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The Barbershop quartet, from left to right: Karho Leung, Hui Zheng, Peter Chen and Andy Nguyen



One may not necessarily think of former accountants as future masters of coiffure, but 33-year-old Karho Leung is just that. He’s the founder of 12Pell, one of New York’s coolest barbershops, which has become a social media phenomenon (peep their 2.2 million TikTok followers) and a fledgling lifestyle brand.


What prompted his switch from spreadsheets to scissors? “There wasn’t anyone serving our community. A lot of the traditional NYC barbershops are run by the older generations,” says Leung, who was born in Maine and raised in New York City. “These shops are communal places, and as Asian Americans, we didn’t see a space like that for a younger demographic. It was a clear opportunity for us.” 

Karho opened 12Pell in Chinatown (the name is the barbershop’s street address) in 2018 with the mission “to redefine and reinvent the standard retail and grooming experience.” He attributes their success in large part to being in the right place at the right time and providing a modern, pre-paid, appointment-only experience — but also to “simple things…like you walk in and you’re greeted by everyone. You get a bottle of water. You’re never gonna feel like a stranger.”

He has since drawn together a crew of like-minded Asian American barbers (the shop itself serves clients from all backgrounds), which includes Peter Chen, Andy Nguyen and Hui Zheng — or as they’re known online, the Square, Pencil and Silent Barbers, respectively. As winter ends and we start thinking about spring looks, there seemed no one better than Leung and his crew to offer advice on personal style.

These shops are communal places, and as Asian Americans, we didn’t see a space like that for a younger demographic. It was a clear opportunity.
Karho Leung, Founder

Age: 33
Used to be: An accountant

“Get breakfast or lunch at Mee Sum at 26 Pell. They’ve been open since the 60s; it’s real neighborhood comfort food."

My style is: All about putting things together that draw from my cultural interests: 2000s sneakerhead, Japanese street wear, American heritage…currently I'm in my UK drill and garage house era. Ever since I became an entrepreneur, I've liked the Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs approach with basics: it's just me showing up to a panel in a white tee and fitted cap.

I unwind by: Being present. The last couple of years I was working to survive, and my mind was running non-stop…but recently I've been into making soups, breaking into cooking more so the future wifey don’t always gotta do it. I gotta say, I've mastered Galbitang and the Cantonese oxtail stew.

My prediction for 2024 hair trends is: Perms. More individuals are seeking out curls and waves. This isn't just about adding bounce; guys are aiming for that root lift or adopting sleek side perms for that K-pop vibe. Korea's been ahead of this curve for ages, but now it's catching fire in the U.S. as men become more confident — with us barbers leading them in the right direction. Spotted someone looking like they stepped out of a BTS video? Yeah, that's the Jungkook effect for you, and 12Pell is all for it.

Peter Chen, AKA the Square Barber

Age: 25
Used to be: A marketing student

“You'll find me rocking an all-black look with trendy sneakers. As long as the black pieces in my wardrobe have a variety of textures, I feel confident piecing together an outfit for the day.”

My style is: Primarily basic with a hint of street wear flair. Lately, I've been delving into experimenting with different styles, particularly the blend of American modern gentleman aesthetics — so, incorporating elements like cashmere, suit jackets, and loafers into my look. Oh crap… I might be maturing.

I unwind by: Watching anime and reading Webtoons [a platform for reading digital manga]. It all started when a client of mine recommended the series "Solo Leveling" to me; I've been completely hooked since. I couldn't wait for all the episodes to come out, so I devoured all 180 chapters of the Webtoon in two days. Being a creative dreamer, these stories keep me both inspired and entertained.

My prediction for 2024 hair trends is: Modified hairstyles, like the "Modern Mullet." It’s ideal for clients who prefer a longer, flowing hairstyle on the top and nape area, yet desire a slimmer and fresher appearance from the front profile. What was once the classic mullet has been modified to cater to their preferences from all angles: front, side profile, and back.

Andy Nguyen, AKA the Pencil Barber

Age: 27
Used to be: A barber in Boston

My style is: Athletic leisure vibes. Always gotta be comfortable when I’m standing and cutting!

I unwind by: Spending time with Mother Nature with the family, and as of recently, learning how to do latte art

My prediction for 2024 hair trends is: Shorter styles, thanks to Travis Kelce. But I think it’s gonna be the year of modern mullets, like Peter said. It feels fresh. People are getting into the times with a more natural flow, less groomed-Wall Street-Great Gatsby vibes. Textured hair is big too, with a slight wave or curl to it; it’s a big buzzword in the chair. I’ve also been getting a lot of middle part requests; I think it’s a natural evolution from the comb-over, and there’s been a lot of influence from Korean hairstyles.

Hui Zheng, AKA the Silent Barber

Age: 24
Used to be: An A fashion model

My style is: Elevated, modern, colorful. I like looking different from the crowd.

I unwind by: Running myself a hot shower, going shopping, playing relaxing music, and going out for a walk with friends. In that exact order hahaha.

My prediction for 2024 hair trends is: It’s all about buzz cuts with colors this year. The comb-over is over. And I agree with Andy on the texture front. I have people that will sit in my chair and be like, ‘Can I get this texture?’ but they’ll show me a picture of a white guy, and I’m like…you have Asian hair.



The guys were generous enough to share a few pieces of advice for the next time you’re staring down your reflection and wondering what to do — whether you’re at home or in the barbershop chair.



Use stuff like clays and textured powder; avoid creams, pomades and anything that adds weight and shine. Light wax is okay; getting a perm can help.



Thinner strands can get very limp and flat…blow drying is your best friend. You can also pre-style the hair — apply sea salt spray or a tiny amount of what you normally use to your hair and then blow dry it in before styling as usual. It gives finer hair some support at the roots.



You’re gonna find a lot more peace in curly hair if you let it do its thing. It’s naturally very dry, so it’s all about cocktailing: mixing products to get it to stay hydrated and healthy all day.



And shower in the morning, let it air dry. Reset it from bedhead. Hair care is key, too; if you’re not getting it cut too often, making sure it stays healthy is important.



Emphasizing what you don’t want on a photo of yourself is the easiest way to tell the barber what not to do. Inspiration references are good, too, but pinpoint exactly what you like about them: the sides, the back, the top, a certain part of the cut…? Sometimes we might not be seeing what you’re seeing.

Photographs by Christopher Fenimore

Interviewed by Kate Andersen