Nasir Sobhani also known as The Streets Barber, "Clean Cut, Clean Start" has gone from average to addict and then all the way to giving back in society by cutting the hair of homeless people on the street. He has changed his life around and is a truely inspiring person. I am honoured to have had the opportunity to talk with Nasir and share his story.
Q: When and how did you start getting into the art of hair dressing/cutting hair? Did you ever think this was going to be your career path?
A: There is a huge difference between hair dressing and barbering. They use different techniques; different tools there are different styles that come with it. I use to think hairdressers were pompous and arrogant but then I realized that some hairdressers are so cool and swagged out. What they’re all about is giving a more natural finish with lots of movement and texture. Barbers are all about that clean, sharp, faded line up very detailed work, so it’s very different. I started to incorporate some hairdressing styles, so it’s a bit of a mix so I can be more fluid. My friends at Collingwood (Vancouver high school) would ask me to bring beard trimmers and I'd smoke a joint and think I could cut hair. We were all convincing each other it was really good for a person who had no idea what he was doing. I was so idiotic to not realize the difference between a barber and a hairdresser. The concept of a barber was so foreign to me. I was so closed minded to think this could be a career. When I was using drugs for so long I was so ashamed I had to do something respectful and I thought that being a respectful position meant going to university and doing something that was far away from hairdressing. For a long time, people were telling me to cut hair but I didn’t want to do that. I went to the university of Toronto for one year but I did nothing but get high. I volunteered and worked as a youth worker and did different things with the community and came back to the west coast and attended Capilano University. I dropped out my fourth year though and went to rehab on Commercial Drive. I had gotten into cocaine. I was shooting it up with a needle. I've been sober for 4 years now and every year I have been sober I tattoo a line on my hand. It wasn’t until rehab and right before then that my family encouraged me to follow my passions. They felt that I should become a barber and It wasn’t until I took away this negative stigma that was destroying my self-confidence. After that I moved to Melbourne and got my first gig at a barbershop, cutting hair. I learned as much as I could and picked up tips. I’d go on YouTube and search how to cut hair. I’d go to barber shops and watch them cut hair for hours. After two years one barber said I could apprentice under him and for two years I’ve travelled the world doing what I love.
Q: Did you think “The Streets’ Barber” would become this big?
A: Hell no, I know it's going to get bigger and I can’t even imagine how much bigger it's going to get. I’m so blessed, I think the passion and drive that I have to do this is crazy. I’ve never thought of this until recently, but cutting hair has become my new drug. When I would go to sleep with 80 cents in my wallet everyday when I was a junkie and I’d wake up for enough money for an 8 ball of coke. I don’t understand how, but I was driven to get high. If people put half the energy into doing something they love we would have a world full of super heroes. When you're a drug addict you're a super hero. Addicts will come up with magical powers to get high everyday, crack's not cheap, but you can do it because you figure out a way. So put half that energy into becoming a doctor, a farmer, or a gardener.
Q: What is your advice for people struggling with drug addiction?
A: Take it day by day. People are focusing on how they’re going to live the rest of their lives. Try to find another pathway for releasing, find a different outlet. Don’t be bored, people that are bored tend to get high too much, pick up a hobby. There needs to be structure and discipline, that’s what happens in rehab. A lot of drug addicts don’t have routine or willpower and they give up. Think of the 24 hours ahead of you, live day by day.
Q: What do you hope for the future for “The Street’s Barber”/ what do you envision?
A: The Streets Barber is going to become a foundation. I’m going to have a team of street barbers internationally throughout the world and once a week we are going to go out as a squad and go to different service opportunities. Prisons, refugee centers, orphanages, and give free haircuts. I want to be able to fund The Street Barbers throughout the world, internationally.
Q: What is the most memorable experience you have had cutting the homeless’ hair on the streets?
A: I’ve had people sell heroin in front of me, I’ve had people tell me crazy stories that I can’t believe. People have gotten into fights; I’ve had to cut people’s hair when they have had open meth sores. I’ve had to do so many crazy things that I can’t explain. This one guy was near me while I was on the street, he was so drunk and stumbling around. These two cops go over to make sure he's okay and ask for his ID. The guy sees these two cops and goes to get his ID and then starts to run so fast. I go back to work and I look to my right and I see this kid tip toeing and coming through and he goes “Psst, yo, do you have time to cut my hair.” I gave him a haircut and he sobered up. He seemed to be going through a hard time and was only around 17 years old.
Q: Hearing the stories of people on the streets must be both invigorating and heartbreaking. What’s it like being involved on a personal level and getting to know the background of these people.
A: At first I couldn’t handle it, I would come home all depressed and sooner than later it made me realize that everyone has a story and no one wants to be homeless and go through drug addiction. They don’t wake up one day and think, “I’m going to sit in my piss and beg for money.” Everyone has a story and some people never actually have a chance from the get go. When they are raped at 9 years old by their dad, put into prostitution, or smoke crack when they’re 12 years old thinking it was a cigarette, these people don’t have the love and support. People are so quick to judge and people are so ignorant. Although I have become desensitized about some of the stories it has become a bit of a normality, which is sad to say, but when you’re exposed to it constantly, rather than being cold about it you try to be as compassionate and understanding as possible. The only way to help someone out through all times is through love. In a world that is so dark, love is the only light that can help people see. As of last week I started calling it light.
Q: Can you talk about a time of hopelessness for you and who or what pulled you through that despair?
A: When I was shoving so much coke into my nose that it couldn’t fit anymore I thought, “What the fuck am I doing?” So I started hitting the needle and I was doing that all night and was looking for money and I was so hopeless and I needed to help myself. I got some of my mom’s pocket change and go out on the streets. I’d look at my arms and they were all black and blue. I’m looking at the grey, gross, muggy Vancouver, I’ve taken my moms money, my girlfriend left me, my friends left me and I had nothing going for me. My mental health was deteriorating and I had become someone else. It was definitely god that brought me through this. It is something that is higher and majestic, something that can help you get through times that you need, a great force or a great power to aid you with, that’s what it is. I don’t have proof but I have faith that god exists and that helps me get on through the day, just knowing brings confidence and security.
I am a Baha’i faith, which is a religion that believes in all religions, and if you want to be a Baha’i you have to help humanity and that is the most important thing to do. Not in the name of god, you just do it in the name of love. When I’m doing the streets barber work its purely because the Baha’i faith emphasizes how important that is, that’s why I do it. 80% of my clients don’t know what religion I am and that’s not the purpose of what I do.
Q: I'm interested in this period of your life where you've gone from privilege, to addiction, and now to giving at a very high level can you talk about this for a bit?
A: I grew up in Japan in a slightly privileged area then we moved to Canada. After 2 or 3 years of us being in Canada the market didn’t go well and my dad had to sell his business. The bank repossessed our house and my mom was selling her wedding jewelry to pay for the months mortgage. We lived in some guy’s basement near Grouse. We still hadn’t gotten to the stage where we are comfortably living. They’re still struggling but everyone looks after themselves in our family. No one depends on each other anymore. Although money may not be an issue now, there isn’t an abundance of it. As much as we have gone through financial troubles in our family my parents are still some of the happiest people in the world.
My dad is the most humble, appreciative person in the world and because of that mentality it has helped me not go from one extreme to another. They weren’t possessed by possessions. Because of that it allowed me to be free from privilege.
Q: What has been the outcome of your work/who inspires you? Do you see other people going out on the streets and cutting hair?
A: There’s a guy called Mark Bustos doing the same thing as me. I met him, he lives in New York and he cuts heavy-duty rich clients hair and then he goes on the streets on his days off. We started within one month of each other. My parents are huge inspirations and everyone who is constantly showing me love and support. I’m getting international love and it’s amazing. Its not my work, it’s service, and you can’t say this is me and what I’ve done because I’m just doing something that many people have been doing but for some reason I’m being recognized. The work that people out there are doing that is similar inspires me, the same way my work inspires them. I’m nothing, I’m the dust under your shoes Sarah. I’m not this majestic hero I’m just a person doing work that we should all be doing.
It’s crazy, I’m getting pictures and tagged on so many different things “this is the streets barber works.” No, fuck, it's not about me. Don’t squash people’s dreams of doing some awesome service opportunity I don't own it. They’re reaching homeless people across the world; places I cant even fathom getting to. This is not the “streets barbers work” this is our work. We have been gifted to be in this world for one reason. We all have a talent we have to find. Once we find the talent that's been destined for us were going to benefit either one person or many. People don’t realize that there are 7 billion people in the world with a beautiful fucking talent. It’s true Sarah maybe with the way you are articulating stories this is your talent and you’re going to inspire other people to do something. Use this talent. Don’t give up.