Best known by his barbering identity Popular Nobody, John Mosley is not just an extremely talented barber, but also a world class educator, brand ambassador, and creator of his own brand. As a barber, his skills have allowed him to pick up some exceptional celebrity clients, while as an educator he has become one of the most sought-after names in North America. He has a number of barbering and lifestyle products available under his brand Popular Nobody, while as an ambassador he represents companies including Andis, Paul Mitchell and Hanzo Shears.
What barber wouldn’t want to learn from such a successful and varied career? From speaking to John, I can see that his drive and determination is an inspiration for everybody who wants to push their own career to the next stage, so let’s delve into his barbering journey and see what he has to teach us!
Barbering by Accident
What really strikes me about John’s journey into barbering is that it happened almost by accident – in his words, his barbering education started as a ‘joke’. Having been a college football player, he found that he needed a career to turn to:
“College just isn’t for everybody, and I was just one of the guys that college just wasn’t for. I would go just for the sports, and then I realised as an athlete that they really don’t care that much about you unless you play sports – and that’s not what I wanted my educational journey to be. I went home and said Mum, put me through barbering school, and I was just joking. I was just trying to buy some time so she would get off my back!
Two days later I was going to barbering school, and since that I have thanked my Mum every day because it has changed my life”
From that unlikely starting point 16 years ago, John has gone from strength to strength. Watching him as an educator, it’s clear that he has won over his audience, and become something of a celebrity. So how did he become such a talented educator?
“It began when I was in barber college. I was having fun as I started to find my niche. And my Mum was an educator, so she would put on hair shows, and she’d have me on stage. So that’s how it all got started”.
John quickly identified a niche for his educational material, in cosmetology schools where they would often have little education on cutting men’s hair. Offering up a men’s cutting class at these schools allowed him to practice and grow:
“Now when I’m up on stage I’m comfortable there. I want people to be engaged, I want them to learn. I want people to talk to me and I’ll talk to them so that at the end of the day they feel like if nobody else was worth watching, at least I was”.
The Jetsetter’s Lifestyle
John’s work has also taken him all over the world: just this year he’s racked up almost 50,000 air miles and taken an impressive 53 flights. Of course, we’d love to see him come to the UK and share his work with British barbers – so when does John plan to start thinking about travelling to the UK?
“Right now! This is the start of my journey to come to the UK, I’ve reached out to some people on Instagram and I’m hoping this interview is the start of changing the thought process on bringing this Popular Nobody out over the pond and letting him have some fun. Because that’s something I want to do, I want to bring my knowledge to the world.”
For anybody who is considering bringing John over to Britain, it’s worth noting just how many brands he’s educated for: as well as Hanzo Shears and Andis, he had a big part in writing Paul Mitchell’s educational programme. Personally, I’d love to see British barbers benefitting from such a talented teacher!
John also has his own educational team to champion, with barbers from across America coming together to create great education under his guidance and mentorship.
The Popular Nobody
Underpinning all of this great work is John’s brand: Popular Nobody. He’s certainly popular – among celebrity clients as well as other barbers. The famous names he’s worked with include Kendrick Lamar and Idris Elba as well as the Washington National baseball team. He has also worked with some MBA and NFL players, and was even taken on the Eminem tour with Rihanna to provide his barbering services.
So, with all this in mind, where does the Popular Nobody name come from?
“Me and my client were sitting in the chair, and you all know the barber to client relationship, we were just laughing and joking. He was going down the list of celebrities I’ve worked with and things he’s seen me do and he just said man, your work is everywhere but nobody knows it’s you. You’re like a popular nobody.
There’s now a barbering case that I have out, because I’m on the go. I was having problems with my kit, blades chipped – so I found the solution and created this case that carries five clippers in individual Velcro straps. It holds all my shears, my razors and my combs. I also have a proper set of combs coming out next week.
We’ve got socks, the hat, lapel pins; I feel like my brand is not just a hair brand. My theory behind it is that everybody is a popular nobody. It’s a lifestyle: you love what you do, don’t talk about it do it, there’s no point bragging about it.”
Standing Against Fakery
Something I ask most of the barbers I speak to is what they’d like to see change in the industry, and John doesn’t have to think twice about his answer: Microfibres and photoshop.
“I feel like, as men get older they start to lose their testosterone, we begin to have baldness and things happen – but I feel like the more and more you falsify and give clients false hope with microfibres and that sort of thing… it’s just wrong. My question is this: are you hiding your work because your work isn’t good? Are you trying to this guy’s confidence back up? A lot of guys I see these days are using microfibres as a crutch.
That’s not what it’s all about; it’s not about making guys look so ‘perfect’. You shouldn’t look perfect – you should look nice and decent but still be manly. It’s the same with Photoshop: we shouldn’t be fixing up photos just to get likes on Instagram.”
Of course, there are also things about barbering that John loves, including the brands that he works with. I ask him why he chose to be ambassador for Andis, Hanzo Shears and Feather Razors in particular:
“First of all, barbers have got to consider this: when you watch Nascar and you see the cars go around the track, they have a lot of different sponsors. In barbering, we’re the cars, we run the rack – so there are ways of getting sponsorship. You’ve just got to find the problem and be the solution.
So why I use those three tools. Andis just feel right for me, they fit what I like, they fit my hand, the motors are great. It’s a great company, US made – and I don’t have issues with my tools.
With Hanzo shears, it’s having the right shears for each situation. These shears cut great and leave the hair really nice and polished. I can cut wet or dry, and they’re nice and balanced with a good weight.
Then with Feather razors, when you’re working with the straight razor not every guy has the same skin type as the next guy. So being able to bounce between different blade selections gives me the opportunity to take on any challenge that sits in my chair”.
A Chance to Reflect
For the final part of the interview, I ask John to reflect back on his career so far and think about what his proudest moment has been, as well as what advice he has for other barbers looking to build their careers as he has:
“Most people don’t get to share their career with their family, it’s separate, so the fact that my Mum is my mentor and I can share my stage with her is a great feeling.
For the barber striving to be great – respect your journey. Invest. Put back into you, what someone else put into you. If you were at class for three hours then you should practice at home for four hours. Be a solution not a problem. The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement.”
Wise words from a very wise man who has given us a lot of food for thought! You can follow John’s work on Instagram, as @popular_nobody, showcasing his striking work. While you’re there, don’t forget to follow my profile, @larrythebarberman, for more interviews with exceptional barbers like John – you can also see all my interviews at the Barber.TV YouTube channel – see you there.