Ronald Thompson, ex-assistant hairdresser to John Frieda and Nicky Clarke, has invented an eco-friendly material from hair clippings that could eventually replace products such as fibreglass which carry a huge carbon footprint. The 49 year old is currently developing a range of chairs – using his new hair mat product – under LSBU’s Enterprise Associate Scheme.
There are 10,400 tonnes of spare hair in London alone and Ronald has been out and about collecting samples from salons in the Savoy, Covent Garden and Wimbledon to mould into his biodegradable invention. He has also written to London mayor Ken Livingstone asking for freepost from all hair salons in the capital. Ronald admits his life been turned upside down by his discovery. “I ran my own hairdressers for 12 years and even worked with several Miss World contestants, but I was stuck in a rut and felt that it was stifling my creativity,” he said. “I’ve always had a burning passion for design and environmental issues so, in 2000, I sold the business. I honestly couldn’t have predicted how things have turned out in the last six years.”
Having given up his Bankside salon, Ronald completed a foundation course in art and design at Southwark College. He then signed up to a LSBU degree in product design and the environment – a decision that inspired his human hair chair. “As part of my course I was doing a work placement on the set of the Batman Begins movie and, as you do on placement, was sweeping the floors which reminded me of my hairdressing days,” he said. “I picked up a piece of fibreglass, which snapped when I stretched it. Then I did the same with a strand of hair, which didn’t. That sparked my thinking about how we could make use of all this spare hair to make a stronger fibreglass-type product that is environmentally friendly and sustainable.”
Twelve months later, Ronald had developed a prototype chair for his final-year project and was walking away with a first class honours degree. He was awarded a place on LSBU’s Enterprise Associate Scheme which supports students from within the University who wish to start their own business and have the necessary entrepreneurial flair. As well as giving them the chance to turn their ideas into a commercial reality, they gain a formal academic qualification – an MSc in Enterprise by Learning Contract. “I’ve had free office space, a setting up budget, advice on grant applications and my own business mentor,” Ronald said. “I’ve also got access to the University’s science and engineering facilities and technical support, as and when I need it. I couldn’t have manufactured my prototypes and models without LSBU’s support.”
Ronald is looking at extending his hairy range to applications including structural beams, shoes – and even mascara. “I know some people think I’m bonkers, but products like fibreglass are damaging the environment and we need to look at alternatives,” he said.
Phil Smith | alfa
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