Behind the veneered smiles of Los Angeles is a city that has a habit of chewing people up and spitting them straight back out again, but some thrive in the City Of Angels and build an empire. Court is now in session with Julius Caesar. ALL HAIL.
For the last five years, LA has provided the perfect milieu for Julius to grow his product. Combining San Francisco culture with LA swagger, he has incorporated his love of art, music and fashion into his craft. Julius is not a barber; he’s a brand, and is very much the epitome of the opportunities that the modern barbering industry can afford.
‘Barber’ was a title first bestowed on Julius by this mother. Although the San-Francisco native did not come from nothing, he admits he knows what it is like to have very little, and his hard-working mother was always looking for ways to save money. Haircuts were $12 each so she bought a $20 pair of hair clippers and let her artistic son cut the family. Julius, however, quickly developed a passion for cutting hair and became his high school’s de facto barber. Once graduated, he was faced with a decision that lead him to passing up on Art School and University.
Julius was still cutting hair at his home but was also working in retail. He was there to launch to launch the first iPhone and believes working in retail helped him build not only strong customer services skills but also understand the fundamentals of business. When the US recession hit, Julius decided it was time to transform passion into a profession and enrolled in Bayview Barber College. Going back to school in one of San Fran’s most impoverished neighbourhoods was quite the contrast to earning good money in a shirt and tie forty hours a week.
“When it was apparent that I actually knew how to cut I remember the locals would say I had a ‘temporary hood pass’ since I was cutting up everyone on the block! It’s been a crazy journey ever since, but the first moments cutting in my childhood kitchen to being a barber college student in the hood were all part of me falling in love this lifestyle we all know as barbering today. The game is totally different now and I’m glad to see it grow but those humble times when it wasn’t ‘cool’ yet… those are the times I’ll always cherish. What started off as a way to help my family became a hobby, then a career and now a life,” he reflects.
Having soaked up the culture of San Francisco and helped to grow the Fresh Cut brand in Daly City, Julius decided it was time to start the next chapter of his story: open his own barbershop take on a new city. The Big Apple was mooted as his next location but transferring his licences from California to New York made it logistically difficult. Instead, he was drawn towards the beautiful people of Los Angeles.
Like many before him, Julius landed in LA alone with little more than a few connections. He put out an Instagram – where he had already start to make a name for himself – post looking for the best barbershops in the heart of the city. The young barber was ready to hit the ground running. Capsule Barbershop on Hollywood’s iconic Melrose Avenue gave him a taste of celebrity life before he went on to form Grey Matter with shop owner Vince Garcia and Joey Nieves. The polished façade of LA, however, masks the grind, hustle and heartbreak of The City Of Angels.
“Los Angeles has been a roller coaster of ride,” he admits. “I’ve been blessed to have LA take me with open arms. I’ve just surpassed my five year mark in this beautiful place and I’ve seen a lot of people come and go. I’ve seen the overnight success and seen it turn back round and send people flying out the city worse than they came. LA is not for the weak hearted. You can’t be sensitive here, let alone naïve. The land of amazing opportunities is like a jungle. There’s beasts out there fighting for a spot in the kingdom; there’s lions and hyenas. LA has taught me that in the most chaotic of times, if you stick to what you believe in and what you stand for longevity will be awarded to you.”
The heavily-inked barbers stock has continued to rise as he builds his brand incorporating all of his life experiences and passions. Authenticity remains at the heart of Julius Caesar and he implores all barbers to take a similar approach. He feels too many brands and individuals adhere to what others expect rather than what they really are.
“The best advice I can give to some looking to build a brand is find your own story, and when I say that I don’t mean make one up. Too many brands these days make up a story but there’s no core to brands like that. Seek inspiration through life experiences, from the high and lows. Filter out the excess features and build upon the foundation of what truly represents what the brand stands for. It’s important to have a true message and to stick behind it even if nobody else believes in it. Most brands that are successful organically grew from the roots up and those are the brands that hold longevity.”
ALL HAIL: The Pillars Club is the nucleus of the Julius Caesar brand and the culmination of his career and life thus far. More akin to an art gallery, the monochromatic Downtown LA loft is curated to create an elevated male grooming experience. The carefully chosen soundscape pleases the ears while the candles and incense excite the nostrils as you take a seat in the custom Takara Belmont Chair. It is, quite simply, like little else in the industry. Julius explains that the service he provides his client is as bespoke as the setting.
“It’s a private appointment-only curated space built not out of convenience but out of necessity. I humbly don’t see myself catering to a clientele that want just a haircut but specifically come see me to help mould their image. My client base don’t just come to because I’m available; they come to me because I build a strong professional rapport of manufacturing a custom tailored haircut/style made just for them. If you have ever seen the movie American Gangster, what I’m trying to give them is that Blue Magic. Once you get a tick ALL HAIL: The Pillars Club you only find it where it is made available.”
Julius is often asked about the expansion of his empire and his answer, much like him, evolves over time. He has built an impressive foundation for himself and now wants to conquer the world in both hair and other disciplines. He said he wouldn’t open another establishment until he is settled but when the time comes his next move is undoubtedly going to be game changing, and barbering is not the only game he is looking to change
“I want to continue to be involved in other lifestyle aspects and immerse myself more in fashion and brand consultation and development. I’d love to also take my experience as a men’s grooming educator and work towards transitioning into motivational speaking on platforms outside barbering. The future can be tomorrow or it can be five years from now. I’m just thankful for every day I can open up my eyes and take a breath of air again. We literally don’t know what day will be our last, so I plan and manifest for better tomorrows but at the same time live for the now. If I was to go at any moment, my goal is whatever legacy I do leave behind it was made with my whole heart.”
For the last eight years, Sofie Pok has worked diligently to perfect her craft under her international ‘Stay Gold’ brand. She has battled rigorously to overcome the industry’s inequalities and now stakes her claim as one of its leading figures.
2017 was a breakthrough year for the LA-based barber however the hair industry almost lost one of its leading figures before she had the chance to make her mark. Sofie initially studied cosmetology but admits she struggled to muster any real excitement for the craft. Before quitting in search of another creative outlet she took the bold step of transition to barbering.
“I thought before I give it all up, because I was just trying different things to see what kind of creative outlet that I could find,” she says. “And I was like ‘let me try men’s hair and see how that works’. I jumped into a barbershop and it was probably one of the most uncomfortable, intimidating moves working by myself as a female in a shop of all guys with way more experience than I had.”
At the time, Sofie was a minority within a minority: a female working in a male-dominated industry that was remained in the shadow of cosmetology. The young barber, however, found the excitement she craved and was driven to preserve and use the odds against. As a woman, she felt she had to come twice as hard to gain recognition and build a reputation for herself. In 2017, her hard work came to fruition when she claimed AIA’s Barber Of The Year, Behindthechair.com’s Men’s Shot of the Year and Barbercon’s Female Barber Of The Year.
Although such awards have been necessary to draw attention to the vast wealth of barbering talent you do wonder if they will continue now female barbers are no longer a novelty. Does the term ‘female barber’ and awards based on gender give credence to the idea that gender affects ability? Either way, Sofie now sees female barbers being taken more seriously and was especially proud to edge out her male counterparts at the American Influencer Awards.
“Women aren’t afraid to come into this world and hold their own,” Sofie says proudly. “It’s starting to change where people aren’t just saying, “oh, you’re good for a girl.’ No, you’re good, period. That’s what it should be; it shouldn’t be segregated. But it’s those little things that have pushed me to where I am now. You’ve got to use those moment to drive you even further.”
Sofie has used her personal journey to inspire others via her Stay Gold brand. The moniker is emblazoned across her knuckles and is further testament, should it be needed, to her dedication to the industry. Scroll through her Instagram page (@staygold31) and you will see tangible progression from her cuts to photography and videography. Sofie explains that it is important that her 222k followers find her relatable.
“It’s very real; I don’t sugar coat anything. Anything that has happened I express over the web to remind people that we all started in the same place and have the same struggles. I felt like I was the voice for a lot of people. If they felt like they couldn’t do something they could come to my page and find inspiration. People want to feel like it’s real and attainable rather than thinking ‘oh, I could never do that’.”
Her dedicated following, flawless work and infectious charisma make Sofie a marketer’s dream. International brands such as Mizutani, Takara Belmont and BaByliss have recruited the LA-based barber but authenticity remains at the heart of her work. She does not promote products she does not like. Although now a serious contender in the clipper market, Sofie is the first to admit that joining the brand was a risk, mainly because nobody she knew had ventured outside the brands that previously monopolized the market.
The risk, she says, was “one of the best decisions she ever made”. Sofie is now part of a roster of barbers that demonstrate the extensive BaByliss range of clippers. Spurred on by her experiences in her formative years, she says young barbers need to be educated about the tools they are using.
“I know what it was like when I started to just be given a pair of clippers, not knowing the specs or what was out there. I break down tools and knowledge because I think it’s important to know why we’re using it so we can do it better. We just share what works for us and usually people can connect to that because we’re not salesman. We want stuff that works for us and we’re not going to share it,” she says honestly.
Stay Gold’s effusive approach to education is rooted not only in her personal struggles but also a desire to gain greater recognition for the industry itself. As we all know, barbering was previously regarded as a low-paid, menial job that gained little respect from the wider creative community. Not any more. Sofie says that a shift in men’s attitudes towards male grooming has facilitated industry growth and put it more on par with cosmetology.
“A little bit ago guys weren’t into their hair as much and I feel like that stigma has gone. If they want to get that extra pampering like facials done it’s more acceptable. It’s not like the old days where guys would only cut their hair when they feel like it. They want to look good. They want to feel better and it’s changing men’s grooming so it matches up with the women’s side now. Before you could say there was more money in women’s hair, but now men are getting their haircut three or four times before a woman comes back for a haircut.”
Naturally, as the industry becomes more lucrative it becomes more competitive. Not only is the money now closer to cosmetology but also the respect and interest within the industry itself. Barbering has birthed a subculture and is no longer seen as a career path for the less academically inclined. Sofie says barbers can now hold their heads high when asked what they do for a living.
“Barbering, at the beginning, was looked at as if you worked in McDonalds. ‘Oh, you’re just a barber,’ they would say. I used to remember feeling that way. I felt embarrassed. Now I can say I’m a barber and people think that’s pretty cool. There are so many levels now. People are understanding the art; there’s a lot to encompass.”