Inside West Coast Cuts on the corner of Santa Rosa’s College Avenue and Maxwell Drive, 23-year-old Jose Tapia has been working his way to international social media acclaim as a barber creating urban styles and intricate designs on clients for up to 14 hours a day.
Tapia goes by JayTee, and on Instagram as @jaytee_thebarber, he’s amassed a following of 82,000 loyal fans from all over the world.
They ask him for advice, and Tapia happily replies, taking the time to reply to as many comments as he can, recognizing in his followers younger versions of himself.
“I don’t consider it work at all,” he said.
Monday, he was creating a hair design for his 12-year-old cousin Francisco Hernandez, who heads back to West County Charter this week for 8th grade.
Standing behind his corner chair, Tapia was surrounded by posters of Muhammad Ali. Piled on shelves inside the shop were trophies and medals from barber battles, where barbers face off in competitions like design work and classic cuts, and race to see who can produce the best fade in the shortest amount of time. Music pumped through the speakers. The shop was packed, as Tapia’s coworkers hustled between clients, the back-to-school rush in full swing.
In all, Hernandez’s freestyle design took about an hour, 30 minutes more than most cuts Tapia does, but he was working slowly, methodically on the design. There was a sense he works this precisely on most clients who ask for design work.
His Instagram account is full of such examples: leopard print undercuts, illustrations of water droplets and tropical scenes complete with palm trees and birds shaded into the hairline.
Over time, a seemingly 3-D pattern of abstract swirls and zigzags emerges in Hernandez’s hair, with Tapia paying special attention to the shading and line work, adding to the visual illusion.
Such detailed cuts cost Tapia’s clients about $50, but basic looks start at $25. (Family members get a discount.)
He posts those designs to his Instagram account, to the fascination of a following of 80 percent men, most falling between the ages of 18-24.
Break his fans down by city and São Paulo, Brazil leads in number of followers, with Santa Rosa next; then Santiago, Chile; Tehran, Iran; and Casablanca, Morocco.
Most of his followers are American, followed by Brazil, India, Iraq and Argentina.
“It’s crazy to think about that,” Tapia said. “I always tell students you have to use social media to your full advantage because it’s free and it’s just that much more potential exposure that you have.”
Also objectively crazy is that Tapia has only been posting to Instagram for three years. His first post, of a zombie design he did at a barber battle, came Jan. 20, 2014.
Tapia has always been an artist, taking after his older sister’s sketching hobby, and barbering — especially the intricate designs he’s known for — is an extension of that.
He got his start in barbering the summer before 8th grade after seeing a YouTube video of a zigzag hair design, which piqued his interest.
After that, when friends came over to hang out at his mom’s Sebastopol home, they would head out to the front yard for a fresh cut.