The Billionaire Behind the Biggest ’80s Hair Trends Says Money Isn’t Everything

John Paul DeJoria, co-founder of the Paul Mitchell hair line and the Patron Spirits Company, at a Paul Mitchell Schools gala in Beverly Hills in 2014. (Photo: David Livingston/Getty Images)

Finding good in the world isn’t so hard when you’re creating that good yourself.

That’s the ethos to which John Paul DeJoria, the co-founder of John Paul Mitchell Systems, subscribes. The salesman turned environmentalist, philanthropist, and all-around good guy applies that thinking to his personal life and business, according to the new documentary Good Fortune.

The movie, which premiered at film festivals earlier this year and opens for wide release this month, chronicles a lifetime of turning misfortune into an abundance of wealth. DeJoria, or JP as his friends and family know him, grew up in a poor Los Angeles neighborhood in the 1940s. His dad abandoned him, his mother, and his brother. He was homeless. He joined a biker gang. He left the gang, managing to stay out of serious trouble or prison, but was homeless again. His brother died in a motorcycle accident. He was divorced twice. Today he’s worth more than $3 billion.

DeJoria’s luck changed from bad to good when he met the late Paul Mitchell, a part-showman, part-celebrity hairstylist who traveled the world for international shows promoting the John Paul Mitchell line. DeJoria, who once sold encyclopedias door to door, cut his teeth in the beauty industry at Redken, a company he claims fired him after he was outspoken about wanting to change the company sales model and animal-testing policies.

So when DeJoria co-founded John Paul Mitchell Systems, he was back going door to door hawking his own products, which the businessman insisted were not tested on animals. In the ’80s that wasn’t the industry standard, but it was DeJoria’s standard. He’s the ultimate ethical capitalist, doing good by being good long before it was trendy, à la Lush Cosmetics, which sells its vegan beauty products in recycled bottles. Still, there are countless beauty brands that test on animals.

Of course, DeJoria and Mitchell weren’t just responsible for creating cruelty-free products or the mega-popular sculpting gel that was ubiquitous in the ’80s and ’90s. The duo flipped the beauty industry on its head by changing the salon model itself: Weekly hair appointments were replaced with less frequent visits to a stylist, who instead educated clients on how to style their own hair and which products to use. It was a built-in marketing system kept running by stylists and salons across the world that other hair care companies have since copied. That was all DeJoria’s doing.

Long after Mitchell died from pancreatic cancer, DeJoria is still thriving at the helm of the John Paul Mitchell brand (that is, when he’s not spending his time running Patron Tequila, investing in smaller, do-good companies, or donating to charity). According to the documentary, he regularly visits the John Paul Mitchell offices, where he’s on a first-name basis with everyone from the receptionist to product developers.

Today the John Paul Mitchell Systems company, which includes an ever-expanding range of beauty products as well as a national cosmetology education program, generates more than $1 billion in revenue annually.

But success isn’t measured by wealth, DeJoria says. It’s measured by how much good you do. In DeJoria’s case, it’s hard to keep count.

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Alexandra Mondalek is a writer for Yahoo Style + Beauty. Follow her on Twitter @amondalek.