Cut by Kuya: Filipino American Barbers You Should Know About


Filipino American History Month is observed every October to mark the anniversary of when Filipinos first landed in the continental United States of America. Before the pilgrims, we stepped foot on the west coast on October 18, 1587, in a small town on the central coast called Morro Bay, in present-day California. 

This month presents an opportunity to highlight various Filipino-American stories that tell our history. In the midst of many amazing stories being told, I think there is a beauty-full one being overlooked. Before we get to the list of barbers you should know about, I’d love to share some background on how the beauty industry is woven into the fabric of my family’s history. Basically, if it weren’t for the salon, I might not be here.

It all starts with my great-grandma Eugenia Panti. She was born in Catanduanes, Philippines in 1905 and immigrated to Oakland in 1929. Looking for work, she got her cosmetology license and established a career in the beauty industry. She worked in salons in downtown San Francisco and eventually moved with her husband Getulio and their two sons, Getulio Jr. and Joel, from Oakland to San Mateo. Little did she know that one of the cosmetologists working in her Burlingame salon would eventually marry her son Getulio Jr. 

Unfortunately, I was too young to remember my great-grandma, but fortunately, my family is able to paint the picture. From what I’ve gathered, she was a bold entrepreneur who cared deeply for her community. When I learned that about her, it honestly made me better embrace the entrepreneurial spirit flowing through my veins. 

Looking at my family’s story from a historical lens, my great-grandma and grandma represent many Filipino Americans who found work in the beauty industry. With relatively low requirements needed for enrollment, cosmetology and barbering have always provided a solid path to business ownership in America. 

Fast forward to the modern day, Filipino American barbers continue to make a significant influence in the beauty and barber industry. Some of the most well-known and sought-after barbers are Filipino. From cutting professional athletes and celebrities to starting companies and making headline news, Filipino-American barbers shape the culture. Let’s give some love to Filipino American barbers that we all should know about.

Randy Tagle

Cakeinisrandy is arguably the first YouTube barber. He uploaded his first haircut tutorial 14 years ago on March 7, 2009. If you talk to barbers who started cutting hair during that era, many of them will likely reference learning how to do a taper from one of Randy’s videos. Today, he owns Caken Cuts Barbershop in San Francisco and has been well acquainted with A-list clientele for decades. In many ways, the YouTube tutorial videos we see today follow Randy’s blueprint.

Vince Garcia

Originally from Toronto, Vince moved to the city of stars and then became one himself. From his days cutting the Jabbawockeez, to launching his own lifestyle brand by.appt.only, to opening up his own shop Grey Matter LA, there is little he hasn’t done. He is a featured barber on the Emmy Award-winning show The Shop by Uninterrupted, an ambassador for the Dior Sauvage Grooming Line and a member of the Gillette Barber Council. When you consider all he has accomplished, Vince reminds us that anything is possible.

Mark Bustos

During a trip to the Philippines, Mark rented a chair in a barbershop and offered free haircuts to kids in need. This was the beginning of Be Awesome to Somebody, a generous act where Mark gives free haircuts to those in need on the streets of NYC that got worldwide media coverage. Mark is a very well known and accomplished hair stylist with the biggest heart. He reminds us of the power and beauty of giving back. 

Julius Arriola

In an effort to save money, cutting hair started as a family responsibility given to Julius by his mom. Look at him now. Julius, commonly known as Julius Caesar, is one of the most well-known barbers in the industry. He is the co-founder of STMNT Grooming, which has quickly become one of the fastest-growing grooming brands in the industry. From styling models for Paris Fashion Week to Bad Bunny, Julius is very familiar with the fashion and entertainment world. We can always count on Julius to inspire creativity. 

Rich Mendoza

Holding it down in NYC, Rich owns a Filthy Rich Barbershop in Queens and one in Brooklyn. Many celebrities and athletes have sat in his chair, he’s been featured on GQ and is also a member of the Gillette Barber Council. Like many of us, Rich experienced discrimination within the barber community. Being Filipino, they didn’t think he could cut well. Well, he proved them wrong. 

Paradox BarbersJR Soriano, Jordan Benigno, Don Gomez

In the early days, they were known as the Taper Gang. Now we know them as Paradox. JR, Jordan and Don are the OGs of San Jose. Located in Japantown and Midtown, Paradox Barbers have paved the way for a barbershop that influences culture through cuts, fashion and education. Ahead of their times, the design and aesthetic we see today from many modern barbershops resemble what Paradox has done for years. Oh and let’s not forget, the 49ers players have frequented the shop for years. Nbd. 

Chris Eliares

He’s the SF Giants barber and then some. Voted best barbershop by SF Magazine, Chris has curated an amazing space with Dogpatch Barbershop. Beyond the shop, he’s been featured in campaigns with Lululemon, all while becoming a go to barber for many MLB players across the league. 

This list scratches the surface of the influence that Filipino Americans have had on men’s grooming in America. I am grateful to be part of this history. So, next time you see a fresh fade on your favorite athlete or celebrity, don’t forget that there’s a chance they were cut by kuya. 

*Kuya, when literally translated, means older brother. However, the term is not just limited to a sibling or family member. It’s also used sometimes as a term of respect for a boy/man who’s older than you when you are talking to him.

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Matthew Mendoza

Matthew Mendoza is a licensed barber, educator and consultant. He offers an online course that helps barbers pass their barber exam, hosts the podcast Beyond Barber School which provides emerging barbers with the critical guidance needed to start their business and writes a newsletter called theGuideline about the latest trends in the barber industry.

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