Meet the man being the chair, Ralph Cole the Barber, a native North Carolinian U.S Army veteran, turned entrepreneur extraordinaire.
Ralph Cole’s journey into in the hair and barber industry began during his childhood, being raised by a determined, industrious mother. Cole recalls, “I watched my mom do hair on the side for extra money. My mom was a hard worker.” Upon him joining the military in 2013, Cole came into a time when he needed extra income, and the only thing he could think of was his mother, and how she was able to make ends meet. He decided he would cut hair for his fellow servicemen. In 2014, he bought his first pair of clippers, and, unbeknownst to him at the time, his career was solidified.
In no time Cole had honed his barbering abilities. He says, “I was getting very good at it, and at that point I decided to get into a barber shop to get more clientele, more money, and get a little bit better.” He went to the Olympia Barber School in Olympia, Washington, and it was there that he realized all the opportunities the hair industry had to offer. Before that he thought of barbers differently. Cole reveals, “In my mind I always saw a barber as someone that works at the barber shop, cutting hair, behind the chair all day, joking and laughing, and just having fun all day at work. I didn’t know how much money barbers could actually make.”
With the encouragement of his barbering instructor, Cole traveled to Los Angeles, CA to experience the major barber competitions that take place. There he was able to hear first-hand accounts of how the hair industry changed hairdressers’ lives. Cole says, “Also, I got a total different view on it because every time you look at a movie or the TV, or any celebrity, somebody needs to do their hair.” That is when he reached his aha! moment and told his instructor, “You know, this is something I want to do!”
In the August of 2016 Cole suffered an injury that caused him to leave the military early, and his life took an unfortunate turn. He shares, “…the first two months of me being out of the military I was actually homeless. The only thing I had to fall back on was being a barber. Nobody even knew it. I didn’t tell my family. I didn’t tell my friends. I didn’t even tell the guys that I was working with at the barbershop.”
During this time he had no one to fall back on either. He says that he would often go to his friends’ houses, asking to use their bathrooms, and would hop in the shower to freshen up. To not be a burden on anyone, he would be the first one to make it to the shop and the last to leave so that nobody would see him living out of in his jeep, or sleeping overnight at the barbershop.
Even still, Cole remained strong and resilient until he was able to get on his own two feet and find a place of his own. Now Cole is doing great and his career is taking off. You can see him now cutting the hair of NFL players such as, Otha Peters, Nazair Jones and Arthur Brown. He became an educator and platform artist for Woody’s for Men and Clubman Pinaud, doing shows along the West Coast and even Puerto Rico. At this very moment, Ralph is studying to become Ralph Cole the Instructor at Olympia Barber College as well.
Although he has obtained a great deal of success, Cole professes that the best thing about being a barber is the people you meet, and having the “…opportunity to have a conversation with someone in that chair. You never know what someone is going through in their life. A lot of times clients will tell barbers things that they can’t tell their wife or their friends.”
It is clear that Ralph is the type of man to always look to the future, and has set many goals for himself. His newest venture is to set up various barber pop-up shops across the country. He discloses, “I was thinking of starting it in downtown Seattle… I want to be able to show people what the hair industry and the barber industry has to offer.”
He has also vocalized his interest in starting a socially conscious movement: “In the future I was thinking about starting a program where I can go into homeless shelters, donate clippers, teach them how to create a source of income for themselves and their families, and give them the same opportunity and inside-look that I was granted.”
Ralph is looking to “step outside the box,” and go where no barber has gone before. “I’m just trying to take advantage of any opportunity I can get,” he notes. This includes magazines, teaching at local hair schools, and establishing entrepreneurial programs for adolescent and children.
“For myself, I would like to get to the point where I can make a documentary and share my stories with the rest of the world,” he discloses. He adds that he would also feature other prominent hair-artists in the industry, as well as colleagues of his.
If one really wants to realize their dreams Cole declares, “Try to take a look at where you see yourself being, and go towards that. A lot of people talk about the things they want to do in life, but will never take the first steps…If you surround yourself with negative people then that’s what you’re going to become.”
Ralph Cole’s story is one of inspiration and it is just getting started. His gratitude and passion is palpable. When we asked him what got him to this point he simply said, “…going through what I have gone through, I have no excuse to not be able to take my career to the next level.”