When David Marulanda was a boy, his father wanted him to become a doctor, a profession that would allow him to never suffer for an income. Marulanda didn’t become a doctor, but that’s okay.
“My father realizes that I’m achieving the same thing he wanted for me as a doctor, but as a barber,” said Marulanda, who co-owns Authentic Hair Studio in White Plains with business partner Emmanuel Lugo.
Marulanda isn't your run-of-the-mill barber. He is an artist sought out by both locals and celebrities alike for his creative work. He is the official barber of the USA Men’s National Soccer Team and cuts hair for players on the New York Knicks, Yankees, Rangers and New York City Football Club, or NYCFC.
He also travels internationally teaching hair techniques and styling.
Marulanda has been in the business for two decades and says his humble beginnings set him up for success.
“I come from a long line of coffee producers in Colombia, but I was born in the Bronx,” he says. “When I was about five or six, we moved to Colombia for about four years and I remember not liking how they cut my hair. So I grabbed some shears and cut my own hair. It didn’t look that bad.”
The family relocated to Spain for a few years and Marulanda kept cutting hair. When they moved back to New York, the then-teen fell in love with the barbershop environment.
“I liked it so much that when I booked a haircut, I let everyone in front of me go first so I could just watch,” he said. “I would then bring my friends to my aunt’s hallway in the building and cut their hair.” His first tools were stool, a mirror and a $16 set of clippers he got at Walmart.
He ultimately earned a barbering certificate and opened his own shop on Martine Avenue, taking pride in his work and knowing that each customer was a walking billboard for more work.
“My motto is just put the best quality you can into every haircut and when you do that, your work speaks for itself,” he said.
Marulanda’s career took off in 2015 due to a chance meeting with former New York Knicks superstar Allan Houston. Houston came in to the barbershop to ask for change for the meter. Marulanda obliged, but didn’t take Houston’s money.
“I told him if he ever needed a haircut, he should come by. A few days later he came back,” he said. Word-of-mouth spread and his client roster soon included many local players and others who came up from the city.
"We started doing a few of the Knicks, and then soccer players, and I don't know if it was luck or just so happened, but the first time we cut a player's hair, they would score or a goal or the team would win," he said. "And that happened like 7, 8 or 9 times. We like to say, our hands haven't failed us yet."
He can't take credit for their playing acumen, but Marulanda does say "we make them look their best, and then they feel their best, and can play their best."
Athletes entrust him with their image, and many of his efforts develop into cut, color and style trends that can be seen on his Instagram page @authentic_barbers, where he has more than 40,000 followers.
Here you can see some of the wildly creative designs his customers have requested.
“One customer wanted a butterfly in the back of her hair and she wanted the background pink,” he said. “I thought, wow that’s a challenge. First I had to bleach the hair, then dye it pink and do the design of the butterfly. Another guy wanted a Dennis Rodman look.”
Looking back, Marulanda didn’t think his career would be this big. He has traveled to more than 30 countries to cut hair, speak at seminars and conduct classes, including in Russia.
“One of the reasons I started traveling to Colombia to teach classes was because one of the guys from the neighborhood said he wanted to learn and there was no school there,” he said. “We started filming and putting the classes up on YouTube and people from all over the world were learning.”
And then he received more requests to teach in Mexico, Argentina, Ecuador and Spain.
His travels brought him to Africa where he provides free barbering services. He was inspired by his great grandmother.
“She was from Spain and went to Colombia in very early 1900s as a missionary,” Marulanda says. “I was always amazed by her life and the things that she did and how she was able to live to 106 years old and never wore glasses and never used a cane to walk."
Her longevity sparked a desire to know more about nature, "because everything that we consume nowadays is more on the chemical aspect than the natural aspects.”
He traveled to West Africa after meeting someone from Burkina Faso who specializes in natural medicine. While there, he helped to build 16 homes for those in need and hopes to return this year. “They don't have much," he said, "so I contribute what I can. I bring my clippers and just cut hair wherever I can.”
His advice to up-and-coming stylists?
“If you're just doing this because you think you can achieve fame or maybe make lots of money, maybe it is not for you,” he said. “Becoming a barber, you have to be at the barber shop for so many hours and if you don't cut anyone, you don't get paid. If it's not a passion or if you're just doing it for the money, maybe find something else to do.”
A barber who travels internationally to cut hair and teach, as well as give back by building homes and cutting hair for free? Not bad, Dad. Not bad at all.
Lisa Iannucci is a Hudson Valley freelance writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: This White Plains barber counts major league players among his clients