How sustainable are the products you use each day on your hair? And what about the practices and products used at your favourite salon? We're growing more accustomed to asking that about our food and fashion choices, but the founders of east London hair salon Ralph & Rice want to make ethical responsibility a haircare priority, too.
Founded in February 2017, Anita Rice and Dan Ralph combined their industry experience to build a salon where contemporary haircare met sustainability. Anita has styled hair across continents for the past 17 years, moving from her native New Zealand to London in 2008. Dan spent time as a sales rep for cult brand Davines, and approached the salon Anita was managing about stocking products. “I used it all the time in New Zealand, and when I first moved over here, it just didn’t exist. Then Dan came along!” says Anita. Unhappy with her then-employer’s approach to styling and education, she began to question why she was working for someone else when she had such a strong vision regarding best practice. When did the idea of sustainability enter the equation? “From the start,” she says. “We built the idea of a salon around that concept,” Dan states.
Naturally, Davines is the only brand Ralph & Rice stocks. Yet its stellar ethos isn't the only reason Ralph & Rice chose the brand. “Ethics aside, the cosmetic feel of the products on the hair is amazing – you just don’t get a shampoo and conditioner that makes your hair look and feel better than that,” Anita says. For those who haven’t come across its cult products, Davines is a family-owned brand that began as a research lab producing high-end products for the most highly regarded companies in the world. It’s arguably one of the most environmentally conscious brands out there.
Since 2006, Davines has supplied its plants and offices with renewable electric energy from natural resources (such as sun, wind, water and soil); its website houses a 21-point eco-overhaul guide for salons; and its Essential Haircare range is Zero Impact® and uses as little plastic as possible. The brand has strong relationships with the farmers who harvest the products’ ingredients, and you can even search on-site where each has come from – like the iron-rich buckwheat harvested on Mr Patrizio Mazzucchelli’s farm in the province of Sondrio, in Italy, found in the Solu Shampoo.
In-salon, Davines goes further. The Essential Line is packaged in food-grade plastic, meaning it can be washed and repurposed with edibles. “On a Saturday, we quite often make little salad or granola pots in the conditioner tubs just to prove to clients that you can," says Anita. "And those who buy the product can come back and refill their shampoo and conditioner in-store with a £2 discount.”
Stocking an eco-friendly haircare brand is perhaps the first and most obvious step towards a sustainable salon, but the duo’s vision goes beyond products. The architect who designed the inside of the salon insisted on using cork – which doesn’t harm trees when extracted – for the surfaces and reception area. The flowers are all bought around the corner at Columbia Road flower market, while clients’ coffee is provided by Hackney roasters Dark Arts Coffee. Rather than regular towels (which are responsible for a huge amount of water waste), Ralph & Rice uses disposable towels, made out of recycled and recyclable waffled paper. It’s worth saying here that the salon is an Instagrammable dream; furniture is secondhand and has been upholstered by east London’s House of Twenty, while the wall hangings are by independent artists.
Of course, no business can be 100% sustainable – a challenge the pair find even harder in London. “Recycling is really difficult here,” Anita explains. “The facilities are ridiculous and you get fined for doing it the right way – as a small business we can’t afford to recycle how we’d like. It’s a federal crime to litter in New Zealand, and we have government-funded ads about it on TV!” What do they believe to be the biggest barrier preventing the industry from turning green? “Price, without a doubt. When you can go into Boots and buy shampoo for £2, it’s hard for people to see why it’s better to buy a £15 eco-friendly product, despite the fact it lasts four times longer and is much better for your hair.”
We can’t discuss conscious buying – whether that’s veganism or ethically made clothing – without considering the class connotations. In the same way that Jamie Oliver lecturing working-class mothers about buying organic meat from a local butcher over Tesco value produce isn’t helpful, demanding that customers buy environmentally sound haircare products isn’t, either. “We don’t shove it down people’s throats – unless they bring up something they’ve read about us, we won’t lecture clients,” Anita ensures. “But 90% of people ask without me saying anything, and they’re interested.”
With the conversation about plastic packaging heating up in recent weeks – hopefully, 2018 will be the year we dramatically transform the way we house our products – Anita’s number one tip for those looking to make changes to their haircare routine is to reduce their package waste. “That’s the biggest issue with beauty. Regardless of what you’re using, look at the packaging – even the most organic product may not be sustainably packaged.” Davines, of course, is fantastic, but both Bleach London and Kevin Murphy also ensure their products involve minimal plastic waste or use recycled bottles.
With five employees and their first year a firm success, what’s next for Ralph & Rice? “The ultimate dream is to have a sustainable workspace,” Anita says. “With a florist, juice bar, food sellers, and a greenhouse where we grow seasonal produce served in the product packaging.” It isn’t hard to envision in London’s East End; perhaps a sustainable co-operative is on the horizon. As the spotlight turns to the beauty industry’s carbon footprint, we can only hope that more salons follow Ralph & Rice’s lead and offer fabulous hair services with a conscience.