Larry Zellers uses his Boomerang Hair Studio to help locals find acceptance and relief.

By: Erin Pipes

Larry Zellers crafted no fewer than 29 wigs for PacRep’s new production of Hairspray, which opened last month at the Golden Bough Theater. But the job didn’t stop there. “The high school kids are all worried about their looks,” says Executive Director Steven Moorer. “He’s been so gentle and sensitive to their concerns. It’s obvious he gets a large amount of joy from what he does.”

What he does doesn’t stop there, and is unique to the area: using hair replacement, support groups and even cross-dressing to mend hearts.

“I’ve always been a person who thinks differently,” Zellers says.

His hair-replacement approach pivots upon empathy. “I can relate to people with hair problems,” he says. “I’ve experienced them firsthand.”

At a young age, Zellers developed a compulsive disorder called trichotillomania. The condition which affects 1 percent of the population-drove him to pull at his eyebrows, lashes and the hair on the top of his head. Its cause is unknown but thought to be stress-related; Zellers believes his anxiety developed when he began to question his sexuality in middle school while being raised in a Catholic household.

Anecdotal evidence suggests he was right: He was able to overcome the disorder in his 20s after coming out.

“No one was that surprised,” he says. “They’d known on some level already.”

Another inspiration to work with hair: Zellers says his entire family suffers from genetically “horrible” hair.

“Everyone in my family has bad hair,” he Says. “I got sick of hearing them complain, so I decided to help them.”

He earned his cosmetology license out of high school and became involved with the film industry, even moving to Mexico to work at the Rosarita Beach Hotel on the sets of the major motion pictures Titanic and If…Dog…Rabbit, along with various specials for Spanish-language television network Telemundo. When El Nino storms of 1998 caused a severe drought in business, Zellers spent 10 years in Santa Cruz working at independent salons before moving to Carmel.

In 2008, a desirable Pacific Grove property became available and Zellers jumped at the chance to start his own business: “I’d always known I wanted to own a salon, and then things just fell into place.” He chose to focus his Boomerang Hair Studio on hair loss populations, with the idea that all have self-blame in common. “So many people beat themselves up over things which are simply out of their control,” he says. Boomerang offers weekly “beauty support groups,” where men and women suffering from both medical and non­medical hair loss are encouraged to talk and learn from each others’ experiences. Whether they’re dealing with alopecia, trichotillomania or the effects of chemotherapy, “No one is allowed to leave until they laugh,” Zellers says.

“At first you think you’re weird, and the only one experiencing this,” says past attendee Willie Derowski. “But everyone in the group was nice and going through something similar. I found it extremely helpful.”

Treating transgender hair loss, a concept largely ignored within the hair industry, is another of Zellers’ uncommon specialties. The majority of trans­gendered clients are male to female experiencing a type of male-pattern baldness. These individuals usually need custom hair pieces. Zellers can also empathize with these clients-he’s been a dragqueen since 18, and hosted a drag show after Boomerang opened.

”Drag queens are gay boys with too much fashion sense for one gender,” he says.

He’s spoken at multiple transgender seminars like California Dreamin’ in 2009, where he discusses hair loss treatments, wig care and cosmetology.

“I understand what the transgender concerns are,” he says. “It’s a niche market, but a very grateful market.” In the coming months, the studio will offer femininity and movement coaching with a well-known Santa Cruz instructor. Zellers’ hope is to encourage an attitude of compassion and self-acceptance, gleaned from his grandmother, Francis, who was always his biggest supporter.

In 2010, Boomerang’s growing successes were stalled when the building was flooded by underground streams. The flooding, accompanied by the discovery of black mold in the building, forced Larry to vacate to a smaller location across the street. Business took a hit, but Zellers remains undaunted.

“I feel very lucky, as I’ve never regretted a single day going into work,” he says. “Besides, the biggest challenges are the ones where I get the most reward.”