As an organisational consultant and coach, I am fortunate to meet many amazing people and to hear their stories about work and life. Over dinner with a colleague Stephen and his partner Jenae, I was held spellbound by her passionate and unbridled story about the company she works for. She cheerfully said, ‘who wouldn't be excited about work, to get up every day and help to bring about change in the world. It is by far the coolest thing I have had the privilege to do. Plus it’s not work, a company, nor are they bosses, it's just hanging out with the family, doing something good’.
I was intrigued to find out more. A few months later, Jenae now the National Business Development Manager, arranged a meeting with the two business owners Paul Frasca and Ewelina Soroko. I arrived early, head office sat on top of a warehouse located in a mixed residential and light industrial neighborhood in Botany, Sydney. The warehouse door was open and I could hear conversation and laughter from within and a voice that asked if I could be helped. I said that I was a little early and was here for a meeting.
I met the same unbridled enthusiasm; I was given a tour of the contents of the warehouse and included in an animated conversation about the business and the growth they were experiencing with operations now in four Australian states. One of them likened work to play and said that even his grandchildren thought that he was more childlike than they were. We all agreed that this was something to be celebrated.
Feeling elated by the conversation I bounded the stairs for my meeting. Ewelina greeted me at the top and before I could awkwardly utter her name she said that the ‘w’ was pronounced with a ‘v’ in Belgium where she comes from. How gracious was that I thought to myself.
The landing opened to a sunny open plan office, which had a calm buzz to it. I was immediately attracted to a very unusual object. It was a coat made of Human Hair; I noticed that my emotions swayed between curiosity and unease. I was drawn by the intricate workmanship and the bold statement embodied by the garment though I felt vaguely unsettled seeing myself exchanging it for the woollen coat that I was comfortingly wearing.
I quickly ran through a mental checklist list of what I wanted to cover – Essentially, how does one challenge some of the established norms and archaic practices of an industry whilst introducing a business model that seeks to educate and shift the frame of reference of the industry. Also, meeting Jenae and staff at the warehouse confirmed the level of engagement, passion and drive people had for the business, I was interested therefore and intrigued by what I could discover about the type of leadership, ethos and organisational skills that helped to make this happen.
Ewelina excused herself and introduced me to Paul who ushered me into the conference room. Paul had met Ewelina 11 years ago in the Netherlands when she was working and completing her studies in fashion sustainability. Paul was a Classical hairdresser working with high wealth clients in Europe and New York.
Paul stated that he is dyslexic and found school challenging; he was fortunate to hold a pair of clippers in his hand at the age of 11 and starting his hairdressing apprenticeship after school. By the age of 19, he owned his own salon in a hip inner city area, with an unconventional business model, creating the first membership salon, where clients didn't have to pay per cut but paid a reoccurring bill monthly that had unlimited service.
Paul learned to embrace his gift, stating that ‘as a dyslexic, you see everything differently. I tend to operate at face value of what I am seeing on the ground; I am street wise rather than theoretical. People like me, see it and then do it, we have to figure out how to get out of issues. i.e. I knew nothing about finance, but I had to run a salon and keep it running. You have to have a can do attitude and surround yourself with people who you trust’.
In Europe they had both developed a passion for living sustainably, they progressed their thinking around the theme whilst traveling around Australia, they had come to the conclusion that they wanted to look methodically at the problems within the hairdressing industry but had no idea where to start. Ewelina came up with the idea about going through a salons waste, looking through waste generally can tell you about how healthy and how sustainably people live.
They analysed and studied 160 salon waste bins and compiled a report, they discovered that over 68% of the waste consisted of metal, with over1.5 million kilos going to landfill every year, hair made up 11%, or about 400 thousand kilos each year. The rest was made up of plastics and paper. The data suggested that there was money that could be made.
Paul and Ewelina wanted to establish a company, which could collect all of the waste, whilst at the same time using the profits for social good such as feeding the homeless. They were excited by the vision but daunted by the money and what it took to set it up. Paul recalled the advise from a business friend who said don't sell a range but just sell one product, and if you can sell that then you can grow from there.
Sustainable Salons Australia (SSA)
The one product was named Refoil, which was created from used Salon aluminum foil. Considerable effort was put into marketing, showcasing the product as unique, sexy and helping the environment. This was a success and over the past 6 years over 2000 salons stock Refoil on their shelves rather than viewing it previously as a wasted domestic product. See the Utube video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=11&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;v=Wn8lD6AJmLY
Jenae recounts how horrified she was when Paul presented the story about aluminum waste to the sales team of the company she was working at previously. She remembers thinking ‘Wow, what an amazing concept and would love to work for them some day!! Go Figure!’
Profits from Refoil provided the initial capital that was deployed 4 years ago, building capability, relationships, marketing, and education which resulted in making the big leap in 2014 of building a social enterprise that followed the three pillars of sustainability – People, Planet and Profit.
Essentially, the model revolves around hairdressing Salons charging an additional $2 to every client bill, which is then allocated to Sustainable Salons Australia to fund their recycling effort. This fee enables SSA to provide marketing, four separate bins for plastics, metal, paper, hair, a chemical bucket for in salon use, a tin for metal razors, and a wheelie bin for outside, which is then picked up and processed at SSA distribution points.
As a consequence SSA has built a good reputation within the industry and are seen as a true social enterprise that gives back. They started a student newspaper, which goes out to all young people that first come into the industry thereby planting seeds about sustainability for future generations. They also researched and wrote a curriculum for a sustainability unit within TAFE and private training colleges.
Paul commented ‘Now if you are not adding anything sustainable or green to what you do, people are starting to question you. It is being included now in education from young about recycling, there is a whole ecology.’
‘We are constantly educating lots of people providing services to our local communities, ultimately we are cleaning up a mega amount of waste and turning them into valuable resources. Before us hair, foil and most plastics would have ended up in landfill. We have not only given things a second life we have also turned them into mega stories for e.g. a whole head of foil contributes towards a quarter of a meal to a homeless person.’
How has SSA changed the industry?
In Paul’s words - ‘ We made the industry consider options about how to be sustainable into the future. The whole world is going to go down this path because it makes economic sense. We all knew it was coming. If you are an average salon at the moment, you are completely wasteful and you are missing out on a bigger market of clientele who want to come to you because you are more sustainable.
The CEO of Loreal, the biggest cosmetic group in the world said recently “2/3 of Customers are expecting some sort of green initiative around packaging and that Loreal will respond”. Business is taking over. We at SSA have taken the leap to being on the front line and there are many more companies who will follow in this industry, at least we have opened the door. So now if any one designs a shampoo they had better be aware of the packaging and educating the public.
Hair is an untapped resource and can be broken up into different parts, for example, ponytails and hair clippings. What if I tell you that a ponytail is more valuable than gold per gram. Hair is going into building products, and at the moment we have a University student who is looking at the effectiveness of our hair in booms for cleaning up oil spills. We have also developed the first biodegradable gloves for the industry.
You wear a fur coat but you don't wear a human hair coat, Why do you wear a fur coat, keeps you warm and feels nice – Why don't you wear a human hair coat, what’s the difference, same properties. There is obviously a taboo there. That's the physical sense of it, now you can also look at it as a property. Hair can make food products such as bread longer lasting. Hair is in some soy sauce, providing amino acids and proteins. We are working on a program where hair could be the secret ingredient in fertilizer.
The Hairdressing industry is one of the biggest employers world wide, no robot will take over our jobs for a number of years. We are one of the luckiest in the world because relationships matter, people get to like their hairdresser. Remember as a hairdresser you get to hear everybody’s story.’
Today’s linear model of take, make and dispose has reached its extreme limits resulting in over 80% of countries taking more from nature than the Ecosystem can regenerate. According to Global footprints Network data, Australia has a global footprint of 5 Earths to the US 8 and the world average of 1.7.
Plastics an everyday essential item because of low cost and their durability exacts a huge toll on the environment. The use of plastic is expected to increase by 4% a year to 2025. 95% of packaging worth over 80 billion per year is lost after a single use. Even if the global recycling rate of plastics were to rise from 14% to 55%, the quantity of fossil fuels used to make plastics would still double by 2050. We could go on to add other items to the list, such as food waste etc.
Clearly, this is not a viable model that we can handover to the next generation. We need to move our companies and industries to a more sustainable circular economy, by looking at ways to eliminate waste and to create value. As the SSA example highlights, there are approaches that can be adopted to make waste streams income streams. It takes vision, leadership and committed action to break out of the old models; change needs to be inspired at the individual level and leveraged system wide.
People who work for Sustainability Salons Australia believe fundamentally in the three pillars of sustainability, it’s in every decision and action they take. They are building an emergent, sustainable and ecological model that is positively impacting the industry. There are many people willing and wanting to contribute towards inclusive and progressive visions exemplified by Paul and Ewelina.
Jenae concludes. ‘I don't consider SSA work really it's become a way of life for me to tell the story of Sustainability. It’s never a chore to get out of bed and hit the ground running. The main leadership traits that I aspire to and Ewelina and Paul both exhibit, is the ability to see the big picture while allowing the rest of us to help shape and mold the business. They understand what their strengths are and seek out people to work with them filling in the gaps.’
About the author
Dr. Eugene Fernandez works with organizations to improve the leadership, culture, decision-making, and capability of individuals and teams. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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