life + style

East London hair salon, Buller and Rice

As salons reopen across England, Sylvie Wilkinson caught up with the founders of Buller and Rice, London’s first sustainable salon
Sylvie Wilkinson
Lucky first booking for Sylvie Wilkinson

For many, the reopening of salons represents the first step on the way back to normal life. Today, as split ends are snipped and roots are covered across the country, I was one of the lucky (and desperate) souls to re-enter the salon for some much needed attention.

Buller and Rice describes itself as “a lifestyle hair salon, focused on sustainability”. Now with two salons in East London, these unique spaces are born out of a mutual love of hair and the environment. Stephen Buller and Anita Rice founded their first salon together in Newington Green in 2018, and their second in Walthamstow at the end of 2019. They’ve combined decades of experience to start a crucial conversation in the beauty industry and beyond.

Buller and Rice
Anita & Stephen

Stephen, originally from Swansea, moved to London when he was 26 and got a job at Pimps & Pinups salon in Spitalfields. As for Anita, after moving from Tauranga, New Zealand to London, she started working at Pimps & Pinups in 2009, meeting Stephen when he joined a few years later.

For Anita, this salon was a great place to further develop her skills: “Pimps & Pinups teamed amazing knowledgeable service with a super friendly outlook. It was amazing working in Shoreditch back then – we used to do hair in nightclubs, everyone had tattoos and colourful hair.” At Pimps & Pinups, the pair started to imagine how they would approach a salon of their own.

Despite their different backgrounds, Stephen and Anita both see their identities in the industry shaped by the East London scene. “Someone referred to us as ageing hipsters,” says Anita. “Both Stephen and I lived in Dalston for over 12 years. Stephen lives in Newington Green now and I’ve moved further east, to the other side of Hackney Marshes. Our routes are so East London based.”

Stephen and Anita have worked hard to created spaces that are not only salons, but calming environments where clients can relax. When I first entered their Newington Green salon, I was struck by the chic attention to detail. Anita explained how sustainability is reflected in the design of their spaces: “When we go into building a space, we like to use waste materials. Our Walthamstow salon has got an incredible floor made up of old Lino chips that have been dyed and stained. In this salon, we have a surface made completely of grass cuttings which have been pressed, and another of recycled yogurt pots – it’s amazing!”

The beauty and cohesion of their salons, designed by Stephen and Anita themselves, adds to the salon experience. “It was this link between using waste materials, but still having it appear as a luxury environment instead of a hippy-dippy, shabby-chic vibe. We wanted to elevate the way it looked, but have it completely made with waste material.”

When it comes to Buller and Rice, there is no need to worry about a lack of Covid-safety.

Having spent the best of the last year isolating, it’s no surprise that many of us feel anxious and apprehensive about re-emerging into normal life. After all, getting a haircut is a relatively intimate experience, with close contact from someone outside your bubble. When it comes to Buller and Rice, there is no need to worry about a lack of Covid-safety.

Stephen and Anita have invested hugely in ensuring their salons are safe. Their salons are spacious, meaning clients and staff alike are able to remain socially distanced. Not only do the team at Buller and Rice follow the government guidelines set for salons, they have gone above and beyond to ensure their clients feel safe. The’ve cut no corners along the way, and have even lengthened their appointments to allow for increased Covid-safety.

For Stephen, the work they’ve done means the Buller and Rice environment does not feel too different from the normal experience: “We’ve worked to make sure our salons don’t feel too sterile or blocked off. Of course, our staff always wear a mask and a visor too.”

“We are, for a lot of clients, the first people they’ll spend a lot of time with, especially if they’ve been shielding or you live with fewer relatives. It’s important for everyone to know that we’re doing the right thing.” They have also invested in creating a new outdoor waiting area at their Walthamstow salon, where clients can sit and enjoy a drink outside as their colour develops.

They’ve also invested in creating a new outdoor waiting area at their Walthamstow salon, where clients can sit and enjoy a drink outside as their colour develops.

Over the past few years, the beauty industry has developed something of a negative reputation for creating unnecessary waste. At Buller and Rice, sustainability is at the forefront. Stephen and Anita ensure all of their products and ingredients are ethically sourced, and offer refill services for customers.

“We want to create a service and have a business that can sustain doing so with little harm to the environment,” says Anita. “We wanted to make it easy to be sustainable, and now we notice a lot of other salons are using the same recycling systems we are.”

It is becoming more common for beauty brands to be built on sustainable practices. Stephen believes clients across London are looking for more sustainable salons: “A lot of our clients source us out and come to us specifically because we’re a sustainable salon – they want to know they’re having an impact.”

Aside from more traditional sustainable practices, Stephen and Anita are open to more alternative means of protecting the planet: “Last year, we saved all the hair cuttings from our salon and sent it to help with the oil spill in Mauritius. Human hair is the number one most absorbent material of oil, and it’s 100% natural! Clients liked that.”

‘We want to create a service and have a business that can sustain doing so with little harm to the environment’

Continuing eco-friendly practices whilst also following Covid guidelines can be difficult, seeing as disposable, single-use items are often the easiest way to ensure safety. The team at Buller and Rice have made a staunch effort to use biodegradable, reusable products where possible in their salons and have invested heavily to ensure they can work sustainably and safely at once.

Buller and Rice is built on a holistic approach to sustainability – for them, giving back to their local community where possible and engaging with their local area is an extension of being considerate of the world around them.

Despite a sense of apprehension about the workload they’ll encounter over the coming weeks, Stephen is looking on the bright side: “I think the vibe will be a bit different with this reopening, we’ve got the vaccine and an end date we can look forward to. I think there’s a little bit more positivity with it this time.”

No longer drowning in lockdown hair, I left the salon with a professional finish, feeling more myself than ever. My experience at Buller and Rice was a privilege – their brand is built on friendship and a shared history, and it is encouraging to see such a vision grow. Stephen and Anita’s focus is not only beautiful hair, but getting to know their clients and forming lasting bonds.

It seems to have taken a pandemic for us to realise how important salons are for our wellness and happiness. Despite this realisation being perhaps overdue, I hope we remember the crucial role these day-to-day environments play in our wellbeing, and go on to appreciate the hard work behind them.

hair salon east london
It’s a new day and a new look for Sylvie


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