When Nereida Castelan’s (NeNe’s) brother bought her her first set of clippers in 11th grade, who knew that would’ve brought about the birth of NeNe Fadez…not NeNe, that’s for sure. The 22-year-old, former Christian Brothers University student was pursuing a degree in graphic design when she decided she wanted to focus her attention on a different type of line project.
“I knew I wanted to work with my hands and I knew I wanted to do something with art, but I never considered barbering as a form of artistic expression,” NeNe said.
Originally, she was just helping her brother and dad out, chopping them up here and there. During that time, she was also involved with Service Over Self, a local, faith-based non-profit that serves underserved communities through home repair and leadership development. Every summer, they bring in college students from across the country to immerse themselves in service opportunities—and if the college kids needed a quick chop, NeNe was there to take on the job.
And when the pandemic swept in, causing many barbershops to close, she maintained her presence, grew her client base, and further pursued her passion for barbering by leaving her full time job, going to barber school, and accepting an apprentice spot at a local shop called Faded Culture Barbershop.
“I used to only chop my close friends, but now I’m cutting up strangers and developing a relationship with them,” NeNe said. “It’s a privilege for me to have my hands on their heads.”
Now, it’s 2020, and somehow it’s still an anomaly when a woman takes up space in a male-dominated field—but that’s been done throughout history, so you think we’d be used to it by now, right?…Wrong…
“You get people asking ‘Do you really know how to chop?’ And it’s like obviously I do… I’m here,” NeNe said. “But I don’t take it offensively. I know people have horror stories of barbers screwing up their hair. But just know, I’m not gonna leave any of my clients with a bald head.”
NeNe is not the first female to break down the barriers established in the barbering business, and based upon our conversation, she surely won’t be the last. There are a number of local ladies leading in this lane, and that’ll only continue to increase year after year.
“I take pride in being a female, but I carry a different kind of energy with that—Like, the other female barbers that are in school with me, ” NeNe said. “Like yes, they are female, but they’re like bosses. They carry themselves like bosses, and I look up to that.”
You’d also think that this topsy turvy year would made it a bit difficult to forecast for the future, but not for NeNe. Her vision for what she wants her business to be includes a lengthy list aspirational goals like setting up a mobile barber shop to meet clients where they are, owning a franchise of barber shops both in Memphis and across the country, and setting up a YouTube channel or leading barber workshops for others to follow in her footsteps.
“There’s nothing like watching a good cut come together, after all the blending and fading,” NeNe said. “Like when you leave people looking crispy, and they look at themselves in the mirror, and they crack a smile. I just sit back and think, dang I did that. It’s that customer satisfaction for me.