Canvas Connections with Sonny D; Overcoming a life of hardships.05 Sep 2019
We met up with Sonny D in one of the most inspiring Canvas Connections yet. Sonny talks about how he faced a life of hardships and challenges and how fate and trust transformed his path and led him to become one of the most sought-after educators in the country. We talk about his time in prison, getting on the right path and his passion for educating and giving back at the cosmetology level.
Sonny has worked on stage with top Paul Mitchell artists, owns six salons, is a top educator, runs a successful podcast and author of YFYI (Your First Year In) books.
1. Why do you call yourself a miracle?
Sonny talks to us about growing up in a “broken household and following the same tracks as the kids in his neighborhood.” “My Destinations were almost pre-determined. I was going to end up either dead or in Jail by the time I was 18.”
He talks to “magical moments” happening in his life that guided him towards a better life. “My karate teacher pulled me off the street shortly after my mom passed away; I was just living on the street trying to find my way on my own, and he pulled me off the street and moved me into his house and made me finish high school.
“I later ended up going into the military to escape; nowhere near the beauty industry; and then beyond the military just found myself going back the other way. I went into the military to be a warfighter, so I didn’t come out of it with any skills and when I got out ended up working a little here and there but eventually found myself completely all in with the ‘underworld’ which netted me, a year later, four years in prison.”
“I met a guy in prison who had already been there for 25 years and was never getting out – he got me to start thinking a little bit differently; we say at Paul Mitchell ‘you change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.’ By the time my sentence was over, and I got out, I started thinking, well maybe there is a chance I can do something, but I don’t know what. I knew I didn’t have any more strikes.”
“Call it magic or fate or destiny, but, the last year that Paul Mitchell did their hair show in Winston Salem North Carolina was my first year working at a restaurant as a convicted felon. I started as a dishwasher in the back and worked my way up to the head bartending position and it was behind that bar that the miracle happened.”
“I happened to pick up a lunch shift and a group of guys came in, I thought they were in a rock band. I thought it was the Maroon 5; I was gone for four years I didn’t know Maroon 5 from Marron 6! These guys come in and sat at the bar and I had this big afro at the time and they looked at me and said, ‘we’ve been looking for you.’ I said, ‘what do you mean you’ve been looking for me?’ That’s when they start talking about launching this brand, Tea Tree Oil. Being in the marine corp, I said, ‘oh yeah I know trees.’
“They told me that if I signed up and spent the next couple of days not only would they pay me but that there were only two guys and I would get to hang out with a bunch of models and that they would style my hair and not cut it. So that weekend, I got to meet the whole crew and hear Robert Cromeans’s story about coming to the united states with nothing in his pocket. I had nothing in my pocket and so it started to resonate – I’m born in America – if he could come here with nothing and create what he’s created what if I took a chance… Literally that weekend I put in my notice with my job and moved down to Florida to pursue a career with Paul Mitchell.”
“Fast forward a year later, I was at the Premiere show, tapping Robert on the shoulder as a recent Paul Mitchell graduate. If it wasn’t for that meeting I was out of options. That’s why I have so much gratitude for the company because it saved my life.”
Sonny D you are our inspiration. We respond and talk to connection and leadership – Sonny is building connection through his story all while being a leader we all want to stand behind. His courage to share his story and help grow and inspire others is truly admirable.
And yes, the magic is real! A year later Paul Mitchell had moved their show to a different city – talk about right place at the right time. Had Sonny not worked at that restaurant, had not worked his way up from a dishwasher to head bartender, had he not taken that extra shift that afternoon – had he not been open to this opportunity. One day changed his entire career and life. Cheers to you Sonny, you are our hero.
2. How do you have the courage to tell that story?
“Winn (Claybaugh) looked at me one day and saw the scars on my arm and said ‘you have a story to tell and you gotta tell it.’ Sonny talks about being scared to tell the story and says he “didn’t want to get kicked out of Paul Mitchell!” He kept that story hidden for 10 years until he finally decided to share it with a class of 25 students which is when he realized that through his story he’s on a “totally different mission.” He also talks about there being a “whole other part of the artist that I can touch now.”
We believe that at the end of the day we all have stories and we are all struggling. Sharing those stories helps us form deep connections, makes us vulnerable, and helps us heal.
3. Why are you so passionate about educating students?
Sonny believes in giving back. “ If there is just one person in one of these rooms that’s like me and needs this new journey to be the one, and I can somehow encourage them and motivate them or inspire them or drop a little nugget that they can take and run with, then I’ll feel like it’s been totally worth it.”
He references that he is “working in the basement” and impacting the industry at the ground level. Sonny wants to make sure students understand that they are way bigger than hair – because at the end of the day beauty pro’s touch hearts and impact lives. “I’ll do ten haircuts today and maybe three of them will be even but one of them might be life-changing and that’s the one that matters.”
We dig it, Sonny. You are truly inspiring.
4. Being around students, are there specific qualities or characteristics that you find in common in students that are successful immediately after graduating?
Here’s to the hustlers – Sonny talks to the ones that get started early are the ones that make it happen; the ones that are still in CORE but still show up at the hiring events.
We talk about how fear of rejection can be holding some students back from going after an opportunity. Here’s to the perfectionists (like myself), no one is perfect and if you wait for the time when you are perfect you will stand by and watch everyone pass you by. Take a risk, put yourself out there because what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger; queue Kelly Clarkson.
We are all human. Be vulnerable. Put yourself out there. Connect and soar.
5. If you could go back in time what advice would you give yourself as a cosmetology student?
A. Get into more salons while you’re in school.
B. Don’t over think things – trust the journey.
C. Read YFYI, Your First Year In Books.
D. Fortune in the follow-up – Follow up with every business card or offer you get.
We chime in and add:
E. Be kind to yourself – you ARE good enough
F. Always say yes, even if you’re scared. Stretch yourself and watch yourself grow.
6. What is your ask for people that are watching this video?
Take action. Make a commitment to take action on one of the things we discussed during this interview within the next 24 hours. Step out of your fear and do it.
Cheers to that Sonny. We are so grateful for you.
ABOUT SONNY D
Hello my name is Sonny D and I’m the Artistic Director and Founder of the salon 1.0 I am also a graduate of Paul Mitchell the School Orlando.
My philosophy: “The best gift we can give is education because it destroys fear and allows one to reach their ultimate potential.” – Sonny D
As one of the most sought after Educators in the country, Sonny D has a passion for educating that is guaranteed to leave you inspired to go to the next level and beyond. A Paul Mitchell the school alumni, Sonny D has also been a part of the Paul Mitchell Advanced Academy team of national trainers and received honors as a top cutting specialist in a countrywide competition. Sonny D has also been a part of Paul Mitchell’s editorial team creating looks and doing editorial photo shoots in Los Angeles and Florida that can be seen in publications around the world. Sonny D has worked on stage with all of the top Artist throughout Paul Mitchell including Robert Cromeans, Stephanie Kocielski, DJ Muldoon, and co-owner of Paul Mitchell and Paul Mitchell’s son, Angus Mitchell. Sonny D has worked everywhere from Florida, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles to Hawaii and back sharing the latest trends and business building strategies for salons and stylist throughout the industry. Through his passion and belief in the future of the industry Sonny D has recently created his own brand The Salon Project 1.0, Inc. which currently consist of three salons; The salon 1.0, a Paul Mitchell Focus Salon which focuses exclusively on Paul Mitchell products and education. The salon hires right from school the most recently graduated professionals and puts them in an accelerated career path that Sonny D personally designed. As Artistic Director his vision for project 1.0 consists of multiple brands nationally and internationally including 1.0 kids salons, 1.0 Cosmetics and 1.0 University (a training center for continued education) to name just a few.
“As the visionary for the company I focus on our team members not only becoming a part of our culture but really joining in on the 1.0 lifestyle” – Sonny D