Trendy, green … and an art gallery: Q&A with Michelle Nguyen of Hair Republic

Hair Republic (1093 Bank Street in Old Ottawa South)

Michelle Nguyen is a busy philanthropist and entrepreneur who has been passionately styling hair and mentoring apprentices for 8 years. Recruited by a prestigious Ottawa salon at a young age, she recently realized her ultimate goal: To open her very own salon in the up and coming area of Old Ottawa South. Her architect husband, John Nguyen, has helped to develop the design and concept of the gorgeous space — Hair Republic Salon. Chantal Sarkisian talked with her recently, finding that with her friendly smile and warm personality, Michelle will blow you and your hair away.

Salons in Ottawa are a dime a dozen; how is Hair Republic (1093 Bank) different from the rest?

We are a small family here. All of our staff are carefully selected, first by their personality and then by their talent. You can’t teach personality, but you can mentor talent. The customers experience here is top priority. 

We are also a “Green Circle Salon” which means that we provide eco-friendly solutions to our customers and ensure that everything we use in the salon is recycled. This means that the shampoos and dyes we use are the most certified organic products available on the market today. Our focus is eco-sustainability for the industry. The industry likes to loosely use the term “green” for everything, but they are not 100% committed to it. For example, they lack a waste management set-up and use products that contain lots of chemicals that can be avoided. At this salon, we recycle everything, all the way down to composting the hair. It’s a lot of extra steps to take, but it’s worth it at the end of the day.

Finally, we have unique art hanging on our walls. Working with a local curator in Ottawa allows us to turn our salon into an art gallery. We do not take any commission from the artists. Our focus is to encourage and promote local talent because artists don’t really know how to market themselves. What better venue then a well-lit space with ample bare white walls? The art is displayed on a three-month rotation and gallery showings are open to the public on a regular basis.

I am also personally involved in many philanthropic causes. I like to encourage and promote the local businesses in the community and try to include them in any events that I host at the salon. I support many women’s charities, and am part of a family-operated charity called “Roof of Love.” ROL Cai Ran is a Canadian charity determined to improve lives within poverty struck communities in Vietnam while building awareness and engaging individuals in Western countries in order to establish collective action — 100% of all donations go towards the ROL programs.

Art from local artists fills the walls of Hair Republic

What do you and your salon specialize in?

The staff at Hair Republic are constantly attending training sessions. We even have a mentoring and apprenticeship program for junior stylists. Because we work as a team, there is a huge emphasis on knowledge sharing amongst the stylists. Education is important in this industry, both for the client and for the stylist. We want our clients to know what to do with their hair.

All stylists have their “colour masters” qualification and are trained to do specialized techniques such as balayage and ombré. (That’s the Lauren Conrad dark roots and light hair everyone wants!) Because this is a hands on and assembly-line free salon, you will have your scalp scrubbed, your hair cut, dyed and dried by the same stylist. This is our way of offering an intimate “touch therapy” session for our clients.

I’ve heard talk about your eco-friendly products and rewards program; tell me about that!

We offer many incentives for new clients through our “Welcome Packs” that include things like credit towards referrals, and we have our “VIP Program” that offers 10% off all services and exclusive discounts for a year. We also offer Hair Republic dollars when you return empty bottles of the products purchased at the salon.

Hair Republic's products are largely organic-certified and eco-friendly

As an artist of hair, you obviously support the arts — which is wonderful. But how can local artists join your program?

Local artists should contact Laura, our curator from iam (Independent Artist Management) at She would love to hear from any new local talent!

Back to your bread and butter: Let’s talk about hair! What are some up and coming styles that you are predicting for this winter?

We are blessed to have a collection that was created by our team. Here are a few things that I am personally predicting for the months to come:

  • Hair threading for up-dos. You know when you pull your hair up into a messy bun and tell your stylist “I want something like this”. The stylist will now literally sew the style onto your head. This achieves a more natural look and it’s always unique.
  • Precision cuts are coming back. Think 1960’s perfect bobs.
  • Movement. Lots of blown-out hair with loose curls.
  • More styling. This means taking the time to fully style hair, which goes hand-in-hand with the trend of a perfect precision cut.
  • Don’t fight it; work with the texture of your own hair this season.
  • Colour. We love blonds and reds. Blonds will be soft and reds offer a huge variety of tones.

Thanks for chatting with us, Michelle! And good luck with your new salon. Don’t miss Hair Republic’s official grand opening on Nov. 5. 2011.