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Meet Donavan Duelas of DTLE in Downtown LA

Today we’d like to introduce you to Donavan Duelas.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Donavan. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
My journey into hair was a pretty roundabout one, but also a testament that everything happens for a reason.

I started edging myself up in high school because none of the barbers that would cut my hair at the time could ever make my hairline as straight as I wanted it. From there, my curiosity led me to try my hand at doing an actual haircut. After a few messed up haircuts on my friends, cutting hair became one of my side hustles, and was the main way I made my lunch money. But it was not my passion nor my plan to pursue hair.

In high school, my passion was graphic design. I had already taught myself how to use almost all of the main programs that designers used, I had clients that I would make custom MySpace layouts for, I would design and print my own T-shirts to match my shoes, and I started and ran a clothing line with one of my friends.

Shortly after graduating high school, I was able to land a job as a designer with an electronics company, solely off of a portfolio of random projects I had done in my free time. I was still in community college working towards getting a design degree, but in my mind, this was it. I made it in the field that I dreamt of. But after about two years, I found myself waking up every morning miserable, dreading going into work. I didn’t understand why. I was already doing what I wanted in life, I had a nice car that I loved, why wasn’t I happy? As a 20/21 year old, what more could I want?

After doing some soul searching, I realized that design became just a job to me. It was no longer my passion, nor did I even view it as my career anymore. So I reassessed what I really wanted not only in my career, but in life, and I decided to pursue hair. I was still cutting my friends’ hair on the weekends, and I figured that hair would be my avenue to be my own boss, have control over my own success, all while still providing myself a creative outlet for my own sanity.

However, the reality of life and having bills to pay meant that I couldn’t just quit my job. I had that car payment, along with other smaller bills that kept me chained to my job. I was trapped. But ask, and you shall receive. I’ll never forget the morning that it happened. It was a morning that would forever change the path of my life.

It was about a week before my birthday, July 2014. I woke up that morning, dread to go to work was extra strong that day. I texted my supervisor that I would be getting in a little later that day, just so I could sleep a little longer and put off going into work. By the time I left home, there was a manhunt going on in the neighborhoods near my house going down Western Ave, causing a lot of stops and go traffic. The lady behind me was distracted by what was going on and not watching the road, and she slammed into my car, sandwiching me between her and the car in front of me. Thankfully I was unharmed, but my car was declared a total loss.

As sad as I was over the loss of my car, I did not realize at the time that it was the answer to my prayers. The ball and chain that was my car payment was taken off of me. So I hit the reset button on my life. In the weeks following the accident, I took the leap. I quit my job, dropped out of school, and went all in on cutting hair.

Since then, I’ve never woken up dreading work ever again.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It definitely wasn’t smooth sailing. As with anything that’s worthwhile in this life, it had its fair share of challenges. It was a rough adjustment for me, as a 22 years old who was used to a pretty decent income for my age, to then give that up to charge my friends $5 for a haircut in my garage or at my barber school.

Of course, schooling itself had its challenges. As I progressed in my skills, my instructor would further challenge me. Just when I thought I was getting really good, the next day at school, my instructor would nitpick every single thing about my haircuts. It frustrated me to the point of tearing up sometimes. But in hindsight, I realize now that he was just raising the bar for me as I progressed.

Fast forward to when I finished school, I was able to get a chair at my friend Brandon’s shop in Cerritos called House of Blends. My first full-time position as an officially licensed barber and I was surrounded by extremely talented barbers. Immediately on day one, I noticed the difference between their quality of work and mine. I took it upon myself to make sure that I would not be labeled as the weak link in the shop and that I would rise to the quality standards of my coworkers.

That alone is already a tough, slow grind. But on top of that, I had virtually zero clientele to even get my reps in on. The shop being appointment for years before my arrival, nobody in the city knew that there was now a barber there accepting walk-ins.

Ask anybody in the service industry, and they’ll tell you, it takes a lot of time and struggles to finally establish a decent clientele. And I had to do that multiple times in my career. Not only in Cerritos, but also when I started working at another barbershop in Carson, and then again here in Downtown. I’ve had to rebuild my clientele over and over again. But I did it all in the name of progression. In the name of growth. With every new stop came new opportunities. Those opportunities are what led me to where I am now, a stylist here at Downtown Leche, and an educator.

Alright – so let’s talk business.  What else should we know about you and your career so far?
Legally, on paper, I am classified and licensed as a Barber. However, when it comes to hair, I consider myself more as an overall Stylist. It was always my intention from the very beginning to do women’s hair as well as men’s hair. I want to know everything there is to know about hair. Barbering was just my way in.

My goal in the hair industry is to make a lasting impact. To leave my mark on the industry. Whether that means becoming a huge influential name or just being known by my peers as a genuinely good person. Whatever my role ends up being, I just hope that I make a difference in some way.

And for those outside of the industry, my goal is to be an example of what our industry has to offer. I feel like this industry does not get the respect it deserves. But that change in perception starts from within. Us, as barbers/stylists don’t get the respect, we deserve, and it’s our own fault. Too many of us don’t respect our own craft enough to treat it as a business. Many of us treat it as just a job. And many of us lack the ambition to learn not just the “how” to cut that strand of hair, but “why” you are cutting it that way and how that will alter how the hair reacts for the client.

We don’t “just cut hair”, it is not just a job, it is a full-fledged profession. We make people feel good when they look in the mirror. We are able to change peoples’ perceptions of themselves and others. It’s not just about the hair, it’s what it says about you.

But beyond that, although I love doing hair, it does not define me. I am more than just a Stylist, I am also a Photographer, and of course, a Designer. I still utilize my graphic design background and skill set very often in my career. Therefore, I consider myself an Artist. And yes, I always put a capital A on “Artist” intentionally.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
The way I see it, no matter how turbulent of a road my journey has been, I wouldn’t change a single thing about it. Everything that I have gone through had prepared and led me to this point, and I am happy with where I’m at. That’s not to say I am content because I am still progressing, and nowhere near where I want to end up. But I am happy with my trajectory and where I am headed.

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Image Credit:
@ryanmarcelbeasley

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