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A Cut Above In Shrewsbury | Contractor turns inventor to the stylists

You might not think construction workers and hairdressers have a lot in common, and perhaps you’d be right.

But then, you may not know much about Freestyle Systems LLC in the Hills Farm Industrial Park in Shrewsbury. Freestyle is the manufacturer of a system patented by a Worcester construction worker to help hairdryers feel weightless in the hands of hairdressers.

The construction worker is contractor Michael Blair Hopper, and a hairdresser, and even one particular haircut just a handful of years ago, is to thank for his entirely new line of work.

One day a few years ago, Hopper was having his hair cut just down the street from his home. The woman cutting his hair began to complain about the pain in her hands and wrists.

The pain was caused by the woman’s constant use of a heavy, professional-grade hairdryer, the weight of which was supported solely by her arms. Hairdressers have to raise and lower and maneuver their hairdryers all day, and Hopper thought he might have a solution. It was there that Freestyle Systems was born.

High And Tight

According to Matt Rossini, Freestyle’s COO, Hopper told the hairdresser, “Maybe I can hang a hairdryer for you to take some of the weight off.”

That’s what he did, and the system he devised for suspending the hairdryer from a spring-loaded mechanism in the ceiling — in a way that makes it feel almost weightless — worked. The pain in the hairdresser’s arms melted away and Hopper thought, “Maybe there’s a business here.”

Hopper’s design for the Freestyle was granted a patent in 2005 and today, the system is manufactured by the company’s seven full-time and several part-time employees, right in Shrewsbury. Not bad for a hairdryer system that can be found in places like the Paul Mitchell salon.

In its patent materials, the Freestyle is described as a “retractable overhead tool support.” From the outside it looks like a black box. Inside, it includes a rotating drum and pulley held under slight tension by a spring. The result is a device that keeps a stylist’s hairdryer up out of the way when not in use and suspends it when it is. The dryer doesn’t constantly feel like it is being pulled back toward the ceiling and it isn’t putting any weight on the arm of the stylist. Similar devices used with heavier tools have failed to strike that balance, Hopper’s patent says.

Rossini explained that the Freestyle can be used with nearly all professional hairdryers, which the company modifies in Shrewsbury, and its patent includes an electrical connector to allow for the quick changing of dryers.

The company only began selling the Freestyle system three years ago, but already boasts a long list of customers, including its first, the Paul Mitchell salon. “That was our first major customer,” Rossini said, “and it landed us on the map.” He said Freestyle has been gathering steam ever since and plans on hiring within the next few weeks.

And by hanging out in hair salons, Hopper has found other areas where stylists say improvements are needed, particularly lighting. So, he established Spectra Lights, a spinoff of Freestyle that specializes in high efficiency LED lighting that allows salons to make more realistic hair color assessments.

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