What began as bottling hair products in a cottage basement on the banks of the Seymour River in 1989 has grown into a beauty empire with a strong philanthropic arm by the founders of AG Hair.
“No, not in a million years,” says AG co-founder Lotte Davis with a laugh, when asked if she imagined AG’s international success and charitable accomplishments when the business was in its infancy.
“You don’t start out thinking big, but you do hope.”
With AG Hair set to move into a new 70,000-square-foot headquarters early next year and launch in the European market, Lotte looks back at their humble beginnings.
Lotte’s hairdresser husband John began experimenting with making hair products – batching, formulating and researching ingredients in the basement of their Riverside Drive abode in the 1980s.
In distilling the ingredients John learned salt was a primary thickening agent used in the products. So he started researching plant-based ingredients to put in his hair potion.
AG’s use of natural ingredients helped them carve a niche in the industry.
But the couple couldn’t afford the 35 cents-a-bottle filling charge from a contract packager, so they took on the painstaking task of individually pumping product into thousands bottles and labelling them.
And then they got a rhythm going, combining John’s hair care expertise with Lotte’s creative and marketing background.
In the mornings John would head out to peddle his handcrafted products from the family car.
“And we were on that cycle for a while until we hired a salesperson,” recalls Lotte.
Their first brick and mortar came 18 months later and from there AG developed more and more products.
With no money for advertising, AG relied on word of mouth and knew they had one shot to win over a new customer.
“Canadians really liked the fact that we were making our own products and that we’re a Canadian company,” says Lotte.
AG steadily began receiving accolades in the industry and over the years have expanded their reach outside of Canada to areas including Australia, Taiwan and Central America.
This spring AG will launch in South America and then in Europe 18 months from now.
When the business became stable and profitable, Lotte and John decided to pay it forward.
Since 2008, AG Hair has donated a portion of each product sold to educate girls in Sub-Saharan Africa through its Every Bottle Counts campaign.
To date, AG has raised $3.6 million for their effort to empower African girls.
“I think it’s amazing,” says Lotte, who grew up in Africa during the Apartheid.
“I think we have so much further to go. I’m just really excited about carrying this on because I can see the impact that it’s having on the ground in Kenya and Uganda. And this thing needs to live way beyond me and AG Hair. I’m setting it up for infinity hopefully.”
In 2012, Lotte founded One Girl Can, a registered charity that provides secondary, vocational and university scholarships to girls in Africa.
It starts with building a classroom and evolves into a campus with multiple dormitories, washrooms, science labs, classrooms, dining rooms and libraries as the enrolment grows. One Girl Can has established six schools so far.
“I was really frustrated by seeing women underutilized and discriminated against,” says Lotte who is impassioned about the issue.
These same girls, some of whom were told “educating girls is a waste of money” will return to their villages to help pull their families out of poverty, take on leadership roles and mentor others, creating a snowball effect for other young women.
One Girl Can’s goal is to put 1,000 African girls through university by 2025.
Closer to home, Lotte is looking forward to welcoming AG’s 90 employees into a new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility next January in Coquitlam. AG also has a new product line coming out in July.
“I think I’m more proud of this than anything we’ve done,” says Lotte. “It takes us full circle to when we started looking at natural ingredients 28 years ago.”
Made from 98 per cent natural ingredients, including apple cider vinegar, the products are pure food for your hair wrapped in gorgeous packaging, describes Lotte.
One Girl Can is hosting a gala fundraiser April 13 at the Imperial Vancouver. Gala tickets are $69 but attendees go home with $68 worth of AG Hair products.
The event also features a live auction with prizes including two African safaris and other trips.
More info is available at onegirlcan.com.