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Elgin social media barber hits Instagram and TikTok thanks to his ‘transformative cuts’

A young Elgin barber has made a name for himself for his skill with scissors as well as his talent on social media, penning online videos of his work that have been viewed up to 40 million times.

Using his “short blends” handle, Emilio Chavez specializes in transformative cuts where the client goes from shaggy to GQ in one sitting.

The 22-year-old has been cutting her hair since she was 16, when, as a student at Elgin High School, she decided she needed a new look and cut her own curls.

This client came to Elgin barber Emilio Chavez at the insistence of his girlfriend, who saw Chavez’s videos on TikTok and asked him to perform magic on her boyfriend. When asked what he wanted, the customer replied: “Anything you think looks best, bro. I trust you.” (Emilio Chavez)

Chavez said his friends noticed the situation and soon asked him to cut his hair, too.

His first foray into social media was a Facebook video he shared of him getting a haircut when he was 16. Two years later, he said, he got his barber’s license, expanded his posts to Instagram and began building a customer base.

“Two years ago, around the time I started posting on TikTok, business started booming,” Chavez said.

Now that the long hair is gone, this TikTok screenshot shows Elgin barber Emilio Chavez looking at his client's final cut that makes him look like a different person.  (Emilio Chavez)
Now that the long hair is gone, this TikTok screenshot shows Elgin barber Emilio Chavez looking at his client’s final cut that makes him look like a different person. (Emilio Chavez)

As Chavez scrolls through his Instagram feed, he shows a video that has been viewed more than 40 million times. Another had 26 million views.

Chavez said what really sparked the jump in business were two clips from February 2023, which brought in a lot of business even though they didn’t garner many hits.

One of them featured a man with very long hair cut much shorter. The other is of a man who arrives with a receding hairline, cotton-stick-like hair, and scruffy beard, and leaves with a smooth, shaved look.

Elgin barber Emilio Chavez added a little twist to the back of his client's transformative haircut, as seen in a TikTok video.  (Emilio Chavez)
Elgin barber Emilio Chavez added a little twist to the back of his client’s transformative haircut, as seen in a TikTok video. (Emilio Chavez)

“He went from looking like he was 60 to looking like he was 30,” Chavez said.

He said that during the Covid-19 epidemic, many men grew their hair long while working from home and could not go to the barber or hairdresser. He said they tried to correct their behavior once they got in and he had his first try at working with long hair, which can be challenging.

“You need to look for it and be careful about it,” Chavez said.

“You end up relying on past experience, doing some guesswork, and figuring out what to do for the new style,” he said. It may take two or three visits for the look to be perfect.

It also helps that he has good skills in using the iPhone 15, which he uses when getting haircuts for clients who let him shoot videos. Editing with the CapCut app takes anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours, he said.

He said these videos are a great guerilla marketing tool.

Not only has his work been viewed millions of times, he said, but based on what he’s seen on social media, the videos have people flying in for his services from as far away as Arizona and Texas. Beyond this, the videos were also shared by others, helping to grow their social media base.

Emilio Chavez opened his new barbershop, Ace Hair Studios, in downtown Elgin with partner Arnold Noraky in January.  (Mike Danahey/Courier News)
In January, Emilio Chavez opened his new barbershop, Ace Hair Studios, in downtown Elgin with partner Arnold Noraky. (Mike Danahey/Courier News)

Until January, Chavez was working at In The Cut Hair Studios in downtown Elgin; he and business partner Arnold Noraky opened their own store, Ace Hair Studios, at 164 Division St.

“We felt it was time to turn to ourselves,” he said.

Because of his online fame, Chavez can charge between $125 and $150 for the cut. He said he usually makes an average of 35 appointments a week.

To her, haircuts are the male equivalent of makeup for women. She said some women told her it made their boyfriends more beautiful.

“Having a clean cut makes you feel good, fresh and completely different,” Chavez said.

Mike Danahey is a freelance reporter for The Courier News.

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