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How Thad Jayaseelan Became The Go-To Barber For Athletes And Celebrities Like Drake And Big Sean
"I want to be remembered as someone that dedicated his life to be the best I could be at a craft that wasn't respected as a viable career in my culture."
Ara Ehamparam
Co-founder & Podcast Host
Canada
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Thad Jayaseelan started cutting hair as a hobby and left it as that for awhile. 7 years ago, he got back into cutting more seriously.  Leveraging social media, he's travelled all over Europe teaching, leveraging those photos on Instagram to styling athletes and celebrities including Drake, Big Sean, J Balvin and teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, etc.

What made you decide to become a barber?

I decided to become a barber in my young teenage years when someone gave me the chance to start working in a barbershop. I was surrounded by great cutters which allowed me to build my confidence, particularly in fading and clipper work. 

How have your family and friends supported you through your journey?  Did you have any doubters?

My parents allowed me to cut hair while I was in high school, but of course, didn't want me to make that a career. I went to university to satisfy my parents but it was completely a waste of time in my opinion. I think I doubted myself, to be honest. Since we're the first generation, it was a struggle to make anyone understand that cutting hair could be a career, more importantly, respected.  I felt that everyone looked at it as a hobby and I started to believe that too. I kind of forced myself to get out of it. So I stopped cutting hair for a long time only to get back into it 7 years ago. 

What has the impact of social media been on your various ventures?

Wow, it's been amazing. I got to meet so many other barbers and hairstylists all over the world because of social media. My first class in Barcelona was put together on Facebook. I've been invited to teach all over Europe because people get to see my work and then get me to come over and teach the craft. I've got to cut a lot of athletes and celebrities based on my Instagram photos which then leads to building great relationships with them. These relationships have led me to cut people such as Drake, Big Sean, J Balvin, and teams such as the Toronto Blue Jays, Montreal Canadians, New York Rangers, etc.  Social Media has also led me to be noticed by L'oreal which then led me to become the National Ambassador for their education team. 

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Do you have any mentors that have helped you in the progression of your career?  If not, who would be somebody that you would want as a mentor now?

My mentor was Lebert Blackstock who gave me the opportunity to work at his barbershop at the age of 17.  He taught me all the tricks and tips that led me to pick up the art of cutting a lot faster. Lebert taught a few others that are doing very well in the industry right now.  When I first starting cutting hair 2 years ago, I moved to the UK to attend Vidal Sassoon Academy (the pioneer of women's hairdressing). All of my teachers there are my mentors. They can practically cut with their eyes closed, haha.

Where do you see yourself in the next 3-5 years? 

I'm always going to improve my haircutting skills so that will never stop.  However, for the last 6 months, I have been working on my own brand: GRADIENT. It's a combination of products and education. In 3-5 years,  I see myself growing the brand globally. I want to provide the education and products to as many people as possible to groom their hair. My goal is to make people look and feel good. 

What is one piece of advice you would give other entrepreneurs?

You don't have to be an expert at everything.  It's okay to ask for help and delegate tasks to others to reduce your workload so you can focus on the big picture.

In terms of your personal legacy, in a few sentences, describe how you want to be remembered by your family and friends?

I want to be remembered as someone that dedicated his life to be the best I could be at a craft that wasn't respected as a viable career in my culture.  I want to be known as a person that influenced the younger people to go after their dreams no matter how crazy that dream may look to someone else. 

Who is one person from the global Tamil community and one person that isn’t Tamil that you admire and why?

One person from the global Tamil community that I admire would be Ilaiyaraaja, the legendary composer.  My family introduced his music to my siblings and I at a very young age. I personally think it's difficult to make music that lives on forever and his sound touches people differently. 

One person that's not Tamil that I admire would be Vidal Sassoon. He changed the world of cutting hair by implementing geometry and architecture into his haircuts. All the hair schools in the world are based on his fundamentals and philosophy. Every time I cut hair now, I look at it from a design and geometric point of view thanks to him. 

What would be a dream job for if you weren’t doing what you were doing today?

My dream job if I wasn't doing what I wasn't doing today would be to have my own fashion house and be the creative director. I would love to do my own runways in Paris, Italy, and England. I had the privilege to attend a few shows such as LV, and Dior in Paris. I really loved that energy! Who knows, I might do this sooner than later.

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What do you think you would tell 16-year Thad looking back?

Follow your instinct! If you really have a passion for something, go for it and try to be the best you can be. Don't worry about how much you can potentially make in the future. Worry about waking up and not being happy or motivated. 

What is your favourite book(s) you've read recently or a podcast(s) that you've listened to recently that's had an impact on you?

I really like "Shoe Dog", which is the story behind how Nike became what it is today.  Phil Knight never gave up on his dreams. He worked hard, traveled a lot, took calculated risks, and manifested greatness. 

Another book I would recommend is "Rich Dad, Poor Dad".  Everyone should read this book. It's not how much money you make, it's how much you can save to invest for your future. 

What is a new belief, behaviour or habit that has most improved your life?

A new habit for me would be to wake up at 6:30 am. I like to read and then go to the gym. I feel energized and it sets me up well for the rest of the day.  During COVID, it's been challenging to stay motivated so I created group chats with friends so we keep each other accountable. 

If you were given $1 billion, how would you allocate the money to change the world?

I would allocate the money to developing countries that can't afford education. Educating the youth and giving them opportunities to dream would reduce poverty, violence, and mental illness. I would also change some of the school's curriculum to cater to the individual. Not every child wants to learn the same material or the same way. I would like more teachers and fewer students in each class so there's more attention given to them. Lastly, I would create more community groups for immigrants coming into a new country.  It can be shocking to adapt to a new culture and community groups can pave the way to make life easier for these individuals.  

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How would you describe the impact that the Canadian Tamil community had on you both personally and professionally?

I have been inspired by all the success stories coming from the Tamil Community in Canada. Over the years, I see entrepreneurs following their dreams and creating opportunities for themselves and others.  It gives me the drive to continuing going after my goals in life.  I have been recognized through awards by the Tamil community in the last few years and it makes me really happy to know that our people appreciate what I do, especially as I know my career choice is something that's not highly respected by the older generation. It's really important to continue supporting and uplifting each other. It's the only way to build a stronger community. 

What is your favourite Tamil food (meal or dessert)?

Rice, crab curry, and eggplant curry (the white one). 

What is your favourite Tamil movie?

Patiyal is one of my favorites.  Or anything from Dhanush, haha. 

What does Tamil culture mean to you?

A close-knit community who share the same traditions and family values.  Our language is unique and I'm glad that I was able to learn it at a very young age. I've had the privilege to travel Europe and it's always a cool thing to speak to a fellow Tamilian in my native tongue.  In the last 5 years, I've been to some great restaurants in the streets of Paris and London where I noticed the chefs being Tamil,  I just walk up to them and asked them to customize my meal to be "extra spicy". They ask me where I'm from, which then leads to a 15-minute conversation.  Tamil food is my favourite food.  Whether it's meat, seafood, or vegetarian dishes it's always my number #1 choice but it's been tough for me since I've been on the go for the last 7 years.

Growing up, my family has always been into Kollywood movies and the music that comes with it.  My uncles used to make their own mixtapes and sell them so I was aware of all of the popular songs back in the day. At a younger age, I used to go watch my favorite movies with family and friends. That hasn't happened lately, so I'm out of touch on the music side. I think most of us will always enjoy attending weddings and listening to Tamil music which is a staple at any Tamil event.  In summary,  although the Tamil community is not as large as other communities, there is so much richness in our culture that still hasn't been fully explored. 

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Created By
Ara Ehamparam
Co-founder & Podcast Host | TamilCulture
Canada
Socialist-minded guy trying to make a difference. Co-founder of TamilCulture.com, my...
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