Life In Layers

Angela Ojeda Ruiz checks the list of clients for the day at the front desk of Obando / LAURA PLACE

Two years ago, hair stylist Angela Ojeda Ruiz established her salon, Obando. Located on Calle de la Amargura, the salon distinguishes itself through its environmentally conscious products and welcoming environment. The business is also founded upon a rich legacy carried on by three generations in Angela’s family, starting with her grandmother for whom the salon is named. Apart from this, Angela’s own, albeit indirect, path to the profession has been greatly important in forming the business into what it is today. 

It’s been a long day, but even through all the craziness, her brown curls are still perfect. The creative opportunity that awaits with each new client revitalizes her. A woman sits and says what she wants – hair cut to her shoulders and dyed black. The stylist looks critically at the client in the mirror. Some pieces of advice just can’t wait. “You don’t want this. You want THIS,” she says, showing her in the mirror. And without knowing how, the client believes it.

Sometimes, when one door closes, another opens. For Angela Ojeda Ruiz, many doors closed before the ones she needed. They ended up being the doors of Relatores, a feminist bookstore in its last days under her apartment on Calle de la Amargura in Sevilla.

The time had come to manage her own business. She spoke with her landlady, who owned both the space below and her apartment, and acquired it. She received government assistance to get started, and for the next three months, her husband worked on the complete restoration of the building. In February of 2016, the salon opened. Obando: Stylists since 1949, says the big sign above the door.

Angela moves quickly through her world of black chairs and chemical-free shampoos. Obando is known for its ecological products that you cannot find at other stores like El Corte Inglés, she says. She is habitually dressed in black, her mouth painted a striking red. In this profession, you have to be prepared to be a therapist, a best friend, sometimes the most honest person in a client’s day.

“I’m an open person; I try to make the whole world feel welcome. I’m myself, you know?” she says with a serious expression.

Inside Obando, everything comes to life. While she works, she laughs with her co-worker, Rebecca. She and Angela worked together previously at another salon, and when Angela left, Rebecca told her, “If you ever open a hair salon, call me.”

Obando didn’t come to be only by the luck of a closed-down bookstore. The story started many years ago, in a town of 52,000 people thirty kilometers from Seville, Utrera. It started with Pepita Obando, Angela’s grandma, the rst hair stylist in the family.

Pepita completed a styling course in Madrid in 1945, and in 1949, opened her own salon, the original Obando, in the town of Utrera. On the walls of Angela’s salon, there are large, black-and-white photos of Pepita– one of her working in Madrid, looking intensely at the camera and others of her cutting hair in her salon filled with clients.

“She wasn’t the average woman of her time. She wasn’t content staying at home,” says Angela. “She was a hardworking, strong woman… Obviously, to have started her own business and with two children.”

Pepita Obando (bottom center) in Madrid / COURTESY OF OBANDO

Her grandma’s business was based inside of her home, an old building, allowing Angela’s mother, Amalia, to watch Angela when she was a baby while she also worked with Pepita. The other stylists working there were her aunt, Ana María, and her father, Juan, who came after meeting Amalia in Sevilla. The two met in a beauty school near the Alameda de Hércules on Calle de Faustino Álvarez, minutes from where Angela now resides.

“When they were engaged, he immediately brought Amalia with him to Utrera to help his mom,” Angela says with a smile.

When Juan died at age 35, Amalia continued to work at the salon. When Pepita also passed away, Amalia and Ana María continued with her salon until it closed 10 years ago, and still live in Utrera today. The majority of what Angela knows about her grandmother has been told to her by her aunt, since Angela was only two years old when Pepita died.

“I remember spending time in her salon- on the patio, among her clients…”

Angela tells her story in her apartment above Obando. The house is open and comfortable, with colored glass windows like those you see in a church. As she speaks, she moves in the same way as she does through her salon. She dashes between the kitchen, preparing dinner, and the living room to separate her sons, Marcos and Pablo, during their mischievous moments.

For many years, she had other plans besides opening her own salon.

“It was only after many years that I decided to be a hair stylist,” she says. “I started out in Fine Arts.”

Angela studied ceramics at the University of Seville and moved to Greece on a Fine Arts scholarship after she finished her studies in Seville. During her three months in Greece, she met Tasio, her husband.

She pauses in her story to calm down her sons who, during the interview, have been climbing over her as if she were a jungle gym.

“Listen, I’m talking about how I met Papá…” she says tenderly. The story starts again.

At the age of 21, Angela and Tasio decided to do a long-distance relationship so he could complete his master’s program in England, and she returned to Spain. This continued for a year and a half, the two sometimes visiting one another in Greece. Later she moved to Edinburgh, where she worked various jobs. She was a housekeeper, cleaner, waitress – whatever was available.

“I worked like this until I learned English, and I knew I had to do something different with my life,” says Angela, who now switches easily between Spanish and English with her clients. She began to study hair styling in Edinburgh.

Eventually, she wanted to be closer to Spain and her family in Utrera. The two moved to Lisbon for a year, for her husband’s post doctorate in Social Anthropology. Angela returned briefly to Sevilla for the birth of Marcos, her oldest son, and afterwards, they moved to Seville for good in 2014. She started working in various salons, but for long hours with little pay.

“I was fired from one of my jobs once my boss found out I was pregnant,” says Angela, looking over at Marcos and Pablo, who are laughing and playing with the cat. Her expression is hard. “This happens often in Spain, and people don’t want to find a lawyer because the process takes so much time.”

Across the living room, Marcos interrupts her again, yelling excitedly.

“With me, Mamá, with me?”

A smile appears on Angela’s face.

“No honey, with Pablo. It was when you were already born…”

Although she didn’t continue with Fine Arts, mostly because of the lack of work, art is the foundation of her work.

“For me, it’s an art form, and what I do in my salon is very artistic. You can transform someone into something marvelous,” she says.

Tomorrow is another day. Angela will leave her apartment to go downstairs and prepare for her clients. Her husband will come by later with her sons, laughing and talking with her from the entrance, still giving her space to do her work.

“She is so similar to me, and to Pepita” says her aunt Ana María, watching her niece as she works. “Her skin, her expressions…”

If this moment was a photo, it would resemble the ones on the wall: an entrepreneur, her family close by, writing her own story. •

The unique interior of Obando / LAURA PLACE