John Mosley counts celebrities like Kendrick Lamar and Idris Elba among his clients, as well as top NFL athletes. He’s one of the country’s most in-demand educators. Yet, he’s probably better known to you by the seemingly ironic Instagram handle, @popular_nobody. We sat down with Mosley to discuss his start in the industry, how he’s grown his social media following and what his best advice is.
How did you get your start in the hair industry?
My mom, actually. She’s an educator and owns a salon in Los Angeles. So growing up, when I’d get in trouble, that’d be my punishment—I had to go sit in her salon. Growing up, I never wanted to do hair. It was when I was playing college football that I got tired of getting hit by grown men for free. That’s when I decided I wanted to go into barbering, and when she found out, there were tears of joy. Now all of her kids are in the beauty industry—one of my sisters is a hairstylist and the other is a makeup artist.
Tell us how you got into education.
My mom is big on education, that’s how she raised me. So when I was still in school, she would put me on stage to speak and educate. I would also go to local community colleges that offered haircutting and do free cosmetology classes. Then Paul Mitchell reached out to me and asked me to do a guest artist spot, and that really helped propel me. I created the barbering curriculum for their schools in 2015.
Every hair show I educate at is with Hattori Hanzo; they’ve co-branded with me. I have six artists who work with me and they work with Hanzo. I started working with them after I bought a pair of shears—I needed the job to pay for them. [laughs] But I work with a lot of different brands too. I started out doing four classes a month, now I’m doing 40.
But there aren’t even 40 days in a month!
I’ll sometimes do up to four classes a day. I go all over. I’ll do a Missouri trip, spend three days there then move on. Tomorrow, I’m flying to Sacramento, doing two classes, then going back home. I probably have a day and a half off each week.
How do you manage everything?
If I know enough in advance, I block out time. But sometimes I put my body on the line. I will literally work up until I have to fly and be where I need to be, taking red eyes, that sort of thing. My team really helps me stay on track, too.
How did you get into social media?
I started doing it on my own for my own self. I was watching what other people were doing, but I wanted to be different. So aesthetically, I chose to post my images in black and white. For me, putting my work in black and white shows the world what it takes to be a true artist. You can’t hide a bad haircut in black and white. And it’s always timeless.
Tell us the story behind your handle, @popular_nobody.
It came from a conversation with a client. I was cutting his hair and we were talking about all the other things I do in my career. I told him how I see my work in a Foot Locker, or driving down the street on a billboard, or on the cover of a magazine. And he was like, “Man, your work is everywhere, but you don’t talk about it. You just look at it like it’s your job and that’s what you’re supposed to do, so you’re kind of like a popular nobody.” And that’s how it all happened.
Is it ever strange to see your work on magazines or billboards?
The most surreal experience I had was when I was walking in an airport with my father; we were traveling together for the first time since I became an adult. And there was a magazine cover with Kendrick Lamar on it that I’d done. I walked up to him with it and said, “Dad, do you see that? That’s your son’s work.” And I think that was one of my proudest moments. All the hard work, my pops got to see.
Who do you look up to most in the industry?
My mom and my sisters. There are so many people not being true to themselves and that cool-kid aspect has set in. It can be hard to communicate with people nowadays because they forget where they came from. They forget we’re just hairstylists. So instead I stay true to me and I look up to my team and my family around me.
What advice would you offer to someone joining the industry right now?
The best advice I could give to anybody right now is stay patient—respect your journey, respect your process. Don’t look at someone else’s success time clock and think that it should be your success time clock. It’s not about trying to compete with anybody else. Focus on making yourself the best version of you every day, and success will happen. You’ll feel way better about yourself when you’re not chasing someone else’s dreams. If you give someone else your glasses, they can’t see your vision anyway. So why try to chase after what someone else is doing?
What do you think about fame?
I don’t care about the fame; you can keep it. I don’t use social media to brag about flying first class or wearing the hottest shoes or my lifestyle. This is my business. I keep my personal life private. If you know me, you know I work hard. You know I’m there to guide you to help you get somewhere else. You could have the most followers on Instagram, but if you don’t have bodies in your chair, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t add up. Popularity doesn’t guarantee success. I’m about building a legacy.
What do you love most about what you do?
People. I love being able to joke and laugh with people who had a bad day. If you treat people right and make them feel better when they leave your chair, you’re going to have a hell of a career.
Images courtesy of John Mosley