When Michele Maestri-Murphy was beginning her career as a hair stylist, she began to have doubts about the quality of some of the products that she used on a daily basis.
“As a very young hair stylist, I was concerned about the chemicals that I was working with, about inhaling them on a daily basis and what the long-term effects would be on my health and on my clients,” she recalled. “I considered getting out the profession all together, but didn’t. Years later, it occurred to me that there had to be something out there on the professional market that was more natural. I searched and I searched and I searched, but it was not easy.”
Nonetheless, her perseverance paid off, and Maestri-Murphy found hair and skin care products that could bring natural and organic solutions to her clients. In 2005, she opened Synergy Salon in New Canaan and became one of the first stylists in Fairfield County to eschew chemical products. Ironically, chemicals beyond her control nearly put her out of business in 2017.
“Unfortunately, I had to close the doors because of toxic environmental issues in the building,” she continued. “Myself and everyone else in the complex had to move out very suddenly.”
After re-establishing her business in a temporary location, Maestri-Murphy was tipped off by a client about a retail vacancy at 16 Center St. in Wilton. Maestri-Murphy reinvented her concept with the April 2018 opening of Eco Chic Salon.
“Anyone who is interested in living a less toxic life can walk into this salon and have a 100% chemical free experience,” she said. “It is very important for people who are detoxing, going through chemo, and pregnant women.”
In her research into natural and organic products, Maestri-Murphy found many items that made specious claims of being natural and organic. While she said there were easy ways to determine the exact nature of these faux-green offerings – including, she said, “looking for things that are certified and products without parabens, artificial fragrance” – she eventually realized that the only way she could guarantee her clients were getting 100% chemical-free products were by making them herself.
“We have handmade shampoo and conditioner, made in front of you,” she said, adding that this has spun off into a new endeavor. “I started the Eco Chic shampoo and conditioner line that I put my name on – I know they are super-super safe. They’re made with food grade preservatives and in small batches.”
Maestri-Murphy’s Eco Chic line also includes charcoal soap, coconut soap and cucumber toner. “The products are unique to the store,” she said. “My goal is to have them online at some point.”
Another distinctive aspect of Eco Chic is the absence of hair dyes with chemical ingredients. Instead, the salon uses U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified henna for hair coloring treatments.
“This is pretty unique to the salon industry,” Maestri-Murphy stated. “No one is taught that in hairdressing school, and it’s a little bit of a process. It has to sit on the hair for over an hour is a little bit of a tedious process for the stylist and the client. Henna can accent hair color – it doesn’t have the ability to lighten hair – but it can cover grey when used in different ratios.”
Maestri-Murphy has also extended her eco-friendly mission to keeping the salon tidy. “We use natural cleaning products and a germicide product that is natural and biodegradable,” she said. “We use towels instead of paper towels, and we use all-natural dish soap and laundry detergent.”
After more than a year at her Wilton location, Maestri-Murphy now has a staff with five full-time and two-part employees, and she has recently introduced an organic nail care service and hired a barber to accommodate male clients. She is also planning formulas for a men’s grooming product to add to her Eco Chic line.
As for taking her chemical-free mission further, Maestri-Murphy said she had no plans to open additional stores, although she paused and admitted, “Not that it’s not in the back of my mind.”