THE place is as unassuming as the man who runs it. But this small, cramped room in the underbelly of Mandaluyong serves as the office of a barber who has gained a cult following especially among ball players, all because he keeps them a cut above the rest.
Welcome to Lar’s Republic.
This joint is hard to spot, with no neon lights or fancy signs you usually see fronting most barber shop, just an old, nondescript signage at the gate. Then again, Lars, as he’s fondly called, doesn’t give ordinary haircuts, which is why he’s a hit with PBA stars, local and foreign alike.
“Iba ang mga gupit dito eh, pang-player talaga, maangas, nakakabata,” explained GlobalPort guard Joseph Yeo, a relatively new convert who switched from his usual salon to Lar’s Republic only last month.
“Yung sa mga salon, pang-model eh, dito pang-ballers. Every two weeks nandito kami para pagdating ng game, maayos ka tingnan, maangas ang hitsura mo, maangas ang dating. Sa NBA, alam mo naman tayo mahilig gumaya dun eh, yung mga gupit ng player dun may style na rin, mga guhit, at kuha ni Lars kaya okay kami dito,” the 32-year-old added.
On this day alone, seven PBA players converged here and waited for hours for their turn on Lars lone barber’s chair. Laughter typically filled the room, with on-court rivals casting aside animosity and turning into buddies.
You see Rico Maierhofer playing a prank on GlobalPort teammate Roi Sumang. Blackwater’s Carlo Lastimosa gets ribbed for owning a fancy SUV during his rookie year, before being heckled that the Commissioner’s Cup’s leading scorer is bound to have a flat game because of his flat-top hair cut.
“Ang ganda, mukha kang tanga,” Sumang retaliated as soon as he saw Maierhofer’s Ultraman-inspired cut.
This is a typical day for the barber, standing around for hours with nary a break or a complaint. The man’s more than happy dishing the ultimate assist: making the players look good so they can play better.
“Minsan nga yung mga nagti-tirahan sa game, pag andito, plastikan,” Lars blurted out laughing, as his place apparently has become something like a Geneva for warring basketball players. “’What up, bro,’ ganun sila, o ‘Who’s your next game, bro?’ Peace sila rito.”
“Masaya rin dito kasi nagkikita kaming mga player, nakakapagkwentuhan,” said Marvin Hayes, also of GlobalPort and one of Lars' first PBA clients since 2009.
“Tsaka nung nagpagupit ako dito, tumaas ang kumpyansa ko sa sarili ko, naging Mr. Pogi ako ng Mandaluyong,” Hayes added, partly joking on that last bit of course.
This is one reason why PBA players flock to Lar’s Republic. Another reason could be explained by the shop’s own hashtag: #LarsKnowsHair. He’s always known hair, specifically how to bring out the swagger in a person’s look. And he has 15 years of self-taught experience, backed by the countless satisfied returning clients, most of them elite athletes.
Born and raised in Pangasinan, Lars moved to Metro Manila to study in college. He lived with his uncle who then had a barber shop, and it’s there where Lars found his real education.
“Nakita ko yung barber shop malaki kita tapos marami ka pa nakikilala, at yun ang nagustuhan ko, meeting interesting people. Marami pang pumupunta na big time,” Lars recalled of the time his passion for cutting hair began.
It was no ordinary passion, though. Lars sought a different path, a more eccentric style, one that’s close to his heart.
“Mahilig ako sa movies, yung Hollywood, kasi dun ko nakikita yung mga swag na gupit, mga high fade, flat top na kakaiba, tapos ang hilig ko pa na music is hip-hop,” said Lars.
“Salang agad ako. Tiningnan ko 'yung paggupit nila, basics, paano pagbalabal, tapos salang agad. Walang practice-practice. Tapos napansin ko mabilis ako natuto, kapa kaagad, andali ko natuto sa iba-ibang style,” he added.
Alaska Aces center Samigue Eman, another loyal customer, agreed.
“Gusto nga sya ng imports kasi kuha nya agad, ang himay, ang linis, kuha kagaya sa States,” he said.
“Black guys kasi, pati yung mga Fil-Ams, metikoloso sa buhok. Minsan three days o one week, balik agad sila. Gusto nila fresh lagi, tapos ayaw pa nila yung minamasahe o pinapamper, gupit lang, clippers, tapos na,” added Lars, who claims to have popularized hereabouts the trendy frohawk with part lines that many basketball players now rock.
It wasn’t all easy for Lars, though, when he started. Soon as he learned he can cut hair well, he left his uncle’s shop and tried out with another popular chain. He quit immediately after a week and set up his own shop.
“Passion ko haircut pero ang passion ko may halong art,” Lars explained his decision. “Dapat may art, may twist para naiiba. Pag pareho ka lang na parang walang kaibahan, bakit pa, diba?”
Aside from focusing on owning a certain style and market, Lars also refused walk-ins, choosing to roll with a more personal clientele.
“Pag tinanggap ko kasi lahat, hindi na maayos ang gawa mo nun pag sobrang mass production. Hindi naman pera ang habol ko rito. Hindi ko rin habol sumikat. Masaya ako na gusto ko ginagawa ko, tapos tropa mo na rin ang clients mo. Mas personal ang relationship,” he said.
It’s quite a gamble for a start-up shop, but it has eventually paid off well.
Since starting with Alaska assistant coach Topex Robinson who brought some of his players to Lars, Lar’s Republic’s clients (including PBA’s biggest stars like Calvin Abueva, Greg Slaughter, Marc Pingris, and JC Intal to name a few) quickly grew through word of mouth, with most people entering the shop throwing full trust in Lars' skills.
“Ang iba may ideas, pero madalas ako na bahala dun,” Lars said.
“Ganun ako pagdating ko dito, sabi ko kay Lars, paps ikaw na bahala,” Eman added.
Sumang, the GlobalPort rookie, shared the same experience basically for many of Lars satisfied clients. “Kami naman ganun lang nung una, try lang, hanggang syempre nagustuhan namin at bumalik kami,” the former University of the East standout said.
“Si Paolo Taha [also of GlobalPort] lang naman maarte, sya lang yung pagdating dito may dalang magazine para ipakita gupit nya,” Yeo butts in, and the room bursts in laughter.
Social media only widened Lars’ reach, making the in-demand barber’s days busier and more tiring than ever. But the man himself doesn’t mind the fatigue; he in fact welcomes it.
“Syempre pag nagawa mong maganda ang trabaho mo, masaya ka na. At masaya ako na maraming pumupunta at medyo napagod ako, masaya ako nun. Pag konti lang, parang kulang ang saya mo eh. At nagawa mo ang gusto mo, yun ang reward sa akin,” Lars said.
“For me, a barber has no retirement. Hangga’t kaya ko mag-haircut, maghe-haircut ako. Mamamatay ako sa barber shop siguro,” he added laughing.