Instagram builds Oakmont barber's rep for innovative cuts, 'hair tattooing'
Wendell Kinley makes cutting hair an art.
Instead of a paintbrush and a palette, Kinley uses a pair of scissors and electric shears to create his masterpieces.
The clients are walking advertisements for his art.
Some of those clients sport his signature style — “hair-tattooing.”
“A haircut is like signing your name on a piece of paper,” says Kinley, while buzzing client Michael Quigley's hair in the stylist's Oakmont basement studio.
Using primarily Instagram (@TheBurghBarber) and word-of-mouth, Kinley, 38, has built a loyal following of men and women, young and old.
“He's the best in Pittsburgh,” says Quigley, a customer of two years, and a friend for many more. “He knows my hair, and he knows that I need to keep it professional because of the business I'm in.
“I just let him roll.”
While Kinley prides himself on being able to cut anyone's hair, anyway they like it, most of his clients are male.
“It's hard for guys to talk to their barber and convey their style,” Kinley says, while tending to his son Micah, 4, who is a regular in the studio. “I don't see myself as just a barber. I take into account their occupation, the shape of their face, whatever I need to help them find their own style.”
Kinley has been cutting hair since he was in sixth grade. He is helping clients find their inner George Clooney. It's not uncommon to see a professional athlete — a recent Instagram picture shows Steelers offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum gets his hair cut by Kinley — a well-known lawyer or the average Joe walking out of the Oakmont basement.
“I'm not fearful of doing people that are in the public eye,” Kinley says. “That's not arrogance. I'm just confident, because I do a lot of hard work.
“I have clients who come from all around Pittsburgh,” he adds. “I have a client who lives in North Carolina, and when he's in town, his first stop is here.”
You don't always find Kinley to style your coif; sometimes, he finds you.
“I was sitting in (Aspinwall restaurant) Patron, and Wendell came up and said he liked my style and said he could help me out with my hair,” says Vince Meng of Creighton, East Deer, minutes after getting a fresh fade from Kinley. “He gave me his card, and I decided to give it a try.
“I never really cut my hair; normally, I'd just buzz it with clippers and wear a hat,” Meng, 24, says, standing next to his wife, Michelle, 26, and holding their baby, Camden. “Now, I'll show him a picture of something he did on Instagram and get him to cut it that way. I'm being more adventurous.”
Meng isn't as adventurous enough to try “hair tattooing.”
“Hair tattooing” is Kinley's artistic calling card. Clients bring him pictures to carve into their hair, or give him free reign to make his own design.
“Last week, I had a (high school) client come in and he wanted the North Hills logo in his hair,” Kinley said in his calm, yet enthusiastic, tone.”His dad liked it so much, he had me do the Pittsburgh Pirates logo in his hair.”
“Some people will just say: ‘I'm yours', so I can do a freestyle or something different.”
“Hair tattooing” can give some the idea that Kinley is too wild for their tastes, he says.
“That's a barrier I'm trying to break. I can cut anyone's hair, any way. I have black people that come to me, old Italian guys from Oakmont, biracial, whatever.”
“I was always the kid in high school and college that would cut everyone's hair,” he says. “But, I got a business degree and thought I had to ‘get a real job' like everyone tells you,” Kinley says.
“But, I started cutting my oldest son Isaiah (now 13), and everyone told me how good it was. So I prayed on it and decided this was my gift.
“To go from cutting on that little stool to (cutting the hair of) prominent people in the community is humbling,” he adds. “But, It's humbling to cut anyone's hair.”
Kinley's clients form a sort of fraternity, noticing each other's haircuts on the street, making friends while they wait for their turn in the chair.
That fraternity is getting harder to join. Kinley said he's booked two weeks out and isn't accepting many new clients.
He is protective of the privacy of his celebrity clients, too.
Kinley sends out weekly emails, giving his clients tips on hot styles and new products.
“I want to have a party for all my clients,” he says. “So everyone can meet each other. It's like a family.
“I'm trying to do good hair for good people.”
Rick A. Monti is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.