Victor Fontanez was 17 when his barber suggested learning to cut hair. That barber, named “G”, at Barber Kings in Fayetteville, NC, was responding to Vic’s own inquiry about how to make extra cash while attending college. So, Vic spent his senior year focused on the haircutting craft, so much so that he fell in love with it, and opted out of college in favor of barber school.
That was just over four years ago. Vic—now known by millions of people as Vic Blends, per his social media handles—is only 22. He’s cut every rapper, baller, and CEO, but that isn’t the reputation he’s building for himself. Instead, the soon-to-be Angelino is moving west not necessarily to be closer to the scene, but prompted rather by his fervor to build his own lasting (and meaningful) legacy.
“I learned the role a barber has in the community, being a father figure to a lot of young kids.”
>Four years before he picked up his first clippers, Vic studied another topic voraciously: motivational speaking. (He even took a year of Toastmasters courses to perfect his own skills.) It’s a major dimension to his social following, as Vic frequently posts life advice, bite-sized inspiring tidbits, and gratitude for God.
“I got hip to motivational speaking in eighth grade, trying to psych myself up for track races,” he tells me over Zoom. “I searched on YouTube for, like, ‘best motivational speeches’ and I found Eric Thomas. I would listen to him in the hallways at school. He’s even in my senior yearbook, for my inspirational quote under my photo.” Vic finds the yearbook from a nearby shelf, locates the photo and holds it up to the camera for me to dictate: “Give up what’s good for what’s great. —Eric Thomas”
He’s probably one of the few people who ever had intention behind that senior quote—and enough dedication to follow through on its ethos. I ask him why he’s leaving Atlanta so soon after he arrived. For one, his girlfriend is from LA. Secondly, much of his Atlanta experience has been defined by the pandemic, and working on his brand from home. Call it a pit stop. Thirdly, he says he can do everything in LA that he wants to do in Atlanta, and probably more. And that more encompasses three very different things: Creating more tutorials and content. Launching a product brand (the name of which is ‘MORE’, fittingly), and… working on prison reform for California State Prisons…
Here’s more of my interview with the ahead-of-his-years Vic Blends.
ULTRA: What was one of the reasons you were so drawn to barbering?
Vic: The community. In my first few months of cutting hair, they had an event that is hosted every year in Fayetteville, called Cut My City, where they do free haircuts to kids going back to school. So, the guys [at Barber Kings]—you know, they’re like LeBron James to me—they said, we got this event, come cut with us. But I replied, “I got no license, I haven’t been to school, are you sure I can come?” At the time I thought that they wanted me to get experience cutting hair. But really they were planting the seed of what it means to build community. So when I was out there, it felt like I was cutting at the Super Bowl. It was one of the most impactful events I had, early on in my career. So I learned the role a barber has in the community, being a father figure to a lot of young kids.
You maintain a big community online, too. And one way you nurture it is through your online tutorials, the VicBlends Academy. It took off at the start of the pandemic—was it a fast execution, to capitalize on everyone being home and on their computers?
It was accidentally timed. I originally launched the academy when I was back in Fayetteville, my first year after barber school. I figured people would pay me to learn. But I definitely rushed it. The user experience wasn’t that good. We had a problem with the passwords, and people couldn’t see the videos—just nonstop problems. I ended up taking it down because it was really not the best representation of my brand. And, I obviously changed as a barber; I got way better techniques. I started working on [new content] the year before the pandemic, and the timing was just perfect. We filmed the last couple videos, and then COVID hit. And everybody was stuck at home and wanting to learn.
Independent of that timing and the Academy’s success, do you feel like the pandemic changed your approach to barbering?
It forced me to grow and adapt. The thing I’m good at—cutting hair—I couldn’t do [for the time being], so I had to adapt. I heard a quote that changed my life: “Don’t let what you’re good at define who you are. Who are you if you can’t do what you’re good at?” I had to sit back and ask “Who is Victor Fontanez if I can never cut hair again?” Everyone had that alone time in the pandemic to dig deep and figure out what you care for. I learned to use my voice more, to reinvent, to see what other blessings I had besides a physical skill, and that’s when I realized how good I was at speaking.
“Nobody on Earth is going to make sure my legacy will be remembered. So I’m grinding, just using my voice to be something that this generation will look up to, because that was really my motivation from the beginning.”
That motivational speaking you’ve studied—it’s a huge part of your public persona. Do you get any pushback from your followers when you do those types of videos?
Yeah, some of the first responses I heard were like, “shut up and cut hair, go do a fade or something”. But when you believe things are God-given, it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks.
And after a while, I assume your followers come to expect these videos from you. Maybe some of them are following you because of those videos.
I kept posting and posting until now, it’s thousands of people who have told me it changed their life. I even hear from prisoners—guys doing 30 years, or a double life sentence—telling me my videos changed the way they think. When you hear something like that, who am I to let someone talking shit on my Instagram to stop me? I sat in a level-four maximum security prison, and somebody that has no hope left told me my videos gave them hope.
I have to ask: Why were you in a maximum security prison?
My buddy Scott Budnick [producer of the civil justice film Just Mercy] called me up. He said “Some kids I work with that are juvenile and locked up, they sent me your videos. I would love for you to come to LA and speak with them.” You never know who is looking and watching or who needs your words. I didn’t know that someone in prison like that needed my energy. This was a couple weeks ago, and I went with him into a prison, my first experience, and it was life changing. Nobody in my family is incarcerated, but I do have people close to me—a best friend, the first person I know who had been incarcerated, and he’s out now. He deals with the trauma, and his family too, on top of it. I see the effect it has on them.
Will anything come from these meetings with the inmates?
It’s something to bring forward real change, and not just me speaking [out on the topic]. But physically doing things to change lives forever. Me and Scott will be working on some big things for the California State Prisons.
“Some people want more of different things, but you’re never gonna settle for less.”
In the bigger picture, what is driving you to focus on social change?
I know what’s really gonna be “worth it” for my life. Cutting celebrities is awesome, but what’s my legacy? There’s going to be another hot barber, there’s a million barbers out here that can cut somebody’s hair. But nobody on Earth is going to make sure my legacy will be remembered. So I’m grinding, just using my voice to be something that this generation will look up to, because that was really my motivation from the beginning.
That sounds like an Eric Thomas-ism sneaking through.
That’s his philosophy: keep grinding. Don’t make excuses. God gives you an opportunity every day, and if you don’t take it, you’re selfish for it. You’re breathing. You got all your senses, you got all your limbs, and you got air to breathe. Take that opportunity. If not, you’re just selfish. That’s how he talks. I love how raw he is. It isn’t the bullshit, fake-mogul mentality. He was homeless, eating out of trash cans, spending 12 years to get a four-year degree, dropping out of high school, dropping out of college. He finally got it, he grinded, it took a whole marathon and he’s still running it.
I know one opportunity you’re seizing on right now, is that you’re developing a product brand. I’ve seen you wearing merch with the word ‘MORE’ on it. Can you tease what you’re working on with this brand?
MORE is a promise to grow. It is being the right seed, the right soil, but not the right sunlight. And in life, it’s always about more. Not always more money, fame, or followers, but more time with your family, or more time by yourself. Sometimes you want more clarity. Whatever it is, we’re always gonna fight for more. Some people want more of different things, but you’re never gonna settle for less. As for this brand, I want it to be an extension of myself. I can’t be everywhere [at once]. I’m only one person. But if I can create something that other people can have, and can still feel that energy that I put into it, then I want to give it to them.
Photographer: Emilio Hernandez
Stylist: Sincere Darville
Creative Director: Curvel Baptiste
Producer: Madeline Carpentiere
Editor: Matt Peng