Tame the Mane is a unique hairdresser in Bristol and possibly the whole of the country. Using homemade 100% natural hair care products from edible foodstuffs and other natural sources, they aim to be both free of damaging chemicals, and help people make choices that don’t cost them either the health of their hair, or the environment. Started up seven months ago by local entrepreneur Lara King, the hair salon with a difference has already acquired a loyal following of converts to the chemical-free hair movement. People are enticed by amazing advice on how to care for often over-stressed locks using cheap items, often found in the home, as well as lovely looking cuts and colours and treatments in a warm, inviting atmosphere. With walls adorned by local artists, and book shelves and coffee tables festooned with copies of the Economist, Robert Webb’s How to be a Boy, and Margaret Atwood novels, rather than the usual guilt and shame inducing women’s magazines and celebrity gossip mags, this is a very different salon experience. Lara answered my questions in typically self-effacing and candid style just before giving me a great haircut and feathered hair extensions.
Tell me about your business Tame the Mane
It’s an atypical hairdressers. We have a few different girls that rent chairs here, who were working locally, and have given them a nice, warm atmosphere to work in, and where they feel safe as well. I make most of the products myself with a natural inclination, and like to give people options, and help make people more aware of the kind of products they are choosing.
What made you think of the idea?
Destroying my hair! Becoming really interested in all the natural products and making things myself. And just realising that there was nothing else like this - I just felt it was such a shame and that it needed to happen.
What’s been your greatest achievement to date?
I always feel really happy when I persuade someone to stop using box dyes on their hair because of some of the chemicals in them that people aren’t even aware of; they have side effects…you know, autoimmune disorders, asthma, stuff like that. There’s lots and lots of nasty things in them, and for me, each person that I gently convince to stop doing that is one little achievement.
What about your biggest challenge?
Doing it alone. Being alone. Sometimes I wish I had someone to help me, someone with more of a business mind, who knew a bit more about the admin side of things, and sometimes I just feel overwhelmed by how much stuff I have to do on my own. But also, I chose that, I wanted to do it on my own because I didn’t want to have to be asking someone else ‘shall we do this?’ I just thought if I want to do it, I want to do it.
This is your first year in business. Do you have any tips for anyone who might be thinking of starting up their own business without any prior experience?
Speak to other local businesses in the area where you want to start up. The most difficult thing I think is the rental market and finding a good locate. It depends what kind of business it, but that was one of the most difficult parts of it as well. Be organised, keep all of your receipts.
Do you think that starting a business as a woman is perhaps a little more challenging?
Absolutely. When I was renovating, I was treated like an idiot by tradesmen. The variation of prices I was given for certain jobs…it was so evident that people were just like ‘oh, blonde, hairdresser, stupid, I can just tack two or three hundred pounds on or tell them that they have to spend another thousand pounds on something that they don’t need, because she’s clearly got money, she’s starting a business, you know’. So I just started to feel like everybody was taking the piss!
And sometimes it’s difficult like when you are in here on your own and a man comes in on his own and you feel a bit uncomfortable sometimes because in an establishment (like this) where someone can look in and see a woman on her own and think ‘easy target’. But maybe that’s just me being overly cautious!
Do you use a lot of technology for your business?
I really wanted to not use any! I wanted to have no internet. I wanted it to be a haven for people to come in and not be ‘oh can I get on the wi-fi and can I check this and that?’ Unfortunately, in this day and age you need it to be able to take payments, and I’ve got my records but if I want to put on the radio or put on Spotify or something like that…it seemed to be a necessary thing. There’s been loads of pros and cons. In the beginning I was doing everything by hand and using a diary because it was still quiet, and as it got busier I needed an online booking system. But sometimes, you’re just glued to Facebook all the time because people are messaging you, and commenting on things, and everybody expects this instant response which drives me a little bit potty, actually! There is part of me that wishes I could leave my phone for a week, but I can’t because I’ve got a business.
Your background was in teaching, so how difficult has the transition been to a different career?
Not hugely difficult. I’ve always liked having two part-time jobs where I’m doing two different things because I get bored doing the same thing day in day out, which I hope doesn’t happen here. I don’t think it will. I find it really exciting – I meet new people every day – really interesting people as well, and have really interesting conversations. There’s so many aspects to what I’m doing.
I do feel that a lot of the skills that I learnt in teaching are actually transferable. Knowing how to deal with people and interaction and communication is really important as a hairdresser as well. And it’s really exciting that there are other possible avenues that could open up. For example, opening a training academy and helping other hairdressers to learn because education is something that I am still passionate about even though I’m not a teacher in a formal setting anymore. I’m still teaching.
What are your plans for the future?
A lot of people say to me, ‘don’t you want to start a franchise and don’t you want to expand?’ And I haven’t had these big visions for it because I want it to be working as a small community business first. At the moment, just being the best I can be for the business as it is now before I think about anything else. Obviously I talked earlier about the training academy, but then I have a lot of self-doubt about those things as well, and I think, I’m not good enough, I’m not a good enough hairdresser. I have that usual, typical lack of self-confidence I suppose.
Do you think that’s maybe a particularly female characteristic?
Yeah…I don’t know actually. I do have a lot of male friends who lack confidence as well, so I feel it would be unfair to say it’s a very female thing. I think it’s a very, ‘this day and age that we’re living in’ thing, because there are so many choices all the time. So there’s that constant; ‘have I made the right choice because there was this, and this, and this I could have done?’ Whereas fifty years ago or a hundred years ago there weren’t that many choices, so there was less self-doubt maybe. I don’t know. But actually I do think women in the workplace do a feel a bit more doubt about what they’re doing, yeah.
Thank you very much to Lara for taking the time to answer my questions. A trip to Tame the Mane provides so more than a haircut. I’m also on my own personal quest to get my hair back into its pre-chemical state, and I have Lara to thank for that as well.
Tame the Mane is located at 165 Fishponds Road, Bristol and is open Wednesday to Saturday from 10.00am to the early evening.