Great beauty brands make looking good look easy. Take Vancouver’s own AG Hair

Their models and fans represent a realistic beauty standard, showing off healthy, low-maintenance hair. And their products keep things simple, with minimal ingredients that you actually recognize.

But there’s a secret behind this easygoing, oh-so-West-Coast operation: and it’s that founders Lotte and John Davis have worked really, really hard.

“It’s not always glamorous,” laughs Lotte. Back when she and John started the company 30 years ago, they were hand-applying labels, filling up containers in their basement and driving around town, persuading local salons to let them squeeze just a couple of bottles onto their shelves. (“We’ve got to thank my husband’s charming British personality for getting us in the door,” she says.)

And when they decided to start actually manufacturing the shampoo for themselves (after a shocking discovery that their supplier was using salt to thicken the product), they tested out their own experimental, plant-based, salt-free samples on themselves. “We’d wash half the hair on our head with our product, and the other half with a competitor,” says Lotte. “And then we just kept tweaking until it was better than anybody else's.”

Flash forward to 2019, and life looks much different for the entrepreneurial duo. There’s their brand new, state-of-the-art production facility, for starters (“It’s especially amazing after spending 25 years manufacturing in a shoebox,” says Lotte. “We’re pretty gobsmacked.”), and a worldwide network of suppliers. But at the same time, it’s like nothing has changed at all. “We’ve still got the same values and principles; we still make products that work,” says Lotte. You won’t find parabens, salt, paba or DEA in these made-in-Vancouver products: only natural ingredients that deliver results, just like they first did 30 years ago.

The AG team is constantly tweaking and refining, adapting to new research, crafting products that support a realistic standard of beauty, and they’re still a company that cares about doing good, both with their environmentally friendly ingredients and their philanthropic acts—AG raises around $400,000 per year for their One Girl Can Foundation, which builds schools and provides scholarships for women in Africa. (“Both of my girls grew up and went to university, but now I have 600 other girls,” says Lotte. “It’s like raising your own kids again, over and over and over again.”)

Today, AG Hair is one of the only private manufacturers of professional hair care products left in North America, and Lotte and John keep their research department busy. “We’re scouring magazines and runways for trends and then digging in to figure out what kind of interesting natural ingredients can make those looks happen,” Lotte explains. That might mean experimenting with kelp extractions for volume, or seaweed for hair strength—whatever it takes to find something great. “We should never have been manufacturing here in the first place,” laughs Lotte. “We’ve always had to try a little harder, but we’re the little engine that could.”