One million kilograms of aluminium foil from salons goes to landfill each year
Aluminium is infinitely recyclable
20,000 wheelie bins of waste from salons have been saved from landfill and repurposed
Over 90,000 ponytails have been repurposed into wigs for cancer and alopecia sufferers
3,000 consumers use their directory each month
Instead of using regular commercial waste collection services, salons who are part of the Sustainable Salons network set themselves apart by choosing to use the more tailored collection system offered by Sustainable Salons, meaning resources are separated at the source: the salon. This means it is easier to create value from these resources.
Paul is a hairdresser who met his partner and Sustainable Salons co-founder, Ewelina Soroko, in Amsterdam. Studying fashion sustainability, she opened his eyes to the world of sustainability and the opportunity of creating value from resources that are so often wasted in hair salons.
“What really got me going [was] when she told me about blockchain technology within the fashion industry. I was like, ‘Oh my God, we can actually know where stuff came from, right? Who planted the seed? Where the water came from?’ I still remember going back into the hair salon that day, looking on the floor and going, ‘Where does all this hair go? And what about foil?’ And I still remember grabbing all the hair and taking it home,” Paul recalls.
“I remember saying back in 2005, ‘I'm going to solve this problem of human hair, it must be a resource’. We had sheep 200 years ago and today we have Ugg boots. Why is hair not a product of the future?”
“My role in the company is just to keep driving innovation, ideas and growing the team… I see myself as the worst salesperson, I just love what I do and I think that in itself sells it because passion sells better than sales.”
The goal of Sustainable Salons is to become a truly sustainable organisation, one that is driven by people, profit and planet equally. “My partner and I care a lot about the planet but that only makes up one third of the mix,” Paul explains. “The people part is about making sure that we’re creating as many jobs as possible. Everywhere we go, the jobs and infrastructure go with [us]. We also care a lot about the most vulnerable within the community, that they [are] looked at first, not last. Hence the reason why we approached disability workers and why we provide thousands of haircuts to the homeless each year”.
In their commitment to providing opportunities for marginalised communities, Sustainable Salons partners with Mylestones (Qld), Mambourin (Vic), Workpower (WA) and Kilmarnock (NZ) to provide purposeful work to people with disabilities in their materials and processing facilities.
We really had to sell Refoil by selling the problem… and people want to be part of the solution.
When Paul first came up with the idea of tackling salon waste, he decided he needed to start somewhere, so he started with the most significant waste stream: foil.
“[What] really got us off the ground was the foil. We knew we wanted to get into the industry somehow so we started studying the salon waste problem. We collected all the salon’s waste, and foil made up 50% of the bin. To put it into terms in Australia, we found that over a million kilos of aluminium foil was going to landfill yearly from hair salons, just to foil women's hair. And I'm like, ‘Does anyone know it's infinitely recyclable?’”
Paul, Ewelina and the team took a two-pronged approach to tackle the existing foil waste problem and provided salons with a better purchasing decision by creating Refoil — a product made from recycled aluminium.
“People say, how did you do it? We went back through the supply chain. We didn't just stop at [the supplier]. We said, okay, who are you? Where's the smelter? Where's the roller? How do we align you all to just make the product? And to be honest, it's easy. And I tell people all you need to do is care and go back through the supply chain. You'll be surprised what you find. It took a while to get the traction, because people didn't care yet. We had to make them care. So we really had to sell Refoil by selling the problem… and people want to be part of the solution”.
After tackling the issue of supply by developing an alternative to new or 'virgin' foil, Sustainable Salons tackled the issue of recycling the foil that has been used. Initially, by coming up with a simple, entertaining message — ‘How big are your balls?’ — to educate salons to scrunch their aluminium to ensure it can be recycled in their existing recycling system. (Aluminium must be scrunched into a golf ball size in order for it to be separated properly during the recycling process.) Now, Sustainable Salon members have access to a foil collection service as part of their membership, so foil is separated at the source.
Paul tells us about a proud moment of converting a sceptic into their program after proving his service provides a true value to customers, beyond environmental benefits.
“We service all these amazing salons and top hairdressers. One person comes to mind who has a luxury salon out in Wahroonga and he straightaway said to me: "I never understood what you did, but you never went away. You just kept sticking around and everyone now starts talking about you… but then I read into [it] and I'm like, ‘brilliant how could we not do this?’ You've made it so easy, and it makes us money.”
Sustainable Salons are the number one directory for consumers within the hairdressing and beauty space. Currently, they have over 3,000 consumers a month that go through their directory, equating to $30 - $40,000 of extra growth within a salon’s business each year.
While Sustainable Salons have expanded their solution beyond hairdressers, Paul explains they have chosen not to expand out of the salon environment. “The art is you've got to get specific. Don't try to be the GP,” he says. “We need highly specific, targeted [solutions]. That's why we don't want to go outside the salons. We know we can build the marketing, the storytelling and everything that suits them as a customer. So the secret sauce I always tell people is: get specific. I've had pool cleaners calling me and tattoo shops and dentists and I'm like, ‘Yeah, but why don't you go do it?’ It's not hard, you've just got to be passionate.”
We asked what advice he would give someone interested in creating their own solution. “The beginning is the hardest,” Paul responds. “I always give the advice that was given to me. The grand idea is always to make hundreds of products in your range. And then someone said to me, ‘you're trying to sell 50 products, have you tried selling one yet?’ And that really makes you stop and think: if you can't sell one, don't try and sell 50 because you lose all your cash flow in the beginning.”
“When we started Refoil, even though there's about 20 different types of foil for the hairdressing industry, we just started with the best seller. And if we can’t sell that, how are we ever going to get off the ground? The first year is pretty hard. You start growing your capital and you start being very careful with your money. The other advice I give: don't sell global if you can't even sell local. If you're in Bondi, for example, don't try to sell to the global audience just yet. Try and walk around and sell to everyone in Bondi because if they're not ready to buy your story, I don't think the rest of the world is either.”
Today, Sustainable Salons service over 1,000 locations in Australia and New Zealand, impact nearly 5,000 hairdressers and speak to three million customers through their network. They employ 61 staff, 35 per cent of which are people with a disability, and their goal is to hit 50 per cent within the next year.
Across the organisation, over 20,000 wheelie bins of materials have been saved and repurposed including:
Over 90,000 ponytails collected, to be used to make wigs for cancer and alopecia sufferers
Over 140,000kg of plastic kept in circulation and value-raised by being made into items like Dresden Glasses
Over 188,000kg of metals diverted from landfill
Over 28,000kg of hair collected from salon floors, to be used to create 'bollards' to soak up oil in coastline spills
Almost 120,000 meals provided for those in need, thanks to proceeds from recycling
One clear example of how Sustainable Salons are creating value in what was previously considered waste is their collaboration with Dresden Vision to create high-quality glasses made from recycled shampoo bottles.
“We wanted to show that not only do we provide the service to our clients, we want to demonstrate that we can actually then also use that material as a resource,” Paul says. “[We] go out, wash the bottles, pelletise it, manufacture it all within two states of Australia, providing jobs [and] economic growth within that sector. And then the best part, we get to sell the glasses at the end. In this case, where we turn [plastic] worth nothing into $100. We made 5,000 pairs of glasses – there’s half a million dollars. People are coming to buy the story.”
In an example that strongly shows their commitment to people, proceeds from materials are donated to OzHarvest and KiwiHarvest to provide meals for those in need. To date, proceeds have contributed to almost 120,000 meals. Paul explains that this purpose can actually bring more value to materials. “We’re not just bringing you foil, we’re trying to feed Australia's most hungry, so please, mate, I know you want to give us 30 cents a kilo [but I] tell him the story and he's like ‘Mate, I'll give you 40 cents'. Reminding people of the purpose is key.”
Amongst all the successes and ongoing impacts of Sustainable Salons, we asked Paul what his goal was. “I got there years ago, this is all just cream. I get to wake up every day and keep doing fun stuff like this. My partner and I just pinch ourselves every day and say, 'we actually did this, we built this thing'. Ten years ago, we started with the crazy idea. And today, it's still going and actually getting more momentum."
“Vote with your dollar. Your dollar is a vote within your local community. Do not treat it as just ‘I need to go buy bread’. Bread from who? Every time you spend, it is a vote. So if you like going out voting in your local area [for] your politician, well, you can actually do it every day. And I would say go and support businesses that truly matter. Go and support and put your dollar in a Sustainable Salon because this salon is [helping] solve the world's issues and they're still doing a great haircut.”
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