I’m a 19-year-old barber and famous on TikTok. Celebs pay me $1,000 for a haircut.

“I was supposed to go to dental school, but here I am”

Jamiel Bustos
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Jamiel Bustos opened a TikTok account in July 2020. Now he has millions of followers and an impressive client list. (Photos courtesy Bustos)

I started cutting hair when I was 14 years old in 2017. I loved how fresh and confident I felt after receiving a nice haircut, and I wanted to give that to others. I started asking friends in school if I could cut their hair, but nobody trusted me with scissors, so I settled for cutting my own. Every few weeks, I would show up to school with a strange haircut that looked terrible and other kids made fun of me.

At the end of that year, a friend finally let me give him a cut. I did a decent job, so a few more classmates agreed to come to my parents’ apartment in Etobicoke and let me cut their hair, too. At 15, I was hired as an apprentice at a barber shop near my parents’ place. I swept the floors and learned tricks of the trade from older barbers, like how to replicate popular cuts. I would go there after my afternoon basketball practice and stay at the shop for six hours, making roughly $50 a shift. But I wasn’t doing it for the money: I was passionate about cutting hair and determined to learn what I could.

Two years later, when I was in grade 11, COVID-19 hit and put a stop to public haircuts for a while. The barbershop closed down, and I was left trying to figure out how to use this difficult situation to my advantage. A few months into the pandemic, I realized that everybody was on TikTok, so by July 2020, I made my own account and started posting weekly. I posted funny skits about my haircuts—cutting my boss’ hair while he was asleep or doing viral dances from the barber’s chair, all while cutting hair on the side and trying to master the craft. My channel grew steadily: by December, I had reached 300,000 followers. I started receiving tons of messages from people who wanted me to cut their hair.

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One of my first clients was a real estate lawyer. He has a mansion in Toronto, so I shot a video of me walking up his cobblestone driveway where his Teslas were parked, and meeting him in his living room for a haircut. We injected some humour into the video: he pretends to be asleep and we spray him in the face to wake him up, and at one point my friend pops out of nowhere to ask him what he does for a living. I titled the video “cutting my rich client”, and it went viral, hitting 10 million views on TikTok. From that video, my following on TikTok grew to one million by the end of 2020.

@jbalwaysfresh Why he flexing on me like that 🤣 #fyp #foryou #haircut #dubai #dxb ♬ POPSTAR (Feat. Drake) – DJ Khaled

The concept was so well-liked that I made it into an ongoing TikTok series called “Cutting a Millionaire.” I reached out to entrepreneurs, celebrities, and millionaires and offered to cut their hair in exchange for making a TikTok video out of it. It was a snowball effect: with each celebrity I featured, it became easier to find the next one and after a while, they started reaching out to me. Over the last two and a half years, I’ve cut hair for viral Youtubers like the Dobre Brothers and Coby Persin, Indian actor Sonu Sood, and UAE internet personality Rashed Belhasa. I have almost 300 videos on my account, including clips of my travels and now 64 editions of “Cutting a Millionaire.” That series has really boosted my channel; I now have 6.7 million TikTok followers.

This new life is a pretty wild departure from my original post-high-school plans. My parents immigrated from the Philippines in 2007 and believe in a more traditional route: you go to school, then university, then you get a 9-5 job. I was supposed to go to dental school but here I am, barely out of high school and charging $1,000 for celebrity haircuts. I don’t plan on going to college.

My path may be different from what my parents envisioned for me, but they’re supportive because they know I’m putting everything I have into this craft. It’s a lot of work: cutting hair is its own job, and on top of that, I spend several hours a day running my Tiktok, Youtube, Instagram and Snapchat channels, where I have a combined following of nearly nine million people. I’ve also started modeling with American retail company Fashionova, which I enjoy doing because I love clothes. To help manage the workload, I’ve hired a manager, a videographer and a personal trainer all in the last six months.

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I make more than six figures annually from my social media channels and haircuts, but I invest a lot back into my career. I have other expenses: I spend a lot on car payments, and cover my mom’s rent at $2,000 a month and help my dad pay off his mortgage at $3,000 a month. Plus, running this business can get expensive: my team and I have traveled to Dubai, Los Angeles, Vancouver and New York to meet celebrities, cut hair and collect content.

It’s barely been four years since my first barbershop gig, and in that time I’ve gotten comfortable betting on myself. I put all of my effort into building this career, and it’s paying off in ways I could never have imagined. I have a few business plans in the pipeline: I’ll be launching a hair product company next year, and I’m taking a trip to LA to shoot some more content in the next few months. One day, I would love to open my own barbershop.

I also have a bucket list of three celebrities I want to feature on my channel: Drake, Manny Pacquiao, and Elon Musk. I’ll have to make some serious noise to get their attention, but if I’ve learned anything, it’s that no challenge is too big if you’re willing to put in the work.

As Told To Alex Cyr