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Natural Awakenings San Diego

Ubuntu Hair Studio Embraces Pay it Forward Philosophy

Nov 30, 2012 11:01AM ● By Erin Lehn Floresca

Dawn Ellinwood, owner of Ubuntu Hair Studio in Solana Beach, adores any opportunity she gets to help people. In fact, she thrives on it so much her personal mantra is “I am because we are.” She embraces this point of view so whole-heartedly that she named her salon after the African philosophy of ubuntu which asserts that we are all connected to one another. And she is happiest when she is activating that mantra by “creating a big web of people helping other people.” Her salon is an ideal place for her to put those practices into action.

Ubuntu Hair Studio embraces many philosophies, including a “Pay It Forward” policy when it comes to tipping. The idea was sparked when Ellinwood worked as a colorist at Frederic Fekkai in Beverly Hills. “At that salon, multiple people took care of each client,” recalls Ellinwood. “My assistant would shampoo their hair, somebody else would cut it, I would color it, and a totally different person would style it.” But she noticed when it was time to settle the bill many of the clients would appear overwhelmed. “They would get confused about whom to tip for what.”

When Ellinwood opened up Ubuntu and adopted a similar team-oriented culture, she created a non-tipping policy. “I wanted to take the pressure off of our clients and remove any confusion,” she says. Yet many of her customers insisted on tipping. “It’s ingrained in people to tip their hairdresser.” So Ellinwood decided that if her customers wanted to tip, she would let them donate their tips to charity. “This way,” she says, “they could choose one of the charities that we’ve spotlighted and it becomes a win-win for everybody.”

Another neat aspect about the studio is that they save all of the hair clippings and stockpile it for future use as oil spill cleanup mats through their participation in the Matter of Trust Program. “We’ve been collecting hair since the day we opened,” says Ellinwood. When the BP oil spill occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, Ellinwood was able to send out several shipments immediately.

And speaking of the interconnected web of humanity, Ellinwood loves to align with companies where you can purchase something and give back at the same time. She feels privileged to be able to offer retail space in her boutique to help sell some amazing products for craftspeople all over the globe. For instance, the boutique carries products from 31 Bits. “This jewelry, made from paper beads, is handcrafted from women in Uganda,” she says. “They are beautiful, high end products that really stand out.” Ellinwood has loved watching 31 Bits evolve over the past few years. “The jewelry is really high fashion; they are truly pieces of art.”

Pay it Forward this holiday season with gift certificates from Ubuntu Hair Studio. The certificates can be used for salon services and boutique items.

Other products she loves include the little travelers dolls from Kithi. “I remember when Kelly, who owns Kithi, first reached out to me,” says Ellinwood. “She is from South Africa and she told me she is very familiar with the philosophy of ubuntu.” Soon Ellinwood was introduced to the little travelers dolls, created by a group of South African crafters and she knew she had to carry the Kithi products. “These dolls are delightful,” she says. “You can wear them as a pin or put them on your cellphone.”  Kithi also designs jewelry and home products fashioned from Imfibinga seeds found near the Mpumalanga River in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. “These seeds grow on reeds on the banks of the river and when they mature they develop a hole in the middle, creating an ideal bead,” says Ellinwood, who notes that Kithi offers charming holiday ornaments as well.

And these are just two examples of the many product lines you’ll find in Ubuntu’s boutique. “Our clients appreciate being able to make purchases that can make big differences in people’s lives,” says Ellinwood, who believes that every bit helps. “It’s the little choices we all make that can create big change in the world,” she says.

Ubuntu Hair Studio, 109 S. Acacia Ave., Solana Beach. Call 858-792-5959 or visit