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During the first appointment

I got a haircut at an ‘inclusive’ salon and taught them about afro hair

New East London salon WhiP’s promise of a ‘100 per cent kind to the planet hair transformation’ for all types of hair fell flat at first

For the first time in history, the beauty landscape is starting to be representative of our diverse society. Brands are finally starting to acknowledge that a one-size-fits-all approach is simply archaic and ostracises consumers, or the more commercially astute are realising how the effects of a wider spectrum of clients will increase profitability. The rise of the natural hair movement has led to a plethora of curl-centric products readily available in retailers but the salon experience has unfortunately not followed suit as efficiently. As a mixed race woman, with undeniably curly hair, I often straightened my hair before appointments at European salons either at their request or out of instinct that they would be unprepared to work with my natural texture. 

WhiP salon aims to change this far too common narrative and do away with the segregation that is historically found in the hairdressing industry. Self-described as “inclusive”, this equates to “providing our services to anyone who walks through the door – all hair types,” according to creative director and co-founder James Fisher. There are currently WhiP two locations in Hackney and Homerton and I went to the former, the instantly calming energy inside much appreciated entering from the madness of Morning Lane. The decor is heavily 70s-inspired, like a sleeker version of Stranger Things with much of their stunning furniture being sourced from second-hand and vintage shops. 

“I often straightened my hair before appointments at European salons either at their request or out of instinct that they would be unprepared to work with my natural texture. WhiP salon aims to change this far too common narrative and do away with the segregation that is historically found in the hairdressing industry”

I sat down with the hairstylist and he talked me through what I wanted: a cut and blow-dry. Thankfully, he didn’t seem alarmed when I explained that I typically cut my own hair in a poorly lit bathroom as my past experiences have given me anxiety. We went over to the sink and, as I rarely frequent hairdressers, I remembered just how nice it is having someone else wash your hair. Unfamiliar with how long a cutting process tends to take, I was impressed with his precision and he explained that he preferred to cut curly hair when wet as styling products tend to alter the true state of dry hair.

WhiP only uses vegan and sustainable brands like Evo and Oway in the salon as the founder believes they “have really made it possible to achieve just about any finish, along with the right expertise.” This commitment to the environment extends further with recycled, biodegradable and reusable paper and cling film instead of foils for colouring. While I do care deeply about the state of the planet, admittedly my main concern at this point was whether these products would achieve my desired effect.

A pea-sized amount is the greatest lie when styling curly hair. Just like 19-year-old-me on a midweek night out at uni, my hair can drink and if a product says pea-sized, then frankly I need the entire bag of petit pois. Unfortunately, he followed the instructions which was undoubtedly more of a habit rather than a further indication of his sustainability efforts. 

Never using heat on my hair, he began diffusing and, despite flashbacks from yet another failed past hair appointment where a diffuser was used, I remained calm. James instructed me to flip my head back up when he’d finished and the reflection I was met with wasn’t what I’d anticipated. “What do you normally do with these?” the hairstylist asked, pointing to the two tendrils that normally fall naturally around my face but instead were sitting somewhat vertically and resembled Teletubby-esque antennae. 

The only way to describe the result without profanities would be an absolute mess. My curl pattern had been eradicated and replaced by a nest-like entity. Forgoing any professionalism, I looked him in the eye and said that it needed fixing. I suggested re-wetting the hair and applying more product, He proceeded to very mildly mist the hair and use another minuscule amount of product. Nothing really changed but to ensure it wasn’t a bizarre fluke, that process was repeated again. 

What happened next, I can confidently say, has probably never happened before. The hairstylist sat down in the chair next to me and we had a mildly awkward yet incredibly frank chat about the ways I have learnt to treat curly hair. He didn’t pretend the finish was good and agreed that the pictures I showed him of my normal hair looked better. Under my advice, we completely re-wet my hair in the sink and started again. When I put the products in, I showed him that curly hair ideally needs to be sectioned so product is evenly distributed throughout. As it turns out, WhiP does have a curly hair specialist who I agreed to visit two days later to see if this experience was any better.

With over 15 years experience, Sam Boggia worked extensively within the film and television industry as an expert colourist working with high-profile clients before joining WhiP in August. Since starting, he’s run workshops with the team and brought in brave curly hair friends as models so staff can hone their expertise and familiarise themselves working with different curl patterns.

After a brief recap of my previous appointment, he immediately identified that the diffuser and incorrect product use had been the key perpetrators. In a thorough colour consultation, Boggia ran through the process of creating a custom-colour blend paired with Olaplex to create a highly personalised finish that wouldn’t compromise the health of my hair. The aim: golden, caramel, and biscuit – three of my favourite words regardless of the context.

When it came to the styling, Boggia brought over several products and rather than assuming what would work, asked me what I normally use so we could achieve the same result. With my curls saturated in Evo products, I left with wet hair not out of diffuser fear but because curly hair looks better when left to dry naturally. Several hours later, with my hair fully air-dried, I am incredibly happy with the multi-tonal, rich colour.

Despite the disastrous first appointment, my experience and the final result were remarkably positive. The inconsistency has to be noted as my visit highlights that they, unfortunately, can’t do all hair types all the time. Having said that, occasionally things just don’t go to plan irrespective of hair texture or level of expertise. I have the utmost respect for my first hairstylist for taking it on the chin and admitting it was an education. To be clear, the cut itself is exceptional with my hair looking and feeling noticeably healthier. Boggia surpassed my expectations and he is going to do refresher training with the entire team on both styling and products for natural textures – to ensure they can live up to their inclusive claim. 

When given my pick of products without a ration-sized portion, my hair adored the vegan and sustainable creams which are also curly girl method approved. Ultimately, a team committed to education and representation will always be a win in my book. While my trips to hairdressers are far less frequent than those to the dentist, I look forward to returning and seeing their progress.