Iowa City barber Yoel Castillo serves community, Hawkeye athletes

Castillo moved between San Diego and the Iowa City/Coralville area before starting his professional career in 2018 and opening his first shop in 2020.


Jerod Ringwald

Yoel Castillo cuts Iowa men’s basketball center Josh Ogundele’s hair at Feel Good Studios in Iowa City on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023. Castillo, the owner of Feel Good Studios, cuts the hair of several Iowa athletes.

Chris Werner, Assistant Sports Editor

Iowa men’s basketball center Filip Rebraca scored a team-high 24 points when the Hawkeyes hosted Eastern Illinois at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Dec. 21. Rebraca  still decided something needed to change after the Hawkeyes’ loss.

So, the 6-foot-9 Serbian, who had sported a low-drop fade hairstyle — long on the top and shaved on the sides — since the beginning of the season, opted for a buzz cut.

“I don’t know why I had this urge to get a buzz cut,” Rebraca told the media Jan. 5. “It was like for the past two or three months, and then I just finally said like, ‘Why not?’”

Like Rebraca, the newest member of Iowa’s 1,000-rebound club and the team’s double-double leader this season, the man behind his new style has pedigree, too.

Yoel Castillo, the 27-year-old owner of Feel Good Studios on 1705 S. First Ave., cuts the hair of Rebraca and fellow Hawkeye men’s basketball players Kris Murray, Ahron Ulis, Tony Perkins, Dasonte Bowen, and Josh Ogundele, as well as many other male athletes on campus.

He also cut former Iowa men’s basketball guard Joe Toussaint and football player Tyler Goodson’s hair when they were at Iowa.

Castillo was born in Honduras and moved to San Diego when he was five years old. He spent the rest of his childhood between San Diego and the Iowa City and Coralville area.

Most of Castillo’s high school years were spent in San Diego, where he says appearance mattered a lot.

“In San Diego, it’s really huge in the minority [culture] to dress very well,” Castillo said. “Over here, kids are wearing Under Armour, Nike. Over there in San Diego, kids are wearing, like, Jordans, very nice clothing, designer clothes. They want to look good.”

Castillo said, however, he and his family couldn’t afford those things. Instead, with the help of his cousin Sammy Ratliff — who is also a barber — Castillo learned how to cut his own hair. That way, he could look good without breaking the bank.

“The second-best thing was to get a haircut, and if I can learn how to cut my own hair, I can cut it weekly,” Castillo said. “And my cousin was cutting his own hair, and so I asked him to teach me how to cut my own hair. And the passion just grew.”

Castillo said he was very into drawing and creating things as a kid, and he sees cutting hair as an art form.

“I like changing people,” Castillo said. “If you get a haircut by the right person with the right style, you can see what a difference a haircut can make in someone’s life.”

Appropriately, the name Feel Good Studios is inspired by Colorado football head coach Deion Sanders’ famous quote, “If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you play good. If you play good, they pay good.”

After beginning to cut his own hair in San Diego, Castillo’s family moved back to Iowa City for six months in 2011, and Castillo enrolled at West High.

There, students took notice of Castillo’s haircuts, and he saw an opportunity.

“People would ask me, ‘Hey, where’d you get your haircut?’ Especially in 2011 when I was here going to West High,” Castillo said. “Because people would be like, ‘Yo, there really isn’t a barber here. Where’d you get your haircut?’ And I’d be like, ‘I cut it.’”

Castillo then began giving haircuts to other students at West High for the six-month period he was in Iowa City.

Castillo and his family returned to San Diego after six months, where he finished his high school career in 2013. After his graduation, he returned to the Iowa City area and began to cut hair out of his garage.

That’s when he landed his first Hawkeye client: men’s basketball player Anthony Clemmons.

It was then that Castillo decided he wanted to pursue barbering full-time with the intention of opening his own shop in Iowa City.

Following three years in his “decked out” garage, which he said had a TV and a PlayStation, Castillo went back to San Diego and attended California Barber and Beauty College until his graduation in 2018.

He worked in a since shut-down salon in Coralville from 2018-20, and then he opened up his first shop, called Yoel’s Hair Salon, on East Benton Street. After roughly two years there, he moved into a new location in the spring of 2022 and rebranded to Feel Good Studios.

Castillo’s goal for Feel Good Studios is to create an inner-city barbershop feel, connect with the community, and inspire his three young children Aria, Elias, and Carter.

Castillo said he wants his shop to become an Iowa City community meeting place.

“I just want to make sure I give Iowa a good barber shop — something that is impactful,” Castillo said. “My favorite part is the connections, the relationships you make. I’ve had kids who are like, ‘Man, I need a cut for prom,’ or ‘I’m going to this event,’ and they’re in here at 10 p.m. the night before and we’re just talking.

“This is exciting, being a part of their lives,” Castillo continued. “You know, when they’re like 30 they’re going to be like, ‘Dude, remember we used to go to Yoel’s, and we were there at like 10 at night, 11?’ Yeah, I love that part.”

Castillo not only wants to impact the lives of the Iowa City youth but also set an example for his children.

He said he wants to show his kids what success looks like.

“I grew up in a one-bedroom, six-people apartment, not seeing like … not seeing achievement,” Castillo said. “I wanted to go out, and I wanted to achieve something that my kids see.”

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