When you sit down in Josh Velazquez’s chair, know this: You’re not just getting a cut, you’re getting inducted into a whole new way of living. For the Chicago-born barber, your fade is just a tiny piece of the puzzle that makes up your day-to-day experience.
It’s only in recent years that men are beginning to take their grooming game seriously. After decades of cookie cutter haircuts, today’s professionals want a custom fade and product recommendations that make them feel good and walk with a swagger. If you take a seat in Velazquez’s hair, prepare to have your life changed.
Like all the best artists, Velazquez began his career with amateur cutting and styling for the thrill of it. Way back in 1998, he unofficially served as the barber of choice for his friends in high school. By the time prom season rolled around, he’d even worked out a rudimentary pricing system: $5 per cut, $8 if you wanted graphic designs.
Although the barber had an ambitious start, life had other plans for him. After becoming a father at a young age, he was forced to reconsider his priorities. He swapped the barber shears for a job in corporate America, shelving his passion in the process. Although he kept his skills sharp by cutting for friends and family on the side, it wasn’t until five years ago that Velazquez decided to pursue his dream of being a barber.
“I decided no, this is something that I truly want and that I need,” he says.
Finally licensed as a barber, Velazquez landed a gig at Chicago’s Solo Salon in 2014. Around the same time, a former mentor suggested he audition for an educator spot with men’s hair brand Baxter of California.
“I submitted a video of me doing my own skin fade. I get an email right away like, ‘Congratulations! You’re going to California,’” he remembers, noting that the moment marked a risk that paid off in his career. “The moments you feel uncomfortable are the moments you grow the fastest. I just take these opportunities.”
One of the first 13 educators on behalf of the brand, Velazquez has the opportunity to travel the country, teaching Baxter of California’s education curriculum and giving his say-so when it comes to developing new products.
While Velazquez spends a great deal of time educating other barbers, he’s happiest in his home salon. In his years at Solo Salon, the master barber has built lasting relationships with clients who return again and again for his signature cuts.
As for Velazquez, he’s flattered that these men trust him to shape their hairstyles—and their identities. An appointment can make the difference between a terrible day and a formative one.
Instead of guarding the styling tricks that make his cuts so unique, Velazquez believes in demystifying the world of male hair. If he can educate his clients about which product to use and how to use it, they’ll not only be grateful for the honesty—they’ll be pre-booking appointments weeks in advance.
“There’s a really big misconception that people think men are simple. We’re not simple, we’re specific. We need guidance,” he says. “If they see that you’re confident as a professional, they’re going to listen to you—hands down.”
In the past, men haven’t always known how to educate themselves about the latest styles or highlight their features. It takes a seasoned pro like Velazquez to pull information out of them about what they want in a cut. As a result, his clients are grateful for the confidence he’s instilled in them.
The word “confidence” tumbles out of Velazquez’s mouth with astonishing regularity. In his world, no product, style, or career tip exists without a relationship to confidence-building. For a man whose life path very nearly involved not working in hair at all, sheer desire anchors him to his chosen profession. It makes sense, then, that he seeks to imbue every cut with an emphasis on self-assurance.
“We determine the next three weeks of [a customer’s] life—either it’s a good haircut or a bad one. That’s exactly why I don’t take my situation lightly,” he says. “I could jack up a haircut really bad and he’s going to be going to work with a hat. Or, I could be in the moment, I could be present, and I could give him a kickass haircut and he’s going to love me forever. I build confidence.”
In the chair, Velazquez’s approach is simple: authentically live the lifestyle he preaches. Personal style doesn’t happen in a vacuum. If he can share his own passions—cocktails, tattoos, clothing, the Chicago scene—his clients will feel at ease. Once they’ve shared their real personalities, he can craft cuts to match them.
“I can talk to him and break the barrier of him being nervous of getting a haircut. I can talk about tattoos, I can talk about a good place to have dinner, but it’s my lifestyle,” he says. “It becomes something bigger. It’s so much fun. That’s why I’m hustling so hard—because I’m having a blast.”
For Velazquez, his art is only as genuine as his lifestyle. He can’t tell a client a cut is flattering if he wouldn’t wear it, and he certainly can’t show up to an important event looking sloppy. To him, your cohesive image needs to match your fresh cut.
“I can’t walk the walk and fake it. I have to be groomed in order for me to talk to my client about being groomed. I can’t stand and educate in a room full of 20 hairdressers or barbers if I look sloppy,” he says. “Live it. Live it and then you can share it because it becomes authentic and real.”
Looking for a man who can make over your hair and your self-confidence at the same time? You’re looking for Velazquez and you don’t even know it.