The Fighter: How a Barber Almost Lost His Career
“Education and knowledge is an integral part of our industry,” Silvestro says. “If we keep this up everyone will be walking around with good hair, and groomed beards and mustaches. It is a domino effect I will be happy to be a part of.”Photo By Barros Photography
Beginning when Richard Silvestro was about 16 years old, he would go for a hair cut every two weeks. He loved the friendly banter between stylists and clients, private conversations that didn’t leave the shop, and sacred advice Silvestro could get as a teen, all included in the cost of a cut.
The habitual visits felt so natural he wanted to make it his life. Silvestro began practicing his own styling skills on willing participants in his parents’ basement for free. After graduating high school, he enrolled in the New England Hair Academy in Malden, Massachusetts. In 2007, he graduated with a barber and cosmetology license.
For seven years, Silvestro worked at a local shop building a clientele. But his passion couldn’t be stopped in the confines of the barbershop. Even after a 10-hour shift, Silvestro would return home and cut hair in his basement for his “home clientele.”
In 2014, Silvestro ventured out and opened his own shop, complete with vintage furnishings such as a 1959 Cadillac couch, 1930s motorized barber pole, and retro, red 1960s barber chairs. But two months after the shop opened, Silvestro’s dream came crashing down.
In July 2014, he was involved in a fireworks accident. The wick of the explosive was dried out, giving Silvestro no time to move after it was ignited.
“My dominant right hand was unrecognizable,” he says. “My first thought was that I ruined my career. I was rushed to the emergency room and ushered into my first surgery, which was eight hours long, to save as many of my fingers as possible, and my hand and arm.”
Silvestro spent two weeks in the burn unit and was released with his hand surgically attached to his abdomen to promote skin growth for six weeks. He knew he had to carry on, even if that meant interviewing additional barbers from his hospital bed—and getting married—during his year-long recovery. He was told he would never be able to cut hair again. But despite what doctors said, three weeks after being released from the hospital, Silvestro started practicing cutting hair.
“I had many surgeries to go, and my right hand was still surgically attached to my abdomen, but I was determined not to lose my skill,” Silvestro says. “I started practicing little by little with my left hand. At first I was only able to use clippers, which came surprisingly natural to me. As the months went by, I started practicing with left-handed scissors and combs as well. I decided that once I was healed, I would go to occupational therapy and try to find a way to get my right hand involved in a hair cut again.”
After seven surgeries, and almost losing his arm from the elbow down, Silvestro came out of the accident losing three-and-a-half fingers on his right hand. He didn’t have enough fingers to hold a comb, but that wasn’t going to stop him.
Silvestro’s OT gave him a device used by arthritic people to hold utensils and aid in eating. The device was a fabric strap with Velcro that had an opening for inserting the base of a utensil. The OT’s intentions were for Silvestro to use the device for eating as it was intended to be used. He had a better idea. Silvestro strapped the device to his injured hand, modified a regular comb by removing half of the teeth, and placed it into the device. He mimicked this strap on a larger scale so he could hold a blow dryer in his right hand and use his left to brush and style.
“In the beginning when I would invite a client to my chair, I would hide my hand under the cape in hopes they would not get spooked,” Silvestro says. “Most of the time, clients didn’t notice because my skills were executed confidently. When clients did notice they almost always asked what happened out of curiosity, wondering how I was able to bounce back; I have never come across anyone that had a negative reaction.”
Today, Silvestro is an educator sales consultant with Clubman. He travels inspiring industry professionals and educating them on the newest trends, techniques and product knowledge.
“When I began performing on stage and in classrooms, I started off with my story in my introduction just to get any questions out of the way,” he says. “I think my modified tools help people understand you can achieve a certain look in many different ways by thinking outside of the box.”
As an educator, Silvestro hopes to inspire people to want to learn new things and to properly use Clubman products. He also wants to inspire others to not give up on their own passions, no matter what obstacles they face.
“Take a step back and look at the whole picture,” Silvestro says. “It takes courage to move forward and take steps to success. It speaks volumes to have failed multiple times to make it just the once than to have never tried at all.”