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Haircuts for the homeless offer cutting-edge looks to those in need

Aug. 18, 2014 at 6:32 PM ET

A high-end New York hair stylist is getting even higher marks for giving the cutting-edge look to the homeless.

When Mark Bustos isn’t working at Three Squares Studio — which has been praised in GQ, Details and Vanity Fair — he can be found roaming the city streets, offering sophisticated trims to those who need it most.

“There is so much negativity in this world today,” Bustos told TODAY.com via email, “and I just simply wanted to bring some positive energy and hope into this world.”

Bustos said he’s been offering free haircuts to the poor since a May 2012 trip to his family’s native Philippines, where he temporarily rented a barber's chair to offer his services to underprivileged kids. He meant it, he said, as a tribute to his girlfriend’s late father, who used to get his haircuts at that shop.

“My most vivid memory of one particular child’s reaction was a simple smile,” Bustos said. “He was 12 years old, and so shy, and rarely made eye contact with anybody. He had no shoes on his feet and looked extremely rough and callused. During his haircut, he looked upset the entire time and didn't look up once, until the cut was complete. One man in the shop said, ‘Now you look like you're from NYC!’ He looked up and cracked the most unforgettable smile.”

Bustos, who kicked off his hairstyling career at age 14 out of his parents' garage, said that he's “never made a penny in my life (that) hasn't had to do with hair.” Although he says he wishes appearances weren't so vital, he notes that people are treated better when their hair is styled neatly.

“I do believe people with a proper, professional haircut receive more respect than those who do not have a proper haircut,” Bustos said. “Having a proper haircut also gives the recipient much more confidence.”

Bustos strolls the streets of New York most Sundays to continue the tradition he started in the Philippines and later duplicated in Jamaica, Costa Rica and Los Angeles. He said he also offers food to the people he helps.

“I walk around into random neighborhoods and often ask clients at Three Squares Studio if they notice homeless people in their neighborhoods or near their offices,” he said. “(Asking clients) helps save me time. Sometimes I can walk around for hours looking for a haircut recipient on the streets.”

Along the way, he’s posted some of his customers’ cuts on his Instagram feed.

Last week, he published a video of a Jamaican reggae singer who serenaded him with an original song after his haircut. 

In another post, Bustos is styling the hair of a woman who’d held a cardboard sign that reads, “Anything will help!” and “Happy Mother’s Day.” In a third post, a man with shaggy hair and a scraggly beard in one frame appears with a neatly parted coif and an even stubble in the second frame. “My parents will be so proud of me when they find out why I’ve been missing Sunday dinners,” reads Bustos’ caption.

Bustos told TODAY.com that in the past he didn't take photos of his haircuts, but “I've decided to have photos taken in an attempt to inspire others to do great things for fellow human beings.”

Another one of his Instagram photos echoes this sentiment. It’s a picture of a West Village mural that states, “If we all do one random act of kindness daily, we just might set the world in the right direction.”

The stylist said he can’t believe the story has gone viral.

“It doesn’t feel real,” he added. “All of this was just a simple wish and a dream.”

Follow TODAY.com writer Chris Serico on Twitter.

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