How The Hair Industry is Moving Towards Sustainability

You've heard about the slow food movement, now meet a trailblazer of that sustainable approach in the hair industry


Davines' campaign for the new Naturaltech Longevity shampoo range. Picture / Supplied

What better place to meet a passionate Italian, who loves to chew over the big questions challenging business, than over lunch? I’m at Ortolana with Dr Davide Bollati, chairman of the Davines haircare firm, and sustainability is on the menu.

Along with positive ageing, environmental and social responsibility — and, si, the enjoyment of ethically sourced ingredients.

For Bollati — a chemist by training, but something of a philosopher by inclination — they’re all connected. So too, ensuring family owned Davines is run to reflect that. “We want to reclaim a deeper meaning of the beauty industry, with a higher purpose and a scientific side,” he says.

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At this point it would be easy to roll the eyes, or say “you and the mission statements of a million others, mate”, but Bollati’s conviction is compelling.

He’s far from alone in reorienting his business model to give back, or pursuing a more natural approach to haircare, but the thoroughness with which he has done this stands out.

The driving force, and also the process he follows, is to find the fit between sustainability and performance. It’s akin, he says, “to a chef finding the right balance of ingredients”.

Often the latest foodie buzz translates to beauty (come in coconut and chia), but for its Essentials cleansing range, the company went beyond trend to work with slow food presidiums across Italy, providing small growers an ongoing supply chain to keep traditional crops and farming methods alive.

Davines new Renewing line in the Naturaltech range. Picture / Supplied

Extracts included those from almonds, capers, olives, melon, red celery and wheat. From Puglia, it was a locally prized cherry tomato threatened with being lost to cultivation from faster growing, fatter types.

“Plant chemistry is very rich in opportunities,” says Bollati. During a quick business stopover in Auckland, he met with Ngati Whatua to learn a little about our own indigenous plants. In Asia, where he enjoyed scalp massage, it helped reinforce his views that the best beauty practices connect with wellness.

“The beauty industry is considered a superficial industry, an indulgence — you go to the spa for your birthday not as a regimen; my mother would feel guilty going for half a day — but you don’t feel guilty about buying a pill from the pharmacy for your cholesterol or if you’re not sleeping at night.”

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Bollati says beauty choices shouldn’t be dismissed as ephemeral. They can have a lasting impact on health and wellbeing. Massage, for instance, can impact brain patterns.

With people living longer, steps to improve quality of life are vital, he says. From diet and exercise (he does yoga), to how we care for ourselves as well as others. Beauty also needs to be more environmentally aware, he maintains.

From source to production, to packaging and ingredients. That means out with the synthetics, polymers, oil and plastic derivatives.

Dr Davide Bollati, chairman of the Davines haircare firm. Picture / Supplied

“All the big brands have very high concentrates of silicones and silicone derivatives. They make a cosmetic feel very expensive, but they’re useless.”

Davines doesn’t use them in haircare or in its Comfort Zone spa skincare line, but Bollati knows moves by him and other brands to lose some of the harsher ingredients aren’t without their challenges. It took 11,000 tests to get their hair colour right, something doing your own in-house research and dermatological tests allows.

Product development is driven by a scientific committee and the artistic side by three times British Hairdresser of the Year Angelo Seminara. Business-wise, Bollati looks to B Corp principles and considers US firm Patagonia a mentor.

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Davines operates out of an eco-headquarters just outside Parma in Italy’s north. The historic university city, hometown of Verdi, prosciutto and parmesan, is where Bollati grew up before studying in the United States and working in France in the early 1990s.

The lure of the Italian lifestyle and landscape and “parental love” drew him home to recharge the business. He’s involved in civic affairs, helping set up a foundation for Parma’s betterment, restoring statues and gardens. Then there’s beauty school training and a wig library available for those undergoing cancer treatment.

The Business HQ. Picture / Supplied

Business HQ (pictured above) is being reconfigured; by next year the zero-waste, clean-energy home to 300 staff will be complete. It’s a village-like complex of wooden buildings, with its own organic restaurant and garden, accessed down an 11km evergreen tree corridor from the motorway, to reduce carbon emissions.

Green business thinking is shared by way of eco-tips for aligned salons. Davines is now a 120 million euro enterprise, across 80 countries. Its footprint here is growing, as salons look to satisfy consumer interest in a more holistic approach to beauty.

In Italy, Bollati, 51, pursues his vision of extending the good life. “I want to live a longer qualitative life, not just a longer life,” he says. He follows research into ageing, ranging from the effects of pollution and stress, to the internal triggers of inflammation, glycation and oxidisation.

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Davines new Renewing line in the Naturaltech range (with the turtle label, pictured) is a nod at dealing with longevity, designed to support scalp and hair changes over time.

Epigenetics, more than genetics, feeds into how we age, he says, and living consciously is the key. “Lifestyle is three times as important.”

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