Urban Culture Vulture: The Art of Hair Pollution

I have to be honest here — I know almost nothing about hair. Ask me what I’m looking for in a haircut, and my answer will fall somewhere between “uhh” and “shorter”. I get my hair cut once a year, and I dread it every time. I’ve always suspected that the root of my discomfort lay in the assembly-line feeling of the whole process. How can I trust someone I just met to mess with something that I have to wear on my head every day? Can we at least get to know each other first?

Stylist Julia preps a model for a hair show. Photo from Hair Pollution.

When I found Hair Pollution, I had a feeling that it would be different. I came for their small but worthwhile selection of vintage clothes, but was immediately interested in what else they had to offer. I had been in hair salons before, but one that blasts Sleigh Bells and feels more like Coachella than Cost Cutters? Never. For me, the strangest part was that everyone was actually having fun, instead of acting like they were at the dentist. Was that even allowed? I decided to sit down with the Hair Pollution’s owner, Tad Caldwell, to do some investigating.

While his salon may take a fresh approach to cutting hair, Tad’s been in the business for a long time. As a teenager, his newfound love of bands like the Clash and the Sex Pistols inspired him to cut his hair into a Mohawk for the first time, and the way he tells it, there was no looking back after that. As a high school punk, Tad started getting creative with his friends’ hair, and after high school, he went to cosmetology school “as something to fall back on. I wanted to go to art school, but I didn’t have enough money.” Far from being the end of his artistic ambitions though, Tad says, “I found that doing hair actually is making artwork, it’s just a different medium.”

Through Hair Pollution, Tad hopes to be able to offer clients an experience that goes beyond getting their hair cut. The salon has very much been informed by his desire to “veer more toward counterculture,” so at Hair Pollution, “the focus is on the history, fashion, music — it all goes together. And everyone can be themselves.” Tad’s also a big proponent of local art; every month, Hair Pollution features a new local artist’s work on its walls, not to mention the amazing mural by local artist Joerael Elliott that’s painted on the side of the Hair Pollution building.

Artist Joerael Elliott’s mural outside of Hair Pollution. Photo by Candace Porth.

When I ask Tad what inspired his vision for Hair Pollution, he lists a whole host of influences. His early love for punk rock, his travels around the world, and New York in the ‘80s are all mentioned as important reference points. However, what Tad ultimately lists as his number one influence is the community. Hair Pollution, he says, provides him with a chance to give back to, and even enrich, the Phoenix community that he’s now a part of. Somewhere in the middle of our talk about music, art, and the importance of community, I forget that we’re talking about cutting hair at all. Maybe, what I needed to be comfortable in a hair salon was the ability to forget that it was one at all.

Call Hair Pollution at (602) 258-8600, or visit them at 1524 E. McDowell Road.

Email me at jlpruett@asu.edu.