While Shari Harbinger, ’86, was majoring in music management, she was preparing herself outside of the classroom for her true calling.
“I was the premier dorm stylist,” Harbinger said. “People used to line up on the dorm floor of Oneida 2A-L and get their hair cut by me.”
The co-founder of the DevaCurl Academy was once a freshman at Binghamton University, unsure of what she wanted in life. In 1982, she left her home in Rockland County, New York to begin her undergraduate career at the University.
“I wanted to have the opportunity to explore different programs before committing to a major,” Harbinger said. “[BU] had programs in some of the areas that I found most interesting. One being music, the other being management and the other being communication.”
Harbinger soon realized that her interests didn’t align with the majors offered by Harpur College and decided to create her own through the Innovational Projects Board. The board, similar to the current individualized major program, allowed Harbinger to create a bachelor of arts in music management.
As a musician herself, Harbinger has always had a love for the arts. She practiced piano under Seymour Fink, professor emeritus of music at BU, and had a show on the on-campus radio station, WHRW 90.5 FM. During the era of musicians like Lisa Lisa and Doug E. Fresh, DJ Shari B. spun two-hour sets on her shows, the titles of which ranged from “Dynamic Sound” to “Equal Soul Amendment.”
“I got my license, I [had] my show — it was wonderful, I loved it,” Harbinger said. “I even had my own turntables in my off-campus room.”
After graduation, Harbinger began in the music industry with a sales position with now-defunct National College Television. She eventually left the station and began pursuing her true love: beauty.
“[My mom] saw an ad in The New York Times for a sales consultant in beauty [and said], ‘You know, if you’re going to sell something, why you don’t you sell what you love?’”
In 1987, Harbinger became a salesperson for hair care brand Clairol, working in and around New York City. After a couple years, she went back to her haircutting roots and decided to become a stylist. She got her cosmetology license and began working in a salon in 1989. From there, she worked with hair coloring brand Schwarzkopf Inc. and later with beauty supplier Paramount Beauty. While at Paramount Beauty, Harbinger met one of her future DevaCurl partners, Denis DaSilva. The pair eventually began working as stylists at Devachan Salon, where the DevaCurl brand was born.
After a few years at Devachan, Harbinger and her colleagues realized that there were no products on the market that fully addressed the needs of curly hair. In 2002, they launched their game-changing product, No-Poo.
“No-Poo was really the first ever conditioning, zero-lather, sulfate-free cleanser on the market,” Harbinger said. “Our curly girls in the salon were our focus [group] because we were testing our product out on them and the feedback from them was just, it was unbelievable.”
Fast-forward 15 years and the DevaCurl brand has expanded to include a full line of cleansers, conditioners, hydrating treatments, styling products and tools. In 2007, Harbinger co-founded the DevaCurl Academy in Manhattan, for which she develops curricula. The academy teaches stylists how to use their products and how to perform techniques such as the DevaCut, a haircut for curly hair that focuses on cutting each individual curl.
Harbinger’s reach has extended to the area around her alma mater, as several stylists in the greater Binghamton area have learned the DevaCurl methods. Diane Testani of the Diane Testani Hair Salon in Endwell, New York, has been to the Devachan Salon to learn the DevaCut and Pintura — the brand’s highlighting technique for curly hair.
“I love to help people learn to embrace their curls,” Testani said. “[DevaCurl] has done a great service to people who have curly hair because anyone who is passionate about continuing their education as a hair stylist definitely helps to educate their customers on how to keep their hair hydrated and how to make the most of their curls.”
Although Harbinger’s major didn’t lead her on a direct path to her current position, she credits her time at BU as instrumental in her development. Serving as the president of her sorority, Delta Phi Epsilon, gave her leadership skills, while DJing for WHRW made her comfortable with public speaking and studying music gave her self-discipline and tuned her senses to allow her to identify the rhythm in beauty.
“In hair, there’s a melody to a look or a color service that is in harmony with a person’s lifestyle and wants and needs,” she said. “Because music strikes a chord within — but so does beauty.”