yellow Civic to his customers’ homes. He calls his mobile barber business “Hustle Hands.” Customers schedule appointments on line using his booking app. His dream is to outfit a high-top van as a barber shop on wheels so he can give his clients their first rate cuts in a high-class mobile shop.
Stretch has been working at the Charizma Salon in Monte Vista for about ten months. He said, “Business has been freakin’ awesome!” His dream is to open a barber shop in Monte Vista and then follow that with one in Del Norte and possibly South Fork. Ultimately, he would love to establish a barbering school. “You’ve got to be willing to help other people. I’m trying to bring more positivity to this community that’s kind of been taken over with drugs,” said Stretch. “I kind of found myself through barbering which has brought me so much joy in my life. I work six days a week and I don’t feel like I’m working.”
“If you truly feel like you found your passion, you’ll never work a day in your life,” said Santos. “That’s how I feel right now. It’s not work for me. It’s art – being able to create. And I’m making a heart feel happy. I want to be a better barber with every cut I make.”
“I’m a big testimony for the people who know me,” said Stretch, “because I grew up getting into trouble. People are going to say, ‘Yea, he was in prison ten years ago, and look at him now.”
Santos in Stretch's chair