One needn’t talk to Lotte Davis, CEO and co-founder of AG Hair, for long before it becomes clear that she adores setting goals.
“I guess I have a thing for ‘three-pillar plans,’” says Davis. The entrepreneur has caught herself referencing a trio of brand guidelines for AG Hair (“We make products that work, we create a different standard of beauty, we give back”) moments after listing three benchmarks that guide her charity organization One Girl Can (“We build, we educate, we mentor”). There must be something to that magic number, because her goals are consistently met, if not exceeded.
Born in South Africa, Davis moved to Toronto at the age of nine. Following university and a period of living in Los Angeles and Phoenix doing visual merchandising, a final move to Vancouver led her to John Davis—her partner in work and life. The two were married in 1984 and quickly planted entrepreneurial roots together, their skill sets balancing beautifully. John had once worked in hairdressing in Liverpool, England, so when the duo saw a gap in the market for top quality salon-grade hair products, they took out a $5,000 loan and started making them. In 1989, the first bottles of AG product were hand-filled by Lotte and John in the basement of their Vancouver home and the rest, as they say, is history.
Twenty-eight years later, AG Hair is a $30-million company that manufactures its 73-product-strong portfolio entirely in Burnaby, B.C. Davis clarifies why this is unique in today’s beauty industry. “We are probably one of the last manufacturers of professional hair-care products in North America right now. Almost everyone else who is a ‘manufacturer’ is actually a marketing company, and they outsource. So the fact that we handcraft everything ourselves is highly unusual.”
For the Texture line, AG’s latest release, Davis and her team turned to the ocean for inspiration. The proprietary Sea Complex of giant sea kelp, bladderwrack and dulse seaweeds, Irish moss, and seaberry oil figures prominently in the six-product line: Cleansing Cream, Moisture Mask, Sea Spray, Texture Gloss, Dry Wax, and Tousled Texture finishing spray. “I love the Cleansing Cream,” adds Davis of the foamless two-in-one shampoo and conditioner, which she uses daily. A collection of dry shampoos also debuted recently, in five different shades from jet black to blonde. Up next is a new apple cider vinegar-based line called Nature, to be unveiled later this year.
“We are probably one of the last manufacturers of professional hair-care products in North America right now,” Davis says.
All AG formulas abide by the same quality standards—no parabens, salt, PABA, DEA foaming agents, or gluten—and use natural ingredients such as marula and coconut oils, Irish moss, and organic pea sprout extract (the latter, rich in phytonutrients and restorative proteins, has been shown to prolong hair’s growth phase, improving density and fullness). Indeed, from manufacturing and design to marketing and sales, everything is done in house; the label also underwent a full packaging redesign in 2015. “Fragrance usually takes the longest and is the most brutal step,” notes Davis, but the results are worth it. (The Thikk Wash volumizing shampoo smells addictively like Creamsicles.) Plans to move into a new 70,000-square-foot headquarters in Coquitlam, B.C., next year couldn’t come soon enough for the ever-expanding, carefully built team.
“I made up my mind as a young teenager that I was going to be a very successful person,” reflects Davis, going on to explain how she once found herself working in an office environment that taught her what she did not want in a career. “It was the 1970s, and I was exposed to blatant sexism. That’s what made me become an entrepreneur. I knew that if I was going to build a business, it was going to be an environment that is non-discriminatory and inclusive. I knew that I was going to start changing the way that women were treated and thought of in society. And, my upbringing in Africa really impacted me.” (Since those early days, Davis has been passionate about mitigating some of the injustices she has both witnessed and heard about about there.)
“I knew that I was going to start changing the way that women were treated and thought of in society. And, my upbringing in Africa really impacted me.”
Which explains another chapter in the AG Hair story—its philanthropic soul, which is evident in its support of many platforms and charities. Chief among these is One Girl Can, a nine-year-old Vancouver-based registered charity providing educational opportunities to impoverished girls living in highly marginalized areas of sub-Saharan Africa. It is an organization close to Davis’s heart.
“Our [AG] customers also want to know about [One Girl Can] in a way I’ve never seen before,” she says. “Our biggest U.S. distributor just donated $30,000 through a company-wide promotion. They want to get involved, to be connected.” Early on, Davis parted ways with an NGO, which streamlined the organization considerably and allowed resources to be stretched further. “I just made the decision to jump in and do it myself,” she says. “Things immediately started changing.” She travels to East Africa twice a year and, when not there in person, is in constant contact with a full-time program manager. “We don’t just build classrooms and go on,” she explains. “We stay with the schools and watch them grow.”
Thousands of girls and young women are currently participating in One Girl Can, including coaching programs and workshops that offer one-on-one mentoring and help with post-graduation job searches. As Davis puts it, “With One Girl Can, we are not successful until that girl is earning a salary.” Yet another ambitious goal is set.
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