It’s not easy to change the world. Nor is it easy to scale a startup. But for founders and life partners Paul Frasca and Ewelina Soroko, that’s the daily reality with Sustainable Salons.
Sustainable Salons is a unique social enterprise and the first comprehensive circular solution that supports over 1,500 hair salons, barbershops, beauty salons, dermal clinics, and pet-grooming salons in Australia and New Zealand. The team specialises in collecting up to 95% of the salon bin and redirecting all material for reuse, recycling and repurposing solutions.
Since its inception in 2015, the team has diverted more than 1.7 million kg of materials from landfill – not to mention, Sustainable Salons is the largest donor to the medical wig industry and the #1 directory for hair and beauty in the Pacific.
We spoke to the dynamic duo about their journey to date with Sustainable Salons, how they juggle being business partners and life partners, and what’s on the cards for the future.
The history of making salon waste history
Paul and Ewelina’s story first began in Amsterdam – Paul, an Aussie who had moved to Europe as a hairdresser styling elite clientele, and Ewelina, an environmentalist who was driving sustainability in the fashion supply chain.
The two instantly clicked and discovered they shared a passion for implementing an ethical approach to resources used, whether in fashion or salons.
Over time, the duo found their way back to Australia where, in typical Aussie fashion, they embarked on a roadtrip. And so, it was on the great open road where the seeds of Sustainable Salons were sown.
“Ewelina and I created Sustainable Salons 8 years ago after a very long drive around Australia – which, by the way, took 4 months and $7000 in petrol. We both still swear it’s the best adventure we’ve ever had,” recounts Paul.
“We had many very long discussions about hairdressing sustainability, and whether it was a product or a service that it needed. We didn’t know. And what we came up with was zip. Nothing. I still remember Ewelina saying to me, as a true intellectual: “we need to study this more”.”
Study they did – and soon, they discovered that salon waste had nowhere to go except landfill. The impact was staggering: hairdressers send more than 1 million kilos of aluminium foil to landfill every year.
Sustainable Salons has diverted more than 1.7 million kg of materials from landfill since its inception.
Unable to shake this call to action, Paul and Ewelina started their first sustainable venture: Refoil, the industry’s first sustainably minded foiling concept and recycled foil product. But the plan was always to do something bigger – they just needed a bit of traction first.
“The business plan for Sustainable Salons was actually drafted prior to Refoil. The decision to establish Refoil stemmed from the lack of financial resources needed to launch the Sustainable Salons program,” says Paul.
“With only $10,000 at our disposal, we recognised the need to generate awareness and revenue in order to successfully launch the Sustainable Salons program according to our vision. Consequently, we opted for the path of least resistance, focusing on developing a single product and directly selling it to salons to raise awareness about the significance of recycling,” adds Ewelina.
“By successfully building sufficient revenue through Refoil, we were able to finally realise our long-standing ambition of establishing the Sustainable Salons organisation.”
A sustainable approach to salons and to business
Sustainable Salon is unique in many aspects – but one of the most notable is the fact that the entire venture has been bootstrapped to date. Instead of seeking investment, Paul and Ewelina chose to self-fund Sustainable Salons with the belief that this would build a more sustainable and profitable business.
“We chose this approach because we always adhered to the philosophy of 'don't spend money you don't have.' Operating on a tight budget allowed us to avoid making excessive mistakes and compelled us to work doubly hard to deliver the products our members desired,” says Paul.
“We were also mindful of not growing too rapidly,” Ewelina notes.
“Instead, we proceeded gradually, expanding state by state. This deliberate pace granted us the opportunity to fail and learn quickly, ensuring that by the time we reached the next state, we possessed the necessary tools to launch even more effectively than before.
“This strategy enabled us to address localised challenges rather than grappling with nationwide issues. Opening all states simultaneously could have overwhelmed the system and might have jeopardised our existence today.”
This growth extends to the team, which has gone from a humble team of two to 50 direct and 50 indirect employees.
“We are thrilled to have brought together a group of team members who share our values and are fully committed to the direction in which Sustainable Salons is headed. Additionally, we strive to support them in achieving their financial goals and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. It is incredibly gratifying to see individuals across the team embracing the opportunity to work in sustainability, earning a fair wage, and making a positive impact on the planet simultaneously,” says Paul.
However, the pair are quick to point out that they don’t have it all figured out – especially as they’re on the cutting edge of impact innovation.
“One of our biggest challenges has been building a program without any existing benchmarks. We constantly engage in innovation and reinvention, reimagining what the future of sustainability in the feel-good industries should look like. It has been a challenging journey, but one that brings immense satisfaction and rewards,” says Ewelina.
Partners in impact, business, and life
Sustainable Salons co-founders Paul Frasca and Ewelina Soroko
Many founders embark on the startup journey with a co-founder – perhaps a business connection, a friend, or a colleague. However, there’s nothing more special (and challenging) than building a startup with your significant other.
As partners in business and life for more than a decade, Paul and Ewelina have learned a fair amount about running a startup as a couple – and they have a few guiding principles for other couples who may be embarking on a similar journey.
“Firstly, it's important not to duplicate each other's roles. There's no need for both individuals to tackle the same problem simultaneously. Instead, define and separate your responsibilities clearly. Trust in one another's abilities and be open to the possibility of failure,” says Paul.
“The success of your partnership hinges on how well you work together, much like in a family and home setting. Support each other through the ups and downs, fostering an environment of understanding and empathy. Effective communication is paramount. Avoid tearing each other down for the sake of ego and instead focus on constructive dialogue and collaboration,” adds Ewelina.
People, planet and profit
Sustainable Salons is living proof that a company can be sustainable and impactful whilst also being commercially successful. As a leader in the impact space, Paul and Ewelina credit three key pillars with getting them to where they are right now: the consideration of people, planet, and profit.
“One of the fundamental factors contributing to our success is the equal incorporation of three key pillars—people, planet, and profit—into our organisation to ensure the effectiveness of our program. Interestingly, the profit aspect is often overlooked when it comes to initiatives aimed at environmental conservation. However, we firmly believe that profit is just as vital as the planet in achieving sustainable outcomes,” says Ewelina.
Paul and Ewelina believe profit is as vital as the planet in achieving sustainable outcomes
With this balanced approach, Paul and Ewelina have created a program with messaging that has enabled its organisation to be self-sustaining without relying on government funding – and at the same time, more salons are joining the cause as consumer demand for Sustainable Salons increases.
“Moving forward, it is essential to recognise that saving the planet is not only a responsibility but also a potential source of future revenue. This realisation has been instrumental in propelling Sustainable Salons forward and maintaining its momentum,” says Ewelina.
Paul and Ewelina also say that KPMG High Growth Ventures have been invaluable as Sustainable Salons has grown.
“Collaborating with renowned firms like KPMG has instilled us with the confidence to embark on the next five years as an organisation,” says Ewelina.
“Working alongside the KPMG team has been truly remarkable. Their high level of engagement and swift responses have been invaluable, allowing us to navigate challenges and opportunities with greater efficiency.”
“Moreover, our work with KPMG has introduced us to a diverse range of services that align with our budgetary considerations, enabling us to access valuable resources and expertise,” Paul adds.
“An additional benefit of working with KPMG is the opportunity to interact with other founders, co-founders, and start-ups at various stages of their journey. This networking environment allows us to connect, share experiences, and glean insights from a community of like-minded individuals.
“The collaboration with KPMG has proven to be a great asset to Sustainable Salons, providing us with the necessary support, resources, and connections to propel us forward into a successful future.”
A vision to Make Sustainability Reality
Sustainable Salons' Salon Directory has just been named the leading directory in the hair and beauty industries
So, what’s next for the future?
Plenty, says Paul and Ewelina – but one of the most exciting recent developments they’re excited about is their Salon Directory, which was recently named the leading Salon Directory in the hair and beauty industries.
“Our team has dedicated extensive efforts to create a seamless customer journey within a Sustainable Salon environment. This achievement not only benefits the salons themselves but also attracts conscious consumers who are actively seeking out sustainable salon options,” says Ewelina.
This Salon Directory makes it even easier for consumers to find a Sustainable Salon, whilst simultaneously empowering salons to effectively communicate their commitment to sustainability.
“We are committed to continuously enhancing our Salon Directory and providing the best possible experience for both salons and customers. This ongoing dedication to innovation is driven by our vision to Make Sustainability Reality,” says Paul.
Learn more about Sustainable Salons here.
Looking to access the support and resources you need to grow your startup? Get in touch and learn how KPMG High Growth Ventures helps founders and their teams build sustainable, scalable businesses.