Influence of the Olds: Anita Rice of Ralph & Rice X Glacier Girl
Businesses where the “good” isn’t a schtick or marketing angle. An Interview.
Anita Rice is the owner of the London-based, eco-friendly hair salon, Ralph & Rice. Launched in 2017, Rice hopes to use the platform of a salon to gently educate her customers on environmental responsibility all while getting one of the best cuts in London. Elizabeth Farrell aka Glacier Girl is a 19-year-old artist and environmental activist who uses social media and visual arts for change. A few years ago, Glacier Girl spent some time washing hair and sweeping floors at Rice’s previous establishment. We asked the two of them to discuss how individual efforts, either as an artist or an entrepreneur, can impact climate change and environmental responsibility.
Hello ladies! Such an honor to have two people dedicated to driving environmental responsibility in The Irregular Report. Perhaps, Anita, you can start by explaining a bit about Ralph & Rice.
Anita Rice: We’ve opened a sustainable-based hairdressing salon in East London, and our focus is mainly on trying to heighten the awareness about sustainability and offer beauty products that are a lot kinder to the environment than what you would usually get in [salons]. We focus on packaging and plastics and how you can reduce the waste around these products by reusing and recycling as well as having packaging that is biodegradable and recyclable. We refill our shampoos and conditioners that our clients buy. They bring back their bottle and we refill it for them at a lower price, just so they can have their own little way of saving on plastics and things like that.
So when you were first concepting Ralph & Rice, did it evolve in response to your clients or what you saw as a need/opportunity or was it really the product of you and your convictions?
AR: When building the Ralph & Rice, the core concept was to relate to the product of our convictions. It was always going to be environmentally friendly, sustainable, eco, plant-based, careful, compassionate, etc. We went on the concept of ‘If you build it, they will come’ not because clients requested this.
And Lizzie (Glacier Girl) worked for you in the old salon. Did she have any impact on your decision to create Ralph & Rice?
AR: When I met Lizzie, it was so inspiring to meet such a young person with huge views on climate change. It was encouraging that other people who would have a similar mindset would find these things important.
Do you think that as people are beginning to prioritize things like quality of life over simply making money, we will see more businesses crop up that have the political/cultural/social objectives of the owner integrated into what the business is and how it operates?
AR: After launching Ralph & Rice with the values of environmental care in mind, I’ve seen a huge positive reaction amongst the people we attract. So by creating our business plan with sustainability at the forefront of our minds, we have had amazing feedback from other businesses doing the same thing.
GG: It is so great to see this change but frustrating that huge brands like Google always come up with excuses as to why they can’t do things. But what I noticed is that your prices don’t seem to have been affected in any way by being a sustainable enterprise.
AR: No, they really haven’t. We’re trying to keep it at a level where we make money because obviously we’re still a young business with huge overhead but we try and keep all our prices at a point where we can attract all sorts of people by making it affordable. In terms of the products, they are more expensive than what you’re going to get from Boots, but the point is we’re trying to let people know that some things should be a little bit more expensive due to the quality of ingredients and the way they’re produced (which has less impact on the environment). People are understanding this and they are also looking to support smaller businesses rather than these bigger corporations who are buying smaller businesses just so they can have the face of independence and locally-sourced without making changes across their companies. You see it happening in the food industry a lot. People are becoming much more aware of this, and they are becoming a lot less attracted to huge corporations.
GG: Yeah totally. You just mentioned food, and you’re doing vegan salads and stuff. What is that about?
AR: We do that as a sort of a gift for our clients, just to create the conversation around our packaging basically. We think that if we are serving food in a cleaned, recyclable, washed, conditioner tub, then it kind of creates that nice conversation as to how you can eat out of this. You can use this shampoo container for this, this, and this. It’s a nice way to gently spark conversation about packaging instead of coming down on people with a really forceful opinion. And then if they’re interested, we can go from there and start talking about ingredients and how important it is and how transparent the products are that we use. You know you can see the farmer that has created the melons, that have gone into that conditioner and the seeds have gone back to the farmers, so they can keep growing these things at a very sustainable rate. So, the food is sort of like a cute opener for us to start having our conversations and relaying our ethics.
The old model of “socially conscious” businesses is something like TOMS where the identity of the brand rests upon this idea of “buy this and do good.” But we are seeing this next generation leaning towards businesses where the “good” isn’t a schtick or marketing angle (sorry TOMS…) but woven into the very fabric of the business in a more integrated way. Ralph & Rice strikes me as an example of this. Do you think there is a difference between your approach and a TOMS or a Warby Parker and is your way more sustainable as a model and therefore more impactful in the long term?
AR: We provide a luxury service aimed at a certain demographic. Hairdressing is an old profession that isn’t going anywhere — the fact that we can run our business as eco as possible isn’t a marketing tool, it’s something that we find important and therefore has drawn others with the same values.
GG: Yeah, I often have a struggle with environmentalism becoming another trend. In London, it’s cool to be sustainable but that can be worrisome like people will get bored and move on to the next trend…
AR: Yeah, I understand what you’re saying, there is a trend and you know trends do happen. But, the good thing is that something becomes a trend as people are talking about it. When people are doing it, then it creates a trend. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. And if you can get one person who has two friends and they all start talking about this and are interested, then you’ve got much better ‘in’ to educate people. And once they have their education, they’re never going to go back.
GG: Definitely. But it’s very important what you are doing. By using the context of a hair salon, a luxury service, that attracts more privileged people who tend to be the ones polluting the most, you’ve created a service that means that they can still take part in an activity, but it can be less environmentally troubling and maybe make them realize their waste. But mostly, make it zero effort for them to reduce their impact. So then how has that helped you think about your branding in relationship to the idea of environmental responsibility or sustainability as people refer to it?
AR: I think sustainability is a word that is now overtaking ‘organic,’ basically. We are lucky that it is talked about right now, which is great for us. But again, we are offering an education for clients coming to get their hair done. And this is the first time in my career that I´ve had people seeking us out, and coming especially because our products are vegan, or they are recyclable, or they are sustainable. They’re looking to be educated more on these sorts of things, which is really cool I think.
GG: Do you get negative feedback on the salon being environmentally friendly since there is this trend thing happening right now?
AR: Yeah, not really. I mean we haven’t had anybody say “well you’re doing this and you’re doing this and you’re using chemicals” because we are doing people’s hair at the end of the day. We’re just trying to do our bit as much as possible. You know we do use what we use to do our jobs. But we try to address things that were once ignored. It’s come a long way. When I came to London ten years ago, nobody recycled. Slowly but surely, these sorts of things are making a difference.
GG: I remember eight years ago, people would be like “do you actually think anyone is going to actually stop eating meat?” And now there’s a nine hundred percent increase in veganism in the UK.
AR: It’s huge. That’s exactly the kind of thing I am talking about. And all that took was a documentary or two and a few more options for what to eat.
GG: It comes down to the change in communication around these issues. The problem is with the action gap which is clearly about the way these issues are communicated. Younger generations are so lucky in the sense that information is so available to them, and so quickly.
When I was growing up we didn’t really have the Internet. If someone said to me “I want to be a vegan,” I´d be like cool. And then I´d be like, “I don’t know how to find out what that is, unless I can find someone that tells me what that is.” There was no way of typing in your phone — what’s vegan, is this vegan? Now you’ve got any information that you could possibly want at your fingertips. And people are making films by themselves on their phones that others can watch and then express their opinion and share tips and more information. Whereas we didn’t have that. I am honestly amazing by what goes on in my feed and how information spreads.
AR: I think it is a hard one, because social media is so visual and now people just want pictures instead of reading articles because its instant.
GG: Yeah, coming back to veganism, if they can do it quickly then they will make the right choice. But if they walk in some place and there’s no vegan option, most people will just have a burger, when they could walk a few steps further and go to a veggie restaurant. If it’s easy, available and quick, people will do things that they think are good so things like your salon help them do that which is a great first step.