Orland barber Darryl “Deko” Stewart halfway through giving a haircut to Maine Maritime Academy student Barrett Bishop. Stewart just started a program called “Tips for a Cause,” where he uses his tips to pay for haircut vouchers for underprivileged RSU 25 students. PHOTO BY DAVID ROZA

Giving back never goes out of style for Orland barber

ORLAND — Darryl “Deko” Stewart has seen plenty of hairstyles disappear and come back in a new way.

He’s seen the comb-overs from the movie “Grease” come back with sleek fades and bushy beards, and he’s seen the mullet come back with spikes in front, under the moniker “the Euro mullet.”

“It’s just the same old-school style, but brought back a little bit better,” said the 40-year-old Bucksport resident, who’s been cutting hair since he was 9 years old. “It’s nice to see that evolution.”

But for Stewart, one thing never goes out of style, and that’s giving back to the community.

Starting this school year, the barber is offering vouchers to underprivileged students in RSU 25 who need a haircut, but might have trouble affording one. The vouchers also can be used by teachers as a reward for a student’s good performance.

“I want to create something that gives back,” Stewart said, “and I know exactly where it’s going because I’m doing it myself.”

Stewart said he takes a cut of his tips to pay for the voucher, but some customers simply donate more money to the tip jar.

Stewart has a tip jar set up near his chair in the Lethabo Massage Studio and Day Spa at the Orland Community Center. He calls the idea “Tips for a Cause,” and he uses a cut of his own tips to pay for the vouchers.

“I like how a good haircut makes you feel good,” he said. “Watch a person’s face go from zero to 60; they light up just after getting their haircut.”

Bucksport Middle School Principal Todd West said the vouchers would be a big help for some students.

“I think the initiative from Mr. Stewart is great and we really appreciate it,” he said. “There are certainly families who could benefit from it.”

Stewart first started cutting hair on his grandfather while growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“I would practice giving him a fade or something,” said the barber, whose mother was a cosmetologist. “He always got a baldy, so when I messed up I just took it all off afterwards.”

Stewart continued to cut hair for his friends through grade school and college before moving to Maine 14 years ago with his wife, Melissa, who grew up in the state.

Stewart worked at the naval base in Prospect Harbor before becoming a security guard and then a papermaker at the Bucksport Paper Mill.

When the mill closed in 2014, he thought it was a good time to finally put his clipping skills to professional use.

“Once the mill closed they were sending us all back to school to learn a new trade,” Stewart said. “I was like ‘I’ve been cutting hair forever and it only makes sense to go back to school and be a barber.’”

Every day for eight months, Stewart and another former mill worker carpooled to the barber school in Augusta to work toward the 800 hours of hair-cutting required to become a certified barber in the state of Maine.

“All the little things I was doing prior to barber school all started coming together,” he said.

Stewart’s dedication to his profession shows in his DekoWear T-shirts and Instagram posts. “Deko” was Stewart’s nickname growing up.

Stewart honed his skills in school, learning important lessons such as how to work with different head shapes, and how to balance the requests of a customer with the eye of a professional stylist.

“Just because you think you know what looks good doesn’t mean they’ll feel it looks good,” he said. “You’ve got to always try and balance that and come up with this product that you both love and that they’ll walk out the door loving.”

Stewart also learned the importance of developing a following on social media. That way, devoted customers could always find him if he moved to a different studio.

On his Instagram page, deko_dabarber, he posts shots of his more artistic cuts.

Stewart has etched a New England Patriots logo into the hairs above a customer’s temple, and colored in red, white and blue stars on another customer’s coiffure with a grease pencil.

He even clipped a silhouette of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima onto the back of a customer’s head for Veterans Day.

“That was probably one of my finest pieces,” said Stewart, who said he sometimes practices artistic haircuts on his 9- and 11-year old sons. “That’s the art side to cutting hair.”

Soon, some of the students at RSU 25 could get their own Stewart haircut experience, free-of-charge.

“I think that it’s a great thing whenever an organization or business is willing to do something to help out students or help out families,” West said. “And whatever role we can do to assist, we’re happy to do so.”

Ditto for Deko.

“You know what it’s like to get a fresh haircut,” he said. “It just boosts your self-esteem.”

David Roza

David Roza

David grew up in Washington County, Maryland, has reported in Washington County, Oregon, and now covers news in Hancock County and Washington County, Maine for The American and Out & About.