When Natalia López travels to her parents’ village in northern Spain, she packs the essentials: scissors, combs and clippers.
As the Zaragoza-based hairdresser strolls the streets of Huesa del Común, an isolated hamlet of 69 residents, her skills are in high demand. “I style my mother’s hair, give my father a haircut, and there are always neighbours who say: ‘Since you’re here, can you cut my hair as well? Or touch up my colour?’”
Inspired by the rural clamour for a coiffeur, López and her husband, fellow hairdresser Eneko Abad, last year launched a roving service to make up for the dearth of hair salons in Spain’s villages. The Hair Truck has since grown to encompass three mobile salons that crisscross the northern region of Aragon, offering cuts, washes and colour treatments to about 70 municipalities.
“We’re only looking to go to places where there isn’t these kinds of services,” said Abad. “We’re not here to take away work from anyone.”
Their modus operandi is simple: after coordinating a monthly visit with local officials or contacts on the ground, the hairdressers show up towing a trailer fitted out with chairs, mirrors and a sink. Residents are invited to make a same-day appointment and the hairdressers stay on site until they make it through the day’s list.
The prices are “very affordable” and in line with what a salon in the region would charge, according to Abad, as the overhead costs of running the mobile business are relatively small compared with a conventional hair salon.
About 80% of their clients are elderly people who struggle to get to salons in nearby cities, forced instead to make do with DIY trims or amateur styling by relatives. “There’s one lady who told us that it had been 15 years since she had gone to the hairdresser,” said Abad.
The Hair Truck’s arrival in the pueblos – many of which don’t have a bar, restaurant or more than one shop – is usually treated as a jovial affair. “For residents a visit to the hairdresser is a moment to get together with other neighbours in the street or plaza, to chat, to look good,” said López.
The mobile hair salon is among the latest in a growing list of vendors – from fishmongers to bakers – plying their trade in rural Spain, seeking to fill the void carved out by the slow, steady ravages of depopulation.
“In almost all of the villages we visit, they tell us that 30 years ago there were three hairdressers or that there used to be both a barber and a hairdresser,” said López. “But with the passing of time and depopulation, the hairdresser stopped earning enough to keep the doors open.”
The couple’s hope is to franchise the business, expanding it to serve the hundreds of villages in Spain without hair salons. “The problem – and it’s a significant problem – is that we’re not finding enough people who want to work with us,” said Abad.
Some balk at the idea of regularly travelling thousands of kilometres while others remain convinced there is more profit to be made in cities. A handful are perhaps put off by the physical constraints of offering a full array of salon services – from perms to hair removal – in a 10 sq metre trailer.
Abad is quick to list the benefits. “It’s fun: every day you’re in a different place. It’s not monotonous at all.”
Clients are deeply appreciative, at times dropping off freshly plucked tomatoes from their gardens or inviting them to lunch. And then there’s the deep connections the pair have forged as they roam from village to village.
“Before we’ve even left, people ask us when we’re coming back,” said López. “That tells you everything.”