Meet Jose Bryce Smith, founder of O&M, high-performing luxury haircare free of harsh chemicals
When Jose Bryce Smith began her mission to create an ammonia-free hair colour, she was met with scepticism and negativity from salon owners and manufacturers alike. Fast forward many years and products later and O&M (Original & Mineral) is leading the way for Australian-made haircare that is effective, safe and luxurious. Powered by native Australian extracts, PETA-certified cruelty free and manufactured in New South Wales, Bryce Smith has remained true to her original vision—and everyone around her eventually caught up with her pioneering thinking.
Jose and her former partner Allen moved to Sydney from London and opened a successful hair salon, with Allen the hairdresser and Jose running the business. As Allen developed contact dermatitis from working with hair colour formulated with harsh chemicals, Jose set out to make a clean, natural alternative and theirs became the first ammonia-free salon in Australia. Jose went on to launch O&M and sell her Australian-made products to salons and customers all over the world.
Here, she tells The Day Ahead about persevering with her idea, manufacturing in Australia and how she now manages to be home at four o’clock every day!
Tell us about when you started O&M and how the idea came to be what it is today?
“We had people in the salon with contact dermatitis, pregnant women, people with scalp sensitivity. That was what drove the idea to make an ammonia-free hair colour. We'd used one in London that work quite well so we used that as our starting point. It was very much a side hustle. I was still working full-time in the salon.
“A lot of things went wrong in the process of making the product and this was 18 years ago when people thought that I was nuts when I said I wanted a paraben or sulphate free shampoo. Chemists were just not interested in doing that. But I really believed that people were looking for a cleaner alternative and that hair products were going to become like food or make-up or cleaning products—that it was going to become a health choice.”
What made you persevere with your idea?
"When you believe in it, it keeps you going. Also, when you realise that the world is just our classroom and we're just learning, you don't really see anything as failing. I learned very early on that people were going to criticise me, so I decided to be my own best friend. Even when stuff went wrong, I would go: ‘Well done, Jose. Don't worry about that, Jose.’ And then I would do something nice for myself. Failure wasn't really an option, and more than anything else my self-worth was invested into it as well. So I just kept going.”
What had you been doing in your career prior to founding O&M and how did that experience translate to founding a haircare brand?
“I grew up in London and I worked in media. I was selling space in IT magazines and then when I came to Sydney I was planning and buying media for Wrigley's chewing gum! I then started on the reception of our hair salon. I think my experience in sales and dealing with customers set me up well for the salon and then the products. My sales experience gave me the hustle to go into other salons and spread the word.”
Talk us through your brand and product development.
“So obviously having my own hair salon, I knew that we needed some shampoos and conditioners. I actually started making sulphate free shampoo in my kitchen from a recipe I found online. Then I went to the factories and said I want a sulphate free shampoo and they said ‘We don’t do that.’ And I said, ‘Well I’ve done it in my kitchen. It can’t be that hard!’ So that was how we started. A lot of the chemicals we removed years ago are now being banned.
“Now we’re on a sustainability mission. We’re transitioning the whole line over to post-consumer recycled packaging, and all of the hair colour is going into recycled aluminium tubes.”
What is the importance to you of being made in Australia? And why is it so unique in the beauty industry?
“Australia has 40% of the world’s organic farmland. There’s a lot of nature and wildlife and the rest of the world looks to us to see what we're doing, particularly over the last 10 years. We set up our own factory here in New South Wales because we wanted to control the quality and the raw materials. We use a lot of native Australian raw ingredients, like Lillypilly, which is really good for plumping the hair, like a natural collagen. We’re part of Australian Made, which means that we have their triangle logo on the products and we give them a percentage of our sales. The whole line is vegan and we are PETA-approved. We've never done any animal testing.”
How do you feel about the rise in the A-beauty category and the number of brands that are now made in Australia?
“I see it as positive that it’s growing the category. Our biggest concern was the health of people and the environment. It also lets the consumer know that they don’t have to use so many chemicals, that this is the way forward and that they have a choice. We celebrate the other brands that are doing it and I believe there's enough room for everyone. If anything, our business has grown a lot over the last five years.”
What is the one product you always recommend from your range?
“Dry Queen Dry Shampoo. It’s my ride or die—it’s a cross between dry shampoo and texture spray, it can take my hair from flat and oily to fabulous in a minute.”
What is your personal beauty regimen?
“I always start with dry brushing. I dry brush my face and body in the morning, then cleanse with Springfields Cleansing Gel, then I use Sans Activator 7 Body + Hair + Face Oil—it’s largely olive oil and my skin just drinks it. Once a week I use Dr Naomi Fizzy Lift, which is an incredible face mask I wear overnight. When I need a massage I go to The Medicine Man in Darlinghurst—Benjamin is a miracle worker using Ayurvedic principles.
“I have very fine hair and so I wash my hair first with Detox Shampoo to remove the ‘world’. It's amazing for getting out all of my dry shampoo and other products, I call it my cleanser. I then use O&M Fine Intellect Shampoo and Conditioner and I alternate with The Power Base Masque as a conditioner, which is our protein and moisture treatment that I love.
“Before styling, I always spritz with Know Knott Conditioning Detangler. It gives heat protection before drying. I dry off my hair and then I spray O&M Atonic Thickening Spritz at my roots and blow dry my hair. If I am waving my hair with an iron, I will use some Frizzy Logic Shine Serum on the ends for more heat protection and then I always finish either straight or wavy with Desert Dry Texture Spray for dry texture. The next day if my scalp is getting oily, I use O&M Dry Queen Dry Shampoo. I am a dry shampoo addict as I only wash my hair every three days—I am too busy!
Being a business owner is both incredibly rewarding and challenging. What has been your experience and how did you manage through it?
“We were pioneering something that had never been done. There were a lot of failures and learnings along the way. We were trying to take chemicals out of products without compromising on results. It was tricky. Thankfully, the technology in clean formulations has moved on a lot since and the demand has increased so much.
“If you want it all, you have to do it all! Particularly at the beginning. I am an incredible multitasker. I can be making the children dinner while on a zoom call while I'm typing an email. At the start, I just had no boundaries and worked really hard. Even when I was pregnant with my first child Jasmine. I worked all through the night before she was born. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that. Honestly, it took a lot of my life, but it has given me a lot. It’s the purpose, the people, achieving what you set out to achieve. Being on that journey and then when people like what you do. But it’s an immense juggle. Now, I’m a very good outsourcer so I can spend a lot of time with my kids. I am home every day by four o’clock and I don’t leave before they go to school.”