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PEOPLE & PLACES

Hair Cares T H E B U S I N E S S ,

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H A I R C A N

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B Y A I L E E N

L A L O R

South Africa-born Lotte Davis set up AG Hair in 1989 with her husband, hairdresser John Davis. Almost 30 years later the made-in-Vancouver brand is a great Canadian success story, available in salons around the world. Better yet, Davis has also used her business to support her philanthropic work—AG’s Every Bottle Counts campaign involves donating a portion of each sale to One Girl Can, Davis’ charity that provides educational opportunities to girls in Africa. Aghair.com

PHOTO: JENNIFER SALT

When you started AG what was the gap in the market that you thought you could fill? LD: There wasn’t one! We were very entrepreneurial but we didn’t know anything about the hair-care industry. We were buying in product from a generic manufacturer and pumping it into 8oz bottles in our home. Then we realized the quality was inconsistent and the ingredients were poor—for example, table salt was (and still is) used as a cheap thickening agent, but it’s extremely drying for hair. We learned about formulation and my husband spent a long time developing a method of using plant-based cellulose. It was so much better, leaving hair soft and silky, that we started to explore using natural ingredients, and that’s where we found the gap. How do you remain innovative? LD: We do a lot of research to get ahead of the curve; lots of comparison and testing with our target audience (we give products to employees of Aritzia and Lululemon as well as hairstylists in Vancouver, New York and L.A.). Then we reformulate based on feedback, so we know a product will be a success before it gets to market. We look at runway trends, blogs, fashion trends and take our inspiration from there, and we keep an eye on the competition but try and do things better, more naturally. How important is it to you that you’re a Canadian brand? LD: We’re the only professional haircare brand that manufactures in Canada. From an economic point of view it would have been sensible to be down south because of the larger population size. But we’ve turned our Canadian-ness into an advantage—we talk a lot about the natural environment. Americans consider us somewhat exotic. Canadians are extremely proud that we’re a brand from here that’s made it, so it has really worked to our advantage. Why did you decide to move into philanthropic work? LD: I’ve always had a social conscience—I spent my childhood in South Africa, where I witnessed apartheid and racial discrimination and just knew it was wrong. I moved to Canada in the ’60s and it was an incredible time: the rise of the Civil Rights Movement and feminism. I became aware of how underutilised and discriminated against women were. Initially I was determined to become successful myself, because it proved that women were useful in society. From my teenage years I was determined to do charitable work, too—a combination of being naturally rebellious and having that sensitivity to social issues.

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PHOTO: AG HAIR

“But we’ve turned our CANADIAN-NESS into an advantage— we talk a lot about the natural environment. Americans consider us somewhat EXOTIC.” PHOTO: AG HAIR

PHOTO: JENNIFER SALT

Tell us about Every Bottle Counts and One Girl Can LD: It was about 15 years in that we realized the business was solid enough, and we started raising money for charity through various different campaigns and eventually established Every Bottle Counts, which donates a portion of every sale to One Girl Can. All the costs are absorbed by the business and every part of the business is involved, so it’s something our employees are very proud of. We started One Girl Can in 2008 with the aim of helping girls in Africa get an education, through investing in and rebuilding schools, and scholarships. We work mainly in rural areas of Kenya. Girls are particularly disadvantaged there; there is some cultural resistance to them receiving an education. But once we started rebuilding schools people started listening, and once we started investing in their girls, they started investing in their girls, too. Now we support 130 girls in high school and 60 in university, financially and through an intricate mentoring program that involves successful African women who are even offering internships. Last September we saw the first two girls graduate from university, which was very emotional. What’s coming up for the brand? LD: We’re about to launch a 98 per cent natural line of five basics. I believe it’s the highest proportion of natural ingredients in any pro hair-care line. We’re also building a state-of-the-art manufacturing and distribution facility in Coquitlam, which will give us a great opportunity to expand our brand—we’re looking at South America next. In terms of One Girl Can, we’ll be continuing our program there and holding various different events including a fundraiser—a really fun stand-up cocktail event—on April 13 at the Imperial Theatre.

Profile for VITA

VITA February 2017  

VITA February 2017  

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