Question: I've read that Paul Mitchell products are only sold in salons, but they're on drugstore and supermarket shelves everywhere. What gives?
Answer: Every bottle of Paul Mitchell in any bottle in the drug store or supermarket is either counterfeit, gray market or stolen. There is so much demand for Paul Mitchell that drug stores and supermarkets love to have it on their shelves. Counterfeiters get involved and mix it with gray market product, sell it to drug stores and supermarkets. As long as it says Paul Mitchell on the label, they're not doing anything illegal.
Q: Is there anything you can do to combat the problem?
A: No, other than educating the public, because if it were on the shelf, we'd have to go in there and prove which bottle is counterfeit, which bottle is gray market. By the time you're going around trying to prove things, most of the inventory's gone.
Q: You've stuck with a simple ad campaign for years, with pictures of you and your family in front of your products. What's behind that decision?
A: Family values. Customers, hair stylists and people we knew socially, or just people I'd run across on the street, said, 'We really, really like you standing in front of the product so we can identify the person, and then you bring your family into it, too.' The 30-plus-year-olds love family values.
Q: Do you plan to stick with that?
A: The kids want someone around their own age saying this is cool and hip, so that's what we're going to do next year.
Q: How do you balance the multiple businesses and the travel?
A: It becomes part of my way of life. I'll give you an example of the last five or six days. I was in Spain for two days speaking to Goldman Sachs. On Friday, I was in England with my Paul Mitchell distributor talking to him and doing some philanthropic things while I was there. I came back here on the weekend, had a couple of meetings, saw my daughter and then came in to do some work on Paul Mitchell and John Paul Pet. Along the way, maybe 5 percent of my time is spent working on Patron. I started that back in '89 with a partner.
Q: So after being friends with Paul Mitchell for eight years, you decided to go into business together. How did you get the money to get started?
A: Well, Paul Mitchell came up with $350. I don't know where he got his $350 from, but I borrowed part of mine from my mother. I only had a few hundred bucks to live on and when we started the company. I happened to have an old Rolls Royce, a very old one, which I'd had for about a year or so, and I'd separated from my wife at that time, so I lived in that car for the first couple of weeks.
Q: Your products have always been cruelty-free and environmentally friendly. What led you to do this?
A: We thought, well, why do you have to test on animals? We're making products for humans. We'll test on our own hair and in our own eyes, as opposed to paying a lab a few dollars for their research on how much product you can pour into a rabbit's eye before it goes blind.
Q: Where did your commitment come from?
A: I remember when I worked with Redken. They had this room with little monkeys in it, called marmosets, in Van Nuys. I felt so bad for those little marmosets. I thought I wouldn't want to be that monkey, but there was nothing I could do about it. When it turned out five years later there was something I could do about it, I did it.
Q: There are 80 Paul Mitchell Beauty Schools right now and there will be 100 by the end of the first quarter. Why is that part of the business growing so fast right now?
A: There is a need for it. In traditional beauty schools, they do their job, they teach kids and adults how to pass the state board so they can get a license and go to work. But the statistics say that almost half of the people a year later were not working full-time in the beauty industry. Some worked part time, some retained their license, some just left. That's bad for the industry; it's not building careers. We developed a school where the majority is not only in the industry, but building a career.
Q: You've kept a strong stance about not wanting to sell this business. Why?
A: I could take my company overnight and go full-blown retail and I would double or triple my money the first year. But back when I had nothing, I promised hair stylists I would never do that. They brought me to the dance and I'm going to take them home with me all the way. We owe them. We are an ethical company for all the money in the world.
Q: What guides your philanthropic efforts?
A: When I get involved in these things, it's not just financial, it's personal. Nelson Mandela, Brad Pitt, Richard Branson and I are patrons of Mineseeker. We're an organization trying to remove 70 million landmines. We feel someone has to do it, and we're going to do it. Even though there are not landmines in our country, we're going to do it. It feels like the right thing to do.
Q: You grew up in a poor community outside downtown L.A. with a single parent in the 1950s. What was that like?
A: I can remember in Echo Park, as a little kid, we'd have the ragman, a little guy with a cart ringing a bell yelling "Rags!" You know, like two for a penny. We had the fish man peddling his fish cart saying "Fish!" the vegetable guy. My mom was an immigrant, she was Greek and French; my father was Italian. They parted ways when I was 2, and we were raised by my mom. We had very little, but never knew it.
Q: You've started DeJoria Diamonds, a line of non-conflict diamonds (those mined by companies that can guarantee the proceeds won't bankroll war) that has been successful in the U.K. and is coming to the U.S. later this month. What got you into jewelry?
A: Someone asked me if I wanted to be part of a diamond company. I asked if they became profitable, would they be willing to take a big hunk, a nice piece of that profit, not one or two percent, and give it back to the people in the country, the common folk, to help them have a better life? And they agreed. Therefore, I went ahead with DeJoria diamonds.
Q: Paul Mitchell died of cancer in 1989. What would he tell you if he could see what you've done with the company today?
A: When he died, he left me an extra one percent, so I could have full control. He said, 'JP, what I'd like to see is John Paul Mitchell Systems doing $100 million a year in business. I'd love to see that Paul Mitchell name everywhere.' Well, we're far in excess of $100 million and we're all over the place. He would say, 'JP, well done. Thank you for sticking by hair dressers, thank you for not going to where we both agreed we shouldn't go and thank you for helping the world along the way.' He believed in giving others a helping hand too. He was a good man, Paul Mitchell, a very good man.
John Paul DeJoria
Company: John Paul Mitchell Systems
Born: Echo Park, 1944
Honorary Doctorate of Laws,
Pepperdine University, 1995
Career Turning Point: In John Paul Mitchell Systems' second year, when the company paid its bills on time
Most Influential People: Nelson Mandela, Paul Mitchell
Personal: Wife, Eloise, and four children: John Paul II, 41; Michaeline, 28; Alexis, 22; and John Anthony, 9
Hobbies: Skiing in the winter, wave-running in the summer
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