Jose Bryce Smith is one of those whirling dynamos – she has a habit of taking on projects with more life force than ought to be possible, her schedule is crammed, and yet there is something so utterly likeable about the way in which she talks you through her career’s highs and lows, all the while telling it straight. The Sydney-based mother of two, founder of haircare brand Original & Mineral, built her business around the philosophy of pioneering a clean beauty movement – no ammonia, no sulphates, no parabens – and certainly the idea clicked. Her brand, stocked throughout 15 countries, is now a global success story, but as the CEO will tell you, the journey didn’t play out as smoothly as she hoped.

“I think that really set me up for the hustle – I was given a phone book and just cold-called people, I was essentially doing a job which I knew nothing about.”

Jose Bryce Smith

“I think that really set me up for the hustle – I was given a phone book and just cold-called people, I was essentially doing a job which I knew nothing about.”

Jose Bryce Smith

Jose Bryce Smith began her career in media selling ad space for magazines in London. “I think that really set me up for the hustle – I was given a phone book and just cold-called people, I was essentially doing a job which I knew nothing about.” At the same time, Bryce Smith was dealing with great personal loss. “My father died of cancer when I was 17, he was only 45 and he had it for 10 years, which was a lot to watch. I remember dad always saying to me, ‘life is a gift, don’t waste it’ and that was pivotal. My mother had been interested in organic food but at that point she also became super conscious of toxins and the idea of reducing chemicals in your body, there was always that emphasis in our house.”

So how then did a young corporate blonde go about keeping up her blonde when peroxide was the only viable option? Bryce Smith says, “I discovered this salon in London which used ammonia-free colour, and that was a blessing. It was there that I met this guy who did my hair, who then became my boyfriend, then my husband and now my ex-husband. He was using this special colour because he had very bad contact dermatitis – chemicals would send his skin into a frenzy.” A year later, the pair set about relocating to Sydney. “I continued working in media in Australia whilst my partner opened a salon, but I soon felt that it was better for me to help his business. I started working in the reception, at the time his skin had flared up again quite badly, and I just remember the smell from the ammonia filling the salon. It horrified me that we were all breathing it in, it felt like it was going to become a health issue.”

"We had our friends’ mums turn up with their good handbags – we had no clients on the books at the time, we had to make a bit of a show of it. My partner went out the back to ring the salon so we could schedule fake appointments in the computer and appear busy."

Jose Bryce Smith

"We had our friends’ mums turn up with their good handbags – we had no clients on the books at the time, we had to make a bit of a show of it. My partner went out the back to ring the salon so we could schedule fake appointments in the computer and appear busy."

Jose Bryce Smith

Determined, Bryce Smith set about finding a manufacturer to produce ammonia-free colour, her research finally leading to a small factory in Ireland. When the products arrived in Australia, she made a point of calling the beauty editor at Vogue every day. “I was desperate for her to come in and try the colour. She had been going to the same hairdresser for 10 years so it was a real push, but persistence paid off. On the day of her appointment, we had our friends’ mums turn up with their good handbags – we had no clients on the books at the time, we had to make a bit of a show of it. My partner went out the back to ring the salon so we could schedule fake appointments in the computer and appear busy.” It earned Bryce Smith a small mention in Vogue. “The editor wrote just a few lines, but it was a very concise message about the product, and suddenly, va-voom, we became an editor’s best-kept secret.”

A line-up of hero products from Original & Minerals.

All images courtesy of the brand.

So much so, Bryce Smith kept the product out of circulation for eight years, meanwhile the salons had started calling. Demand for product prompted Bryce Smith to import a container-load, which she stored in her brother-in-law’s garage and began wholesaling. “Honestly, that was such a crazy time. We were packing in the bathroom. Everyone was involved, I was typing up invoices, not getting paid. But then suddenly it all clicked in, people started reordering and we built the business up to $25,000 sales volume per month. It was incredible, and it confirmed in my mind that the idea had legs, we could evolve it into something much bigger.” Bryce Smith went on to develop a haircare line, a chic front of house proposition, with the same strict principles as her dyes.

When asked what she thinks has been the key to her success, she points to tenacity. “It’s been a tough, tough journey,” Bryce Smith explains. “I think my ability to scrape myself off the floor and carry on has kept me going. In business, you have to be prepared to re-strategise. So many things went wrong along the way, I made every mistake that you can possibly think of. But you learn from it and move forward. I also received a lot of criticism from the people around me – family, business partners, competitors – because I was pursuing an idea that took a really long time to perfect. I knew that it would work, but I had to ignore the noise and carry on.”

“The editor wrote just a few lines, but it was a very concise message about the product, and suddenly, va-voom, we became an editor’s best-kept secret.”

Jose Bryce Smith

“The editor wrote just a few lines, but it was a very concise message about the product, and suddenly, va-voom, we became an editor’s best-kept secret.”

Jose Bryce Smith

It was in January, when the Corona crisis started to impact markets, that Bryce Smith steeled herself once again, and proposed an idea she felt would safeguard teams from being stood down. “We all agreed as a company that we would reduce our pay and our hours by 20 per cent, obviously I’m included in that. I felt that was the best way for us to be able to ride this out whilst sticking together. Now, we’ve all adapted to Zoom-ing and to be honest I think I’m busier than I was before, we’ve been very lucky.” In the meantime, the company has amped up its wellbeing content, posting upbeat stories on everything from aromatherapy and essential oils to Eastern medicine and yoga tutorials via social channels and a new motion platform. “I think it will probably take us to the end of the year to recover completely, but I have a feeling we’ll come out on the other side in a strong position because our values resonate with our audience.”

“Honestly, that was such a crazy time. We were packing in the bathroom. Everyone was involved, I was typing up invoices, not getting paid. But then suddenly it all clicked in, people started reordering and we built the business up to $25,000 sales volume per month.”

Jose Bryce Smith

“Honestly, that was such a crazy time. We were packing in the bathroom. Everyone was involved, I was typing up invoices, not getting paid. But then suddenly it all clicked in, people started reordering and we built the business up to $25,000 sales volume per month.”

Jose Bryce Smith

Family is at the heart of Bryce Smith’s core. “I try to really be in the moment wherever I am. So if I’m at work, I’m there engaging with the team, and when I’m at home I only take calls if there is some kind of emergency. I’ve definitely become much better at establishing boundaries. Having said that, I wake up very early, I have a morning routine that I like to go through where I will do an hour or so of work and then I’ll follow that up at the end of the day with another two hours after my children have gone to bed. It’s not for everyone, but it works for me because I can see the difference in the kids. In the past, I’ve tried juggling work from the kitchen bench with the children around me and it’s a nightmare. We still have our crazy moments, of course, and I feel guilty at times, but I’m fortunate to be in a position where I can lean on people – I have a cleaner, a nanny, a gardener. I do try and minimise the nanny because I love doing the school pickup and drop off, but there was a time when I thought I should be doing every job myself, I now realise it’s not helpful for anyone if I am super stressed out. I think if you’re running a successful business, you need to be good at outsourcing.”

“It’s been a tough, tough journey. I think my ability to scrape myself off the floor and carry on has kept me going. In business, you have to be prepared to re-strategise. So many things went wrong along the way, I made every mistake that you can possibly think of. But you learn from it and move forward."

Jose Bryce Smith

“It’s been a tough, tough journey. I think my ability to scrape myself off the floor and carry on has kept me going. In business, you have to be prepared to re-strategise. So many things went wrong along the way, I made every mistake that you can possibly think of. But you learn from it and move forward.”

Jose Bryce Smith

Looking back over her career, what is she most proud of? “Definitely the community of hairdressers that we have built, I call them my tribe, I am so proud of that. The products were wrong for so long, but we have built such a loyal community who stuck by us through all the ups and downs and now they’re like family. I was always honest with them. Whenever anything went wrong I would own it immediately and let them know the timeframe that we needed to solve the problem. Clear communication is so important.” Bryce Smith explains, “I just feel that the best thing about life is having great people around you and knowing that you belong to something. So, yes, I feel that I’m part of a movement and one that I am proud to have started.”

"I also received a lot of criticism from the people around me – family, business partners, competitors – because I was pursuing an idea that took a really long time to perfect. I knew that it would work, but I had to ignore the noise and carry on.”

Jose Bryce Smith

"I also received a lot of criticism from the people around me – family, business partners, competitors – because I was pursuing an idea that took a really long time to perfect. I knew that it would work, but I had to ignore the noise and carry on.”

Jose Bryce Smith