Josue Navarro strolls in through the back door of Bellwether a little after 10 a.m. Thursday. His black hair is pulled up in a bun. He’s wearing a red bandana, a denim jacket, camouflage pants and white Chuck Taylors.
Six 150-pound sacks of coffee beans are stacked near the door. Bellwether, which is located on East Colfax, doubles as a barber shop and a place to get your caffeine fix. Navarro walks past them and sets down his black suitcase.
“My mobile kit,” Navarro says.
It’s a busy day for the 24-year-old who’s known to his clientele as “Sway.” He has 10 appointments scheduled, but that number could change depending on how many house calls come in. It’s possible Denver Nuggets shooting guard Gary Harris hits him up for a cut. If he does, Navarro wants to be prepared.
Since moving to Denver in 2015, Navarro has carved out a unique niche for himself as the Nuggets’ unofficial team barber. Navarro started cutting Mike Miller’s hair two years ago. Now his client list includes Harris, Will Barton, Nikola Jokic, Wilson Chandler, Darrell Arthur, Emmanuel Mudiay, Trey Lyles and Torrey Craig.
“It’s starting to become a handful,” Navarro says with a laugh.
Navarro started cutting hair in 2010.
At the time, he was a high school junior living in Amarillo, Texas, trying to save a couple bucks.
“My mom didn’t want to pay for (hair cuts for) both me and my brother,” Navarro says. “I wasn’t working because I was still in school, but I still wanted to look fresh. So I started cutting my own hair.”
Navarro learned the basics by pulling up tutorials on YouTube. Before long, his hobby turned into a side hustle. Navarro cut hair for his friends and family, charging anywhere between $5 and $10 a pop.
Eventually, Navarro transformed his bedroom into a makeshift barber shop.
“I started with a wooden chair that spun a little bit,” Navarro says. “Then I moved up to a kitchen stool that went up and down. Then finally I got my own barber chair.”
At 18, Navarro realized he wanted to make a career out of cutting hair. He’d fared well booking appointments in his bedroom. But in order to take the next step, he decided to enroll at the Lubbock Hair Academy to get licensed. He graduated in August 2013, moved back to Amarillo and got his first real job at a placed called Salon Gallery for Hair.
Navarro took to it well. He worked his way into another hair care place in Amarillo, R Salon. During peak times, he did 60 hair cuts a week. Navarro liked his work but knew he wanted more.
“I was doing research to see how far a barber could go, just as far as income,” Navarro says. “I started to find out that there’s really no limit to being a barber. You become the barber you want to become. Whether it’s just owning a local barber shop where you want to be or being on set for Jay-Z getting $500 for a haircut. There’s no limit to it.”
Navarro reached out to other barbers on Instagram who worked with professional athletes and entertainers. Some responded. Others didn’t. Nick Castellanos was one of the barbers who replied back. Castellanos is well known in barber’s circles mostly because of his most famous client: LeBron James.
In September 2015, Navarro moved to Denver.
He’d gone back and forth with Castellanos a couple times by then. He knew Castellanos and a couple other barbers were hosting a class in Denver that month. Navarro already had uncles and cousins in the city, and he knew he wanted to meet Castellanos in person. So a day before the class, Navarro officially made the move from Amarillo to Denver.
“Whenever I met Nick in that class, we hit it off really well,” Navarro says. “He said anytime I had a question I could hit him up via text, call him, whatever. It was a very humbling experience, especially me being from Amarillo, Texas.”
About a week later, Navarro caught a break when he learned that Miller, who’d played with LeBron in Miami and Cleveland, was moving to Denver. Miller had just signed a one-year deal with the Nuggets and needed a new barber. Castellanos connected the two.
Every two weeks, Miller booked an appointment with Navarro.
“I cut him for the first year he was here,” Navarro says. “The second year he was here I picked up two more players. And then towards the end of the second year, I pretty much had half the team.”
Navarro now works with more than half of the players on the Nuggets roster. Last summer, he even took on Nuggets assistant coach Wes Unseld Jr. as a client.
“He takes his time. He’s very precise. He’s very professional,” Unseld Jr. says. “The convenience that he will do house calls, he’ll come here to the office, he’ll travel if necessary. Just all that wrapped into one. Bottom line — he’s just a good barber.”
Navarro averages between 35 and 40 appointments a week in Denver. Appointments at Bellwether start at $35. House calls start at $100. Part of Navarro’s success, he says, is his ability to establish trust between him and the people whose hair he maintains.
“At the end of the day, we’re not just barbers,” Navarro says. “There are people in here who need some type of therapy, who need to let out what they need to let out. You definitely develop a bond more than, ‘Oh, this guys just cuts my hair.'”
It doesn’t hurt either that Navarro is willing to come to his clients. He’ll make house calls sometimes as late as 10 p.m. He’s willing to be flexible with NBA players whose lives get hectic from October through May.
“Swayyyyyyyyyy,” Harris says. “He gets me right. Sway is a good dude. He’s a cool dude. He takes his craft seriously.
“I’m going to hit him up tonight.”
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