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J.P. Pampena wants you to go to your bedroom, turn off the lights and run your fingers through your hair. “Even a blind man can tell when your haircut is uneven,” he says.
The entrepreneur — who lost his sight at age 24 following an allergic reaction to penicillin — has built a slew of businesses including Stylist On Call, a mobile hair styling service. And he’s not shy about his success; he gabs about his box seats at the Air Canada Centre, his celebrity clients and the soirees he has attended — including a Playboy bash. “I’ve partied with the best,” he boasts.
However, it’s his pride in himself that makes him excited. “That’s me today,” he says, referring to a photo in which he’s wearing a sharp suit. “I used to be a far cry from that.” After losing his sight, Pampena went through what he describes as the most pathetic time of his life. “I was so desperate. I didn’t bathe for months. I ballooned to 385 pounds, my hair was scraggly,” he says.
His then-fiancée Paulette, now his wife, stayed with him, but eventually she’d had enough. “She said, ‘I can live with a blind man, but I can’t with someone who doesn’t have any brains.’” Paulette told Pampena to hire someone to clean himself up.
But after calling several hospitals, Pampena was frustrated he couldn’t find someone to come to his house and cut his hair.
“They were afraid to cut a handicapped person’s hair or they would charge an arm and a leg for it,” he says.
He decided to start a business where hairstylists would go to people’s homes and charge affordable prices. “Women who believe that paying high dollar buys quality are wrong,” he says.
As an experiment, he gave his wife $150 to go to a salon. Pampena felt her hair and realized it was uneven. “I phoned them and said: ‘Your stylists must be blind.’”
In 1980, Stylist On Call opened, a service where stylists cut the hair of seniors, the disabled and others who can’t leave their homes. The company now provides services to 400 government and home-care agencies in the GTA.
So, tonight when you’re in bed, close your eyes and feel your hair. Don’t look in a mirror, Pampena warns: “Sight is distracting.”