Betsy Harding opened a hair salon last November. But Organic Roots is not just any old cut and color shop – it is a 100 percent organic and vegan hair salon. We called her up to find out exactly what that means and also gossiped about Kate Middleton and learned about Harding’s plans to grow her business, literally and figuratively.

SUSTAINABLE BEAUTY? A hair salon might not seem like the front lines of sustainability efforts, but Harding is trying to make a dent in a highly chemical world. The organic products she uses don’t smell (there’s no ammonia in them) or burn. “There is absolutely no irritation,” she said. “They feel nothing on their scalp.” Bonus: “My salon doesn’t smell like a salon, even when we are doing a perm. So it’s way better for you. And it’s cruelty free.” Meaning, nothing tested on animals or taken from animals (“not even lanolin.” Harding herself doesn’t even use gloves. “And when I am stirring (the dye) and mixing it, you don’t have to move the bowl away from you.”

CUSTOMER BASE: She gets a lot of new moms and expectant mothers as customers. (Doctors recommend that women not dye their hair while pregnant.) The particular line of color Harding uses, O&M, yields a “super natural” color. “I just keep coming back to this line,” she said. “The rumor is that Kate Middleton used this color when she was pregnant.”

ROOTS: A stay-at-home mother while her son and daughter were young, Harding decided to jump back into the workforce by going to beauty school about 10 years ago. Organic Roots is her second salon. At the first, which she ran for five years, she used organics, but the other stylists used whatever color line they pleased. When she and her husband (who teaches green plumbing at Kennebec Valley Community College) found a property on Westbrook Street in South Portland that came with a full acre, including four apple trees (you never know what you’ll find near the mall), she jumped at the chance to open a new business that would be entirely vegan. Organic Roots has four rooms upstairs for massage and Reiki. Harding hopes to add yoga classes eventually.

IF A WOODCHUCK COULD CHUCK: Harding is open to “anything that is positive” in terms of expanding the business. She is also hosting a community garden, open to anyone in the neighborhood who needs a little plot of earth. One of her son’s friends planted vegetables there this year. That garden was a raging success from the perspective of the woodchucks that live in the backyard at Organic Roots. “We do know that they do not like tomatoes,” she said. The woodchucks are welcome to as many apples as they please; this is truly a sign of a vegan, animal-friendly establishment.

WHAT’S THE CATCH? Harding’s prices are a higher than an conventional salon (between $110 to $135 for cut and color), but she said she’s paying roughly twice as much for these organic and vegan products. Although organic color lines are available in the United States, the one Harding favors comes from a European company. “I have to call England to get it. It is not easy to find.” European companies have been on top of the organic hair movement for years, she said, and U.S. manufacturers are just starting to catch on.

VEGANISM: Is she vegan too? Yes, but only for the last three years. “I’d been a vegetarian forever,” she said. “It was New Year’s Eve, and I said I was going to give up cheese for six months. But then in the same breath I said, ‘I am going to go all vegan.’ ” After she got over the missing-cheese hump, she was fine. “Hummus is my friend.” And so is veganism, at home and work. “Whenever anyone posts anything on Facebook (about her business) I get ‘likes’ like crazy, and they aren’t even people from Maine.”

 

Correction: This story was updated at 11:50 a.m. on November 29, 2015 to correct Betsy’s last name.