So why is a tiny hair studio in Plumstead the preferred choice for those who can easily afford big-brand, high-fashion hairdressing salons? The answer lies in Renee Short, an energetic and intuitive hairdresser and the sole importer of the Italian hair and skin product range, Naturalmente.
Renee is passionate about her chosen trade. She loves hair and what it does for women, often referring to hair as a woman’s crowning glory. In 2006, when Renee agreed to be part of a study one of her clients was undertaking on cellular exploration, she discovered she was had a toxic overload of chemical products from personal care products. As she uses very few beauty products herself, Renee determined it must be as a result of the products she was working with professionally.
“I realised how many products I handled every single day, my hands constantly in contact with one chemical or another. I started thinking about the fact that the skin is permeable, it’s a sponge, so what ever we put on our skin ends up inside our bodies. I also started to recall conversations with clients who said they had felt ill for two days after having their hair colour done. Obviously this was only the occasional client who is probably more sensitive, but I knew there had to be a link.”
Renee did some investigating and quickly discovered that there were no products available for professionals to use on their clients’ hair that were free of petrochemicals, obtained from sustainable, protected resources and not containing ingredients of animal origin nor tested on animals. Then, in 2008, while assisting a friend who sold chemical-free home cleaning products at a natural and organic fair, Renee stumbled across Naturalmente.
Renee was immediately captivated by the small quantity of Naturalmente, a non-toxic professional hair product range that had been brought into South Africa by an unlikely source: Francois – a farmer and entrepreneur from Cradock. Despite being based in different provinces and having, at first glance, little in common, Renee and Francois soon began to work together to put Naturalmente on the South African map.
Three years later their mutual desire to create an ethical and sustainable business has resulted in Naturalmente becoming a well-known brand which is as gentle on its users’ hair and skin as it is on the planet. Although Renee has now bought out Francois’ share, he remains a champion for Naturalmente, and for Renee personally, as they both realise this could not have happened without each other.
Renee’s passion for Naturalmente is contagious, as she waves her hands around like an Italian throwing in the odd Italian word (she’s learning the language). She is quick to point out that Naturalmente is not just about a green range, it’s not about fulfilling a trend. It’s actually about an entire philosophy. Most products play on words to trick the consumer into believing a product is earth and people-friendly. They put in bold writing ‘paraben free’ but the rest of the ingredients are not petrochemical free. For example they’ve got rid of sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), but the product is full of other chemicals that are just as bad.
SLS is a particular bugbear of Renee’s. She explains that it’s the stuff found in nearly all dishwashing liquids and household cleaning agents yet the same substance is also commonly found in most shampoos, body washes, bubble bath and toothpastes. Why? It’s a very effective degreaser and lathering agent. But as Renee explains, “It’s a no brainer that something I use to clean my roast chicken pan should not be used to clean my body. It’s the same with hair colour – ammonia is in all-purpose cleaners and in hair colour. Somewhere the line between cleaning my home and my kitchen and cleaning me has merged! SLS pushes your scalp pH to over 10, whereas the ideal pH level is 5.5. If the pH of your garden soil is out, your garden can die. What do you think it’s doing to your head?”
So just how ‘natural’ is Naturalmente? Renee has no desire to mislead consumers and quickly points out that it is not possible at this point in time to colour your hair naturally, unless you use vegetable-based colours that stain the hair. But these colours are not as effective as they don’t penetrate the core of the hair, where pigments are deposited if you use artificial colouring. Naturalmente is of course artificial colour, but it’s the best option we have right now. It has no ammonia, it uses ethanolamine – which is a sister of ammonia but a lot better for human use – you don’t find this in your all purpose cleaners.
The Naturalmente hair colour range is now being supplied to salons across the country, along with training by Renee on this completely new methodology which differs significantly from the way that standard ammonia-based products are used. They are also the sole supplier of the range of hair care products for individual use at home which is fast becoming cult-like.
“People who've used a friend or a sister’s Naturalmente shampoo or gloss just once are calling up to find out where they can get their hands on the products. This range is selling itself by attraction rather than promotion.”
A few months ago Renee also started bringing in the skincare range, which follows the same protocol and is petrochemical free. Renee has realised that she doesn’t need to work that hard to convince people to switch to Naturalmente.
“It’s pretty obvious that there are a lot of profound reasons to start using the Naturalmente range whether it’s concern about the fact you’re applying toxins daily to your body or concern about the damage we are doing to the planet by using petrochemicals. Even if your only reason is the more superficial one – that you end up with fab hair – hey, that’s a pretty good reason too.”
Renee knows she’s onto a good thing: it’s a matter of time before the world looks at ammonia-based beauty products full of parabens the same way we now view foods containing MSG and tartrazine.