INTERVIEW: Jose Bryce-Smith of Original & Mineral

We had the pleasure of meeting Jose Bryce-Smith owner of Original & Mineral last year at the Marr Factory down at Golden dawn in Ponsonby Road. We caught up with her again, over from Sydney, attending this year’s 4 runway shows, featuring top NZ designers Karen Walker, Zambesi, Nom’d, Workshop and Kate Sylvester. With Stephen Marr Salons recently changing all of their hair colour over to O&M, we asked Jose for her story behind O&M, how it all started and how did O&M rise to become the sort-after cult hair brand!

How did it all happen? Where you a hairdresser to begin with?

My husband is the hairdresser. I was actually working in magazines in London at the time selling advertising when I met him. We then came back to Sydney and he opened a hair salon and I started with IBM as a media buyer. He always wanted to grow a big salon and he and his partner thought that they were going to open the door and people were going to rush in! Of course they didn’t! I said do you want me to come and do something? So I started to work at reception.

Alan has always suffered from very bad contact dermatitis so he couldn’t use ammonia based hair colour. The salon he had been working in London used ammonia-free colour, so we just brought it over for Alan. I now started doing all this marketing around ‘ammonia free salon’ ‘organic salon’ then I would ring the beauty editor of Vogue and invite her to the salon but she said no, I have my own hairdresser. But I persisted and in the end she said, are you going to ring me every day? I replied, I am actually! Finally she came in and did a little write up in Vogue and then we got Marie Claire and it just snowballed from there.

The salon started to grow quickly and other salons called us and asked, where can we get this colour? For six years we kept to ourselves, then after six years I brought a container over and started selling to everyone who called us. And after building up to about $25,000 a month doing that, I thought OK, maybe this has got legs! Then I decided that the brand needed updating, we changed the name and we brought out the retail range and we got new packaging and that was seven years ago.

How did you go about establishing the brand outside of the salon?

I just started selling the range myself. The blonds were always the strength of the range so I would just go into a salon and leave them the blonds and they would try and then they would ring back and say it is unbelievable! We went from one sales rep to a team of fifteen in Australia. We started launching into the US a couple of years ago and now we have 50% of the US covered and we are still getting more distributors on board, some of these distributors have 10 States, the market is just enormous!

We obviously recently launched in New Zealand and it’s going well here. In two weeks I’m going to Sweden and in October to Denmark. It’s really exciting and even though I have doing it for a long time, I believe O&M is just about to be born!

So it all started with the colour?

The colour was the core of the brand. It’s funny because a lot of the major companies are bringing out ammonia-free colour because it is a trend, but we’ve always been ammonia-free, as the core of the brand and so a lot of the pain that their going through with product formulas, I’ve been through, so we have just sat there further ahead. It is a complete range and you can do anything with it that you need to do with colour, that is why Stephen Marr has been able to change over everything to it.

With consumers becoming more aware about chemicals , one of the big things I wanted to do was bridge the gap between natural and luxury. Just because it is natural doesn’t mean it has to have a green plant on the front and end up in a health food store. We like how Stephen Marr aligns itself with fashion, we do the same as we are involved with New York Fashion Week and Sydney Fashion Week. Hair is a fashion industry and we like that alignment.

Where are O&M products manufactured?

We make all of the haircare in Australia, whatever we can do, we do it there, but nobody makes colour in Australia, so we found a manufacturer in the US. I was probably fielding 3 or 4 phone calls a week from people saying are your products PPD free, and so I knew that being PPD free was going to be the next generation. The colour that we launched 2 years ago in the States was our mineral colour which is PPD free.

What is PPD?

It is one of the dyes. People can have that strong reaction where their face swells up and in the UK last year a girl who put colour on her hair for Halloween died because of a PPD reaction and another woman went into a coma. In Europe PPD hasn’t been banned yet but a lot of dyes have been. That’s why some of the major companies have had performance problems with their product because of the aggressive banning of some dyes. In a way everyone is going to be forced to go low chemical and use the technology to take some of these things out! It used to be all about who has the most money but now it’s all about who can react the fastest. As a smaller company we can move very quickly to meet what the market needs!

How did you come up with the name Original & Mineral?

Well, the first name of the product was actually Organic & Mineral, but then what happened was, people became obsessed with how organic it was. Hair colour is a chemical reaction, which is not really organic, so we decided to change the name to Original & Mineral. Because we had been pioneering, one of our trade marks has been ‘Original Thinking’ and we also have a campaign called ‘The Originals’, so that’s where the Original came from. O&M is a cult product which has it’s own following. Once people start using it they just love it!

You now have a O&M Salon in New York?

Yes, it’s called O&M nyc. It’s a total concept salon, which we own. It’s run by Creative Director, Janelle Chaplin who used to work for us in Sydney and who is now based in New York. We needed a salon where the media could come and get their hair done and so Janelle found a space in the Meat Packing district just around the corner from The Standard Hotel. It’s great, we have a great big custom-built table with shared seating, that breaks the tradition of staring aimlessly into a mirror, where clients can enjoy services, refreshments and conversation. just a great space where there are plenty of magazines and you can plug in your laptop. It works really well and the media are loving it! A projector shows old black & white movies on the walls. We are looking at setting up another concept salon in London.

O&M Salon Paddington