No fading away: instilling belief in disadvantaged youth
Bernard Zephrine is developing a reputation, not just as an acclaimed barber, but as an inspiration to disadvantaged youth in Denmark.
As a role model in troubled areas like Ishøj and Nørrebro, he shows teenagers there is an alternative way to achieving success than crime – that the American dream isn’t exclusive to the United States alone.
Never slow in Vesterbo
I meet Zephrine standing in front of his barber’s shop, dressed in old school hip-hop baggy pants chatting to a friend. He is a small guy full of energy and enthusiasm, who speaks with a pretty badass New York slang.
I’m excited to hear about him, his philosophy and ‘the fade’ – a unique way of cutting hair that is hisvery own import from the US.
His shop in Vesterbro is almost brand new – he moved his business there just four months ago – but it’s busy.Beside him, two other hairdressers are working for him. They seem so focused that I almost don’t dare to disturb them by saying hello.
The dream, his destiny
While Zephrine is fluttering around a young guy’s head, cutting and shaving, he starts to tell me his story.
Growing up in some of New York’s deprived areas in the 1980s and 90s, he learned life the hard way, surrounded by violence, crimes and drugs throughout his youth. There was nothing that would keep him and his friends off the streets, and when it seemed there was no perspective anymore, he decided to kick off a new part of his life and move to Copenhagen.
He pauses for a second to put on some new tunes. Seconds later I find myself in the midst of three hairdressers rapping to Drake and feel like joining in – this shop has a great vibe.
Zephrine became a hairdresser by destiny. “I never wanted to be a hairdresser,” he explained. “I only did it for fun, but at some point I realised I was actually good at it and decided to do it for a living.”
Rags to riches
When Zephrine first arrived, he worked for a youth project in Nørrebro and occasionally gave the local youths haircuts for free.
“So many people came and told me: ‘Hey, I love what you do – can you give me that cut too?” he recalled. So eventually he started to take a little money for it.
Within three years he had his own shop, but that soon became too small, and now he’s the proud owner of the new NYC Barber – a true story of rags to riches in Vesterbro (Vesterbrogade 91e).
Cuts and courage
Zephrine’s aim is to make people feel great. “When they walk out of the shop, they walk upright with a smile on their face, look self-confident and feel good. That’s what I want to do,” he said.
And free life advice comes at no cost with a new cut. He wants to be a role model and for kids to see how far he has come and what one can accomplish by battling all the hurdles along the way.
“I think it’s important to develop what is in yourself, what you have inside of you. If you really love what you do, you can make it anywhere.”
As the last sentence suggests, his New York blood helps a lot. “The kids love the US and New York, and they listen to what I say. I feel I can have an influence on them and give them some advice and help them find the talent within themselves,” he said – just like he did with
Zephrine offers courses and workshops in haircutting and plans to open a barbers’ school to give more youths the opportunity to follow his path and stay off the streets and away from drugs and crime.
The concept seems to work. “I found my two employees because they messaged me on Facebook and said they liked what I did and they wanted to be a part of it. That’s exactly what I encourage: following your dream and making the best out of yourself.”
One question is unanswered though. What is the ‘fade’ that everyone seems to be so crazy about?
The ‘fade’, explained Zephrine, is a special cut that originated in the US hip-hop scene. Only a very few people know how to cut it and he is the only one in Copenhagen.
“Instead of just shaving off the sides and leaving something on the top like all Danes do, you carefully shave the hair off little by little so it flows and looks very smooth.”
It looks complicated, but Zephrine offers some encouragement.
That’s real encouragement, but I will leave it to the expert this time – even though I have often considered maybe becoming a hairdresser myself one day. And now, I feel strongely compelled.