Emirati eco-warrior, Leena Al Abbas went vegan in 2008 (for the animals) and when she launched Organic Glow Beauty Salon in 2009, being completely cruelty free was a crucial criterion for her salon. The other consideration was the level of toxins found in beauty products.
When you launched The Organic Glow Beauty Lounge why was the chemical make up of the products important?
I had severe reactions to the harsh chemicals used in products in the various salons I used to frequent to get my hair and nails done. I loved getting pampered but hated how my skin and scalp reacted after the treatments. Back then there was not much awareness about the link between harsh chemicals in products and how they can affect our health.
After doing extensive research about my reactions to my favourite salon treatments—manicures, pedicures and hair colour—it was clear that what was happening to me was a result of the ‘chemical cocktail’ effect of the many toxic substances found in the products used. I learned so many shocking facts such as: nail polishes can contain formaldehyde, lipsticks can contain lead and that women can absorb approximately 2.5 kgs of toxic chemicals a year from using beauty products. It can take a mere 26 seconds for chemicals in products to be absorbed in the bloodstream!
These shocking facts made me decide to start my salon offering safer alternatives to all the treatments offered in regular salons, as I didn’t find any place which offered them. This fact-finding mission became my ultimate passion!
Why was it important to you that the salon be organic and vegan?
When I hear people say that organic is more expensive, I say doctor bills are even more expensive! Luckily, there is more awareness and information now about veganism and clean/organic beauty, which was not available 10 years ago.
Clients, especially pregnant women and clients with health issues, come to us because they know that we don’t use harsh chemicals which will harm them. They Google ‘organic salon’, ‘clean beauty’ or ‘toxic-free manicure’ and they find us. Clients are now searching for healthier alternatives to regular beauty treatments, because there are enough studies and reports about the effects of how nasty chemicals can cause diseases.
What challenges did you face in finding suppliers for your products, since you have quite specific guidelines for what you use?
It was actually not that challenging to find suppliers who had products that met my strict criteria of needing to be vegan, cruelty-free, toxic-free and organic. I always do my thorough research of each brand/product before contacting a supplier. So, I already knew which brands I wanted for my salon based on the company’s ethos, philosophy, transparency and the efficacy and ingredients of their products.
There are many products that meet my criteria, but I have to absolutely LOVE the product and what it stands for. If it has an amazing story behind it—for example if the product owner is a woman who created a line after having severe health issues—then I would rather support that brand, instead of bigger names who are used in every single salon.
My salon carries a small but carefully curated range of products that I trust and believe in, so I deal with a handful of suppliers who carry the niche products I like. I am also very loyal to a product and working with a product/supplier for a long time has great benefits such as building trust and creating a great marketing channel for the products.
Occassionally, I will completely change the range of products we’ve been working with for a long time, and replace it with one that is far more superior or which is managed by a better supplier. One thing to consider is that management restructuring and staff turnover in distribution companies can affect the relationship of a salon/supplier/product.
Tell us about your amazing team. What is your criteria for bringing new members on board?
I’ve been blessed to have my team since the launch of the business 10 years ago, which is rare in the salon industry.
I have previously made the mistake of hiring the ‘wrong’ staff during the launch period, and I quickly learned to be careful about who I hire and listening to my gut feeling. From there, I hired based on their personality and eagerness to learn and evolve.
Every staff member has worked in salons before; they have the qualifications and certificates required to be a beautician, but no matter how good they are on paper, it is really their personality and demeanour which will be a decider for me. I also believe in hiring staff from different countries to encourage diversity in the workplace.
Equally important is treating your staff well. You can have the best staff but if they are over worked, demotivated and underpaid, they will leave! Sadly, this is common in the salon industry. At the salon we are close to one another and I treat my staff like I would like to be treated, with respect and kindness.
My staff is proud of their work and their passion is reflected by how they treat clients and ensure that they offer a great service at all times; they are very customer-centric. My customers often tell me that they can feel how happy and passionate my team are and they see how it shows in the quality of service they get from them. That to me if the biggest validation of happy staff = happy clients!
What are the top three treatments you would recommend for new clients?
All of my salon’s treatments are lovely and gentle but if I had to recommend only three treatments, I’d definitely say our 10-free nail treatments (manicures/pedicures/foot-rituals and gel); our organic sugaring (safer than wax) and our organic hair treatments. Vegans love us because all products and ingredients used are cruelty-free and vegan; they can rest assured that they are getting ethically pampered. This is what makes us different from other salons.
What are your goals for 2020?
We have just celebrated our 10th year anniversary! This is a massive milestone for such a niche salon, so 2020 will be another year of spreading awareness of my salon’s mission and message to women about the dangers of toxic chemicals in beauty products and treatments and spreading the message that beauty can be compassionate and without cruelty. I will introduce new brands and treatments to the salon and focus on my franchise expansion plan.