Carlos Valenzuela

by Bruce Hyland

Carlos Valenzuela met his first strictly platonic “girlfriend,” Gustavo, at age seven, but it took them another seven years before admitting they found guys in school very attractive. Sixty years later, they are still best friends.

Carlos grew up in Agua Prieta, Sonora Mexico. His career started as an international manager with Levi Strauss in San Francisco in 1971. “A great time to be in San Francisco: flower power, hippies, disco, and gay bars!” he recalls.

While working in Buenos Aires for Levi Strauss, Carlos successfully championed the launch of “fashion jeans.” Yet, he was always the outsider. His homophobic fellow managers in South America excluded him from after-work gatherings where the real decisions were made. Carlos eventually returned to Agua Prieta where he again connected with Gustavo.

“What if I became a hairdresser?” Carlos asked Gustavo, who instantly replied, “Go for it, you will do great.” He found his passion. “The beauty industry really saved my life; I was free to be fully myself.”

He attended the prestigious Vidal Sassoon Academy in London and later was the first hairdresser to work in China in 1979. For the occasion, Carlos wore pink sneakers and sported shoulder length hair. The Chinese mobbed his appearances.

The desert called him and, in Scottsdale, he founded the Carlos Valenzuela Academy, a successful beauty school that he later sold. Today, in Tucson, he still consults for major beauty brands and writes for a popular professional hairdressing magazine.

He says “Our past successes and failures are important, but what’s important is to do something well now.” To that end, he is finishing up “Tiny Step Rituals,” a program focused on small daily steps that bring big changes to lives. He also just launched an e-book called “The Thrifty Cosmetologist” focused on money smarts for salon people. His next goal is to complete, “Letters to Young Carlos,” a bi-cultural memoir of advice to his younger self. You can read his musings at