Hair might just be the ultimate renewable resource. Did you know its clippings can be made into hair booms, and large nylon stockings for soaking up oil spills? That’s just one of the innovations steering the hair and beauty industry towards a more sustainable future.
In Australia, we certainly need a greener way of doing things. Until now, the hair and beauty industry has sent over 400,000 kilograms of hair and 1.5 million kilograms of metal waste (that’s a LOT of aluminium foils) to landfill every year, not to mention all the toxic chemicals drained into basins.
Hughes & Co is one of the new generation of sustainable salons looking to change the way the industry operates. The Melbourne hair studio, a Square Seller, is located in the fashionable suburb of Cremorne and run by Welsh-born Hanna Hughes. Hanna is dedicated to running an ethical, “moral-led” salon that is safe, welcoming and sustainable. “Co” doesn’t stand for “company”, she’ll tell you. It stands for “community”.
“We separate all of our waste and recycle as much of it as possible with various recycling partners,” Hanna says.
“For example, if someone’s hair is restyled and we cut more than 20 cm of hair off we send it to Sustainable Salons, who process it into wigs.”
Sustainable Salons might be the best-known Australian organisation working in the space. A “profit for purpose” business, they host a directory of over 1,400 salons making sustainability a priority. Since launching in 2015, they have diverted almost 1.3 million kilograms of waste materials away from landfill and towards recycling initiatives.*
The statistics are fascinating. The organisation has recycled 374,947 kg of metal, 415,995 kg of paper, 355,650 kg of plastic and 62,247 kg of hair. They can even recycle chemical by-products – 55,342 kilograms of them so far – back into water for use in construction and manufacturing.
And, as Hanna mentioned, they collect ponytails that are distributed to charitable organisations to be made into medical wigs for those undergoing cancer treatment or living with alopecia. They’re the biggest collector in Australian and New Zealand and have so far gathered almost 190,000 ponytails!
Hughes & Co’s own sustainability initiatives extend to choosing only cans for their in-salon refreshments, as aluminium is infinitely recyclable, and making considered choices in who they partner with for the hair products they offer, such as boutique Melbourne company No. 113.
“Consumers are definitely willing to switch to Australian-made products when given the choice,” Hanna says.
It helps though if you can make it easy for them.
“Our customers always rave about how convenient our salon is. And that’s really down to Square, hosting efficient online Appointment bookings allow us to offer our customers a way to have haircuts on subscription plans. It’s the backbone of our business and growth.”
For $95 a month, Hughes & Co offer their grooming subscription customers unlimited haircuts and beard trims. And it turns out beards are worth a closer look when it comes to sustainability. Hughes & Co run a gender-free salon – you’ll pay for the service you order, not what gender you are – but their emphasis on beard styling and cutthroat shaves means they attract a male clientele that, according to a Sustainable Salons and Junkee Media survey of 800 consumers, isn’t yet as attuned to environmental issues as its female counterpart.
That survey found that 15% of the men they spoke to weren’t comfortable telling their mates about choosing a sustainable salon. So it’s important we have people like Hanna and her community pushing the conversation forward!
The good news is, across genders, 91% of those surveyed would be happy to add a small sustainability fee to their hair or beauty service. Square makes it easy to for sellers to do this.
Hanna is encouraged by what she sees around her but believes the Australian industry still has some way to go.
“Most avenues and partnerships require an allocated budget to move your business in this direction, and this budget is not widely allocated for. We need initiatives from within local councils and state governments to help streamline this. We also need to educate our consumers to be mindful of these choices.”
Of course, that education begins with those coming through the training ranks. Fortunately, Australia is making rapid gains in this area.
“Having done my education in the UK, and being Gen Y, sustainable practice has been second nature to me. It’s not something we had to actively go out of our way to do as it’s just an easy day-to-day thing over there. It’s ingrained into the curriculum from a very young age.”
Hanna is right that youth has an impact when it comes to putting the environment first. Sustainable Salons’ research shows that two thirds of Gen Z respondents were thinking about where their salon’s waste goes. That’s significantly more than those in older cohorts. Hair and beauty practitioners would be well advised to get on the bandwagon.
You can definitely count Hanna among those encouraging a generational shift in practices: “As a mother, sustainability is a priority for me to leave the Earth a livable place for all future generations to enjoy.”
Except where noted, stats in this article are drawn from Issue 8 of The Green Chair, the 2022 edition of Sustainable Salons’ annual magazine.