Inside Retail: How did you get started in your hairdressing career?
Richard Kavanagh: I started hairdressing as a young teenage boy, I dropped out of school to pursue a hairdressing career. And for some reason, I had these visions of being able to travel the world even though my only idea of hairdressing was the salon down the road cutting people’s hair.
Over the years I entered competitions and won awards, I had opportunities to work on editorial photoshoots in the 90s and that shifted my career from the salon industry to the session styling world. Today, as a session stylist I work on photo shoots, fashion shows, campaigns for big brands, creating the hair looks and helping them reflect the character of their brand through the hair of the talent.
That’s taken me all over the world to work for some incredible people, a whole bunch of major celebrities and world titles like Vogue, Vanity Fair, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, I’ve worked on fashion shows for Prada, Versace, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs and Alexander McQueen. And I’ve done all that being based either in New Zealand or in Sydney.
IR: When did you begin working with Redken and what does your role look like now?
RK: About 20 years ago, Redken in New York got a new general manager and he went around the world visiting all the session stylists that had a relationship with Redken. At that time, I had a low key relationship with Redken as an educator. He looked at my kit and said, ‘within three years, I want you to be able to operate your entire kit with nothing about RedKen styling products’, to which I scoffed. And fast forward a couple of years, he was right. I was able to do anything and everything with a full kit of Redken.
My title now is a global artist. Over the years my relationship has flexed and morphed according to the needs of the company and according to my needs. Currently, I represent Redken in the fashion industry as a hair director and as a brand ambassador.
IR: How has the brand evolved in the 20 years that you’ve been working with Redken?
RK: Redken started out using science to solve a really specific problem in the styling of hair. And so science and fashion were the key pillars in the early stages. Back in the ‘80s and the early ‘90s, the Redken product was very scientific. It was game changing, everything about the product was revolutionary, but it wasn’t too popular because it had this very sciency look. The evolution through the late ‘90s through the ‘00s was leaning more into the cosmetic side of the product, to give it more of a consumer feel.
They’ve always had a strong connection to the fashion industry and through that they’ve been able to leverage the insights that they gained from working with hair at the high end, runway, editorial, to create products that the consumer wants or needs to reflect the key trends, almost before they happen.
I’ve noticed that recently the evolution, just in the last few months, they are leaning towards the core pillar of science again. They’ve got that cosmetic feel right, it’s really appealing to the consumer, and now they’re getting back to their roots of putting science at the forefront.
IR: What are the big trends you’re seeing in haircare right now?
RK: What’s really interesting in terms of haircare trends and hair styling trends is there’s a really strong desire for healthy hair. There’s a real interest in the product and the ingredients. [Consumers are asking themselves] ‘Does this match my values?’, ‘What ingredients are you using?’, ‘Are these the highest quality ingredients that socially and ethically fit my values?’ ‘And how does that impact the result or the efficacy of the product?’
I think consumers are more informed, and so the key focus for brands is to be able to inform those consumers about the ingredients, the science, and how it does amazing things.
IR: There’s obviously a big focus on natural too and consumers are increasingly looking for ‘non-toxic’ and ‘chemical-free’ products.
RK: The interesting thing is, everything is a chemical. If you extract an essence from a plant, it has a chemical nature. And just because it’s extracted from a plant directly and not treated in any way, it doesn’t necessarily make it good.
I think the challenge is more in the communication around why things are good. People get really into specific trends around particular components, like lipids, micellar etc. I prefer to look at the science, because we can look at the science behind why this product or this component isn’t effective and, from a pragmatic point of view, [we can ask], ‘Does this component have a good impact on my hair and on the environment, and is it ethically in line with my values?’