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Josh Wagner: Thanking Mentors for his Wella Cares Grand Prize Win

Rosanne Ullman | August 8, 2017 | 7:27 AM
From left: Spanky Caudill, Justin Boh, Josh Wagner, Katie Wagner.

When Barbers Without Borders took the 2017 Grand Prize in Hairdressers at Heart’s Wella Cares contest, organization cofounder Joshua Wagner was as surprised as anyone. Wow, receiving $10,000 for charitable efforts? Giving back was just the way Wagner had lived his life ever since cosmetology school.

“The school I went to was always doing community work,” remembers Wagner, a stylist at High Five Salon in Cincinnati and a men’s hair educator for Sebastian and Nioxin. “Then my mentor at Sebastian, Anthony Cole, took me to Fashion Week in New York and Paris, where I carried his combs! But he also introduced me to amazing people like Nioxin’s Diane Stevens. Having great mentors opened up my career.”

Cole brought Wagner into men’s styling, which became the core of his career, and Stevens inspired him with her Cinderella Foundation, which helps to empower girls both within the community and abroad by providing cosmetology training for them. Wagner liked the idea of teaching a skill rather than giving money.

“It’s mind-blowing that a comb and a pair of shears can open up a whole world for someone,” he says. “These people have the drive; they just need the opportunity.”

In that spirit, while still a young hairdresser, Wagner started holding hair cutting classes at the Boys and Girls Club, where he’d worked before becoming a hairdresser. When he found out that Spanky Caudill, a friend who owns Spanky’s Barber Shop in neighboring Newport, Kentucky, was cutting hair for the homeless on his days off, the two started talking about doing charity work together. One day a Cincinnati news team saw Caudill with his homeless clients and stopped to interview him about this volunteer work. On the spot, Caudill came up with a name for what he was doing: Barbers Without Borders. He called Wagner and said, “Now we really have to do this, because I just told the news reporters that we have this organization!”

They identified the mission of Barbers Without Borders: to empower underserved communities across the globe by sharing the hair cutting craft through education and one-on-one mentorship. Some of their work is local or around the U.S., but for their first big initiative Wagner and Caudill took a team to Guatemala City, Guatemala. They won over the community by first cutting hair on children, then teens and adults. They hoped to spark interest in cutting hair as a career.

“We cut hair for so many kids!” Wagner recalls. “By the third day, people came in wanting to learn how to cut hair. That was our goal—to give people a profession. Some wanted to just watch so they could do their own family’s hair to save money, but one man who’d just finished barbering school wanted to open a barber shop. It cost only $800 to open a barber shop there, so we gave him clippers and scissors and tried to set him up for success. Before we left Guatemala, we also raised money and bought paint for the elementary school, and our group started painting the school. A second group followed up and finished.”

Next, Barbers Without Borders is partnering with Missions of Hope International (MOHI) to hold classes at a trade school in Kenya. Along with Wagner and Caudill, recipients of the Wella Cares Grand Prize were Justin Boh, creative director at Hambone Collective in Cincinnati, and Josh’s wife Katie Wagner, who served as project manager.

Spanky Caudill cuts a child’s hair in Guatemala.
Spanky Caudill cuts a child’s hair in Guatemala.

Wagner is grateful for Wella’s support even beyond the prize money. “Wella put together packages of water bottles, mannequin heads, shears—all sorts of supplies that we can pass along to the people we train in Kenya,” Wagner reports.

“The Wella Cares winners are great examples of the power of the beauty professional to make a difference in our world,” says Coty Senior Vice-President North America Professional Beauty and Global OPI Sal Mauceri. “We developed Hairdressers at Heart to honor the personal and professional commitment of stylists to their communities.” The next Wella Cares Contest will launch in March 2018. For information and updates as the date approaches, visit hairdressersatheart.com.

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