An Interview with Tabitha James Kraan

By Safia Minney


Safia Minney talks to award winning, pioneer Tabitha James-Kraan creator of iconic sustainable hair brand to learn more about leadership in the beauty industry and about why we should care about the environmental impact of hair care.

1. You’re a hairdresser turned social entrepreneur and founder with your partner of the TJK – you recently won some awards – how big is the natural beauty industry and why is it growing?

My husband and business partner Dennes and I run our companies together, the awards TJK has won are due to the combined work of Dennes and the rest of our team.

I was recently voted “Green pioneer” by the (PEA) People Environmental Achievement awards, and person of the year by the Sustainable Lifestyle Awards (SLA).  I feel humbled to have been awarded these accolades – there are huge numbers of people involved in both of these movements who continue to work tirelessly for the causes that are so dear to my heart and their conviction and commitment constantly inspire me.  

This is only the beginning of what I have set out to do, I believe we have only just scratched the surface and we should never stop challenging and seeking better knowledge and understanding.  Therefore there is much work to do and as brands we need to move appropriately and smartly to provide solutions.  I am currently trying to generate momentum around lobbying for legislation to clean up cosmetics labelling – natural should mean natural; organic should mean organic; and green should mean green.  I have been researching cosmetic ingredients for a considerable number of years and I find it hard to interpret and understand labels as there is so much trickery and marketing speak wrapped up in labelling.  There are also many thousands of ingredients and it is not always obvious whether something is natural or not from the name on the label.  If we are going to achieve real change then consumers need clarity so that they can make informed decisions. Until then it is not really fair to expect them to be responsible for the consequences of their actions.  This is why we chose certification from the Soil Association and Cosmos for our products, so that we can evidence to the consumer what we are doing.  We are a small brand trying to grow a business that is going to stay true to its values for the long term, I like to envisage the 100 year view.

2. Please tell us what motivated you to start making your own products and what the key issues are for you? (please discuss pollution of microplastics, toxic chemicals, water use, health, some shocking stats on the beauty industry and why we should all care ?

Protect you – Protect the planet.

I have been an organic hairdresser for over 20 years, and when I started on this journey I was declared mad, “what on earth could you mean by organic hair? people said to me back then…

It has not been an easy path to take, for much it I felt like I was running in the opposite direction to everyone else.  But I am passionate about innovation, people and creativity as well as about the natural world and the wealth of inhabitants on this beautiful planet of ours, especially the voiceless!  These contrasts have always created conflict for me, to find the answers that I was seeking at the beginning of my journey I had to go back to nature and understand where the best ideas come from.

I discovered that so much of what we need to know is right in front of us, if we choose to notice and that we too can be nurtured by nature.  It provides us with the healing we need, through the fruits of flora and fauna, by the contemplations of an awesome scene or just a plane old cuddle from a friendly canine or the kindness of a dear friend. We, in harmony with nature as co-habitants, creates the most powerful of situations, the meaning of life itself maybe?

So where did this take me in respect of hair, skin, scalp and the rest of our bodies – what were the implications of my new found understanding?  Well the good news is that hair is a natural fibre and in my experience it is much happier when you use natural ingredients to care for it.

The important thing to remember is that everything we put on our skin has an impact on our bodies if we bother to notice. For instance, does your hair get greasy more quickly after certain foods, at different times of the month, when you are tired or rundown, when you are ill?  Does it feel itchy, does the skin flake, does it feel sensitive?  Do you notice the difference in your hair and scalp as the seasons change?

The answer to this should be “yes”, irrespective of gender.  If you want to be in tune with your body and be able to nurture yourself to maintain a balanced healthy body then you need to notice when something has changed.  None of this is bad news it is just real news about you and what you might need to stay in balance. It is all important information, messages from your body, feedback that is asking to be noticed and addressed.  It is fundamental in taking responsibility for our own health and wellbeing and luckily our hair and scalp are good indicators of how we are feeling at any given time.  There are many natural products that will support your body in healing itself or maybe you just need to take some time out to rest and allow your body to support itself.  Quick fix cosmetics are the same as quick fix drugs, often a sticking plaster solution that will not address the underlying issue – in other words, not a sustainable solution for your wellbeing.

The other side of this is what we put down the drain – everything has an impact.  Many shampoos are made of harsh detergents designed as degreasers to remove all traces of oil.  This is very severe and disruptive to the skin on our heads, it shocks the body into producing even more sebum to replace the acid mantle on the skin.  This creates the cycle of over washing.  As if that isn’t enough, the harshness of this effect is often masked by ingredients like liquid plastics and silicones that leave the hair with a slick feel, making it easy to comb.  Neither of these types of ingredients are good for our hair as they weigh it down and create a coating or un-penetrable film over time.  As importantly, they are not good for the planet either – they become nano beads that, like micro beads, disperse far and wide into rivers and seas, impacting on everything within these environments as well as being recycled into our drinking water.

We also have a responsibility to reduce our use of packaging materials so we are constantly researching new solutions, such as the introduction of refilling stations to encourage the retention and re-use of containers, and comprehensive and effective recycling when the container reaches the end of its useful life.

3. Please tell us about the provenance of the ingredients you use – and what is your vision is for the brand in this regard?

Integrity and provenance are everything to us and therefore we are currently looking into direct fair-trading relationships with small organic farmers. This will take a while to get right for everyone but we are determined to make it work.  In the meantime we continue to buy consciously and collaboratively and have complete traceability through our certification process.  

4. What is sustainable beauty in your view?

For me sustainable beauty is not a buzz word, it is about displaying truth, being transparent. We are in desperate need of doing this better for the future of all and I for one am not there yet with set ideas on how this looks.  I believe we have to be transient with our ideas and build strong foundations at this point.  We need better solutions for packaging, refilling as well as for ingredients and we need effective giving back systems.  We need products that require us to use less of them because they work in harmony with us and don’t disrupt the behaviour of our bodies causing us to need more and more endless products.  We are fortunate to have great advisors to guide us in our quest for true sustainability as we grow – these things are of course complex, but we are aware that everything needs to be considered even, for example, ultimately capping our growth. 

 I also think we need to re-define beauty, the current popular culture model of beauty is farcical and I believe, as ugly as it is fake. We should celebrate individuality and see beauty through the eyes of the many beholders. Why are we still telling our female youth that they should look like orange porn stars or photoshop caricatures of humans who do not exist in that form?  We have to be wiser than that and support young women and young men to be not just comfortable in their own skin but proud of who they are, warts and all! Vive la difference!

5. What are three things you would like us all too do as individals?

  1. Try washing your hair less, start with one day longer per week for two months and then increase a day every two months thereafter.
  2. Use hair moisturiser to keep your hair looking good in-between washes, be sure it doesn’t contain liquid plastic or silicone though. If you get stuck use certified organic face cream.
  3. Lobby your local council to improve your ability to recycle in your area. Ask them to prove to you what they do with the recycling you create and let’s work together and tackle this one from all angles.

6. What are three things you would like beauty brands to do?

Come together around packaging, we all need solutions and if we work together we can make a difference much quicker.

2. Clean up ingredients and stop using so many synthetic, disruptive ingredients; plastics and silicones.

  1. Consider the mental health of consumers and be responsible with their marketing.

7. What needs to change to protect our ecosystem and health?

So much, it is really crucial that we care about what we wash down the plug hole, we must consider where does it go next and what is then that impact. On scale these things have a huge impact on the planet, on us, remember we recycle a lot of water in this country, where do the nano particles from polymers and silicones end up?  Some in our rivers and seas and some in our bodies.

8. Please introduce the hair regime and the products that you think will most make a difference to our lives.

We have two washing products, both are designed to train your body to slow down the overproduction of sebum over time, calming the sebaceous glands by not over stimulating them.  Our Hair Cleanser will address a variety of hair and scalp issues, too dry, too oily, shedding skin on the scalp and excessively dry hair because it will rebalance your natural system and therefore these conditions.  Our Clean Shampoo does what is says – it cleans gently and effectively whilst behaving as a shampoo is expected to. It will leave you with a traditional shampoo feel but without the use of synthetic ingredients.  It is truly 100% natural so you will not be washing synthetic ingredients down your sink.

We also have an organic hair oil that every head of hair will benefit from, it replaces the acid mantle on the hair shaft and puts back the protection your hair needs to behave well and not be frizzy, fluffy, flyaway or dull and lifeless.  In addition the aromatherapy scent in the oil will remind you to be kind to yourself as well as your hair. 

We have two conditioners in our range that are complementary to each other to give you gradients of your moisturising for your hair care routine.  We shouldn’t just moisturize/condition in the shower, our hair needs moisture whenever we are in warm environments, especially when we are wet washing less.  TJK’s 4-1 conditioner is a wearable hair moisturiser as well as a leave in conditioner, and a detangle in the shower.  It is also a styling product on both wet and dry hair.  Yes, one product really does do all of these things!  In contrast my clean conditioner is a deep rich injection of moisture to boost the hair and hit the spot, apply it just where you need it, when you need it.

Last but not least, our refillable organic dry shampoo is a must to volumise and refresh your hair in between washes or just because you want to pad out and volumise your hair.