NEWPORT — Tiffany Aponte graduated from barber school in 2008, but struggled to break into the male-centric industry as a woman.
Customers did not trust a woman to cut their hair, and Aponte took this as a sign that the industry was closed to her.
It wasn’t until Jose’s Chop Shop on Broadway tried her luck that she realized she could develop her skills. After six years working there, Aponte finally decided to branch out and start his own barber shop, New Age Barbering Company.
“Along the way, I had obstacles,” Aponte said. “I gave up. I said, you know what, ‘This industry is not for me,’ and look where I am. It’s been almost 15 years (of manufacturing).
Her fascination with men’s hair and aesthetics grew out of growing up with her father, who also works as a hairdresser and owns a salon in Newport. After the initial difficulties she faced in becoming a barber, she tried to work as a receptionist and office worker all over Rhode Island.
These jobs were not suitable for her either, and after being fired, she doubled down and joined the barber profession again.
“It was tough and you have to be thick-skinned,” Aponte said. “I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason. It didn’t happen then because it had to happen now.”
The Aponte store opened at 8 Freebody St. is modern and masculine, decorated in black, gray and blue, with a drinks fridge and TV welcoming customers to the waiting area.
A neon sign lights up the back wall behind Aponte’s barber chair quoting the famous opening line, “It was all a dream,” from The Notorious BIG’s “Juicy,” a song about the rapper’s rise from poverty to international fame.
She doesn’t just cut men’s hair, having worked on all genders, ethnicities and hair lengths, but as a barber, her specialty is short hair. While men’s haircuts start at $27, Aponte also offers a full package called “The Whole Nine Yards.” For $75, that includes a hot towel shave, haircut, facial scrub, neck and shoulder massage, and cigar to go.
Aponte said she wants men to feel pampered the same way women do after a day at the salon, a holdover from her training as a massage therapist. She likes to take care of people, she says.
“I’m a person who likes to give and make people feel good,” Aponte said. “Men should have a spa too, you know? A place where they can go and relax.
In addition to his years of experience, Aponte has also had the opportunity to cut the hair of actors in several feature films and television series. She notably cut Denzel Washington’s hair for his role in “Equalizer 2”.
Aponte framed the posters of the productions she worked on and displayed them in the waiting room of her new hair salon. They’re arranged in a circle on the wall, around a framed picture that says, “There was a girl who really wanted to open a hair salon. It was me. The end.”
Although she doesn’t normally date, Aponte made an exception for her first few weeks, as she wanted to establish a relationship with the community. During her interview with The Daily News, a new customer walked in for a haircut, after noticing the sign outside advertising Aponte’s hair salon.
The two talked during the haircut, with Aponte giving advice on how to structure the sideburns around the ear when he asked which would look best. The client, Eames Hamilton Yates Jr., had also just opened a yoga studio locally, so he said he was excited to patronize another newly opened local business.
After her haircut, Yates gave Aponte a one-dollar bill, similar to the traditional two-dollar bill given to new barber shop owners as a good luck charm. Aponte already had her first two-dollar bill pinned to her mirror, but she also pinned Yates’ bill.
For now, Aponte just wants to build its business relationship with the Newport community, but ultimately Aponte dreams of making its hair salon a full-fledged brand, with product lines and franchises.
“You have to have a vision when you venture out, and I’ve always had a vision,” Aponte said. “I’m a woman trying to make it in a man’s world and I’m determined to change that. Someone once told me: “The barber will never die – hairdressing too, and nails – because everyone needs this service.”