Hair, Naturally—Mario Verrilli of Saijojo

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Saijojo is the brainchild of Mario Verrilli, a renowned hair stylist who has challenged the industry norms and produced hair care products that are not only good for us and the environment, but extremely effective. Bamboo chatted with Mario about his illustrious career and the inspiring story of taking Saijojo from an idea to a reality.

Bamboo Magazine: How did you get your start in hair styling?
Mario Verrilli: I used to dream about styling hair for the covers of famous magazines from the time I began my career as a hairstylist in Sudbury, Ontario. As fate would have it, I met Elmer Olsen (Canada’s Top Model scout) at a model search contest. When Elmer learned of my extensive training at some of the world’s top facilities, he handed me a business card and told me to call him if I was ever in the Toronto area. I took him up on his offer, and after just one haircut, he began to send over all of his girls. One of those girls was Daria Werbowy. Working together, Elmer and I transformed Daria’s hair from bleached blonde to light brown. We also reshaped and restyled her old cut, which allowed her to grow her hair out to what is now known as her signature look. Today, she is one of the world’s most popular models, having done campaigns for Lancôme, H&M and Italian Vogue (to name a few). At the height of her career (and mine), I was requested to style her hair for three covers of Flare Magazine.

BM: What inspired Saijojo?
MV: After years of working in a salon and on set with hairsprays, I was inspired to create a line of milder, more natural styling products after struggling with sensitivities to the toxic, airborne chemicals. My goal was to create a line of styling products that would be easier on the scalp, on people and on the environment. The birth of my three children also inspired me.

BM: What was the journey like in creating a product line that eliminates harsh and commonplace chemicals?
MV: It began with the hairspray. Working with hairspray every day, my body was telling me that it was toxic, and I started to look for alternatives. I found a chemist who specialized in all-natural products, and I was able to verify that certain hairsprays were more toxic than others. The one common [toxic] ingredient in them was a polymer (plastic resin). We then found a couple of alternatives, one being corn starch, and a truly natural and biodegradable hairspray was born. We were then able to use the same concept and apply it to other products such as styling foam and a gel, since the common ingredients in all holding products was PVP/VA copolymer. We then found clinical data that proved that using products with polymers contributed to hair loss, since the polymers would plug the hair follicle.
Then, something happened, and it changed the whole direction of the company: we discovered that one of our products could only have a shelf life of six months before it went rancid. This helped us establish our new philosophy—that we would use only safe, naturally derived ingredients whenever possible, without compromising performance. We discovered that the real problem with the beauty industry was that it was overusing certain ingredients, such as parabens (an extremely effective preservative). Although the ingredients themselves were not as bad as some of the claims, the over use of them was.