When a man says that he needs to get to the salon for his weave, eyebrows tend to go up. Unless he says he’s going to see John Cotton, that is.
By now, most of us have seen man weaves and the dramatic transformations that they give to men struggling with hair loss. They give balding men back their confidence in the way that weaves give women their hair tossing swag. But it’s probably the last thing John Cotton thought he’d be doing when he started cutting hair at his uncle’s shop in his hometown of Detroit at just 13-years-old.
“I was in high school and I was supposed to be the intern/receptionist. So I told [my school] I was the receptionist, but I was actually cutting hair,” he remembers fondly. “It was funny. I would run from the barber’s chair to the receptionist desk when I would see my teacher come to check on me to see if I was doing what I was supposed to be doing at the job site.”
Though cutting came naturally (he later went to barber school to sharpen his skills), he admits that the weave install was a learning process for him. He wasn’t well-versed on the service, but when a client asked if he could install one for him, he decided that he would learn. It was rough in the beginning.
“I took a class on a particular type of unit that was popular about three years ago. It was just pretty much you just glue on the hair,” said the 37-year-old from a chair at LW Salon, where he works his magic. “I was one of the first guys to do it. It was horrible, but I was doing that one and people were just wearing it because there was nothing else.”
Like an elevated toupee, the original man weave wasn’t initially dynamic. So Cotton wanted to learn a better way to install the hair, and began teaching himself how to do the weave like a lace front. He learned pretty quickly, alongside longtime friend and fellow hair unit pioneer Wade Menendez, owner of The W Hair Lofts Inc., who grew to fame with man weave installs in the DMV area. He kept practicing, until he got so good at installing the lace front version that he’s revered for today, that it has evolved into more than a vanity service.
Four shops later, Cotton is not just in the business of hair, he’s in the business of changing lives. A small percentage of his man weave clients are in remission from cancer, or suffer from alopecia or severe hair loss, and rely on their weaves to help them feel like the best version of themselves.
“This eight-year-old, he had alopecia. And his mom took him out of school because he was getting picked on because of it. So she put him in home school for a couple years. He came to see me and I did a great job. He loved it so much he cried. And she was able to put him back in school,” he told ESSENCE. “To be able have someone who has alopecia or cancer be able to see themselves in a different light, have a certain confidence, that means everything. To look at themselves in the mirror and feel good, that’s a great feeling.”
He’s even received so many inquiries from barbers on how he installs the units for cancer patients that he’s now teaching classes. Group classes of 15-20 people will show you the basics on how to do an install with approximately two units. But if you want the full John Cotton experience, you can participate in his “Shadow Me A Day For $1K” extended class where you spend the day with him, and get to see every intricate detail of the process on approximately 6 or 7 clients. It’s a great way to spread the talent, allowing more barbers to offer the service to clients in need with severe hair loss concerns.
Whether a John Cotton school of hair is in the works is hard to say, but in the meantime, he’s making big changes for man weave seekers. With plans in the work for a new shop, he wants to elevate the experience so that it’s even more of a private safe space where clients with alopecia, cancer, or simply receding hair, can feel comfortable coming in and letting their figurative hair down.
“As women you guys are used to weaves and stuff like that. So imagine for a man—this is all new for us. I want them come in and feel very comfortable and be able to sit down, have a glass of wine, sit in the chair, pull their hair out,” he said. “We can talk, they can show me what they’ve got to show me, and we go from there. I want to make it really exclusive and really private.”
Units start at $550 and go up from there (includes install) depending on what look you want. He has a warehouse where the custom units are made, so if you want braids, long locs, or a twist out, but can’t wait to grow your hair to the lengths required for those styles, Cotton’s got you covered. Literally. You can also shop his custom hair on manweave.com, which will have its own space in the new salon just for hair sales.
And when he’s not installing man weaves he’s still cutting some of our favorite celebrities’ hair, including Jay Pharoah, Jussie Smollett, Billy Porter, and Ryan Jamaal Swain and Dyllon Burnside from Pose. The man is booked and busy.
“I’ve been cutting hair for a long time. I’d get booked for a week, but [now] I’m booked for months. I never thought that I would be this booked before in my life, never, ever,” he said with a big laugh. “I love it though. I’m glad that I’m here to make these guys feel good. It’s a good feeling.”