Meet The (Ultra-Creative) Duo Behind Sydney’s A-H SHOP | SALON
At Gritty Pretty, it’s fair to say we like, well, pretty things. However, as our readers know, there is always more to those pretty things than first meets the eye.
This is particularly the case when it comes to design. Beautifully designed salons and spaces don’t just appear; they are carefully created with attention-to-detail and hard work.
And design is something that A-H SHOP | SALON has in spades. This unique business is set within a former post office in Sydney’s inner-city suburb of Newtown. Tuesday through Saturday, the salon is a bustling community hub where the clientele is just as likely to stop by for a chat as they are for a haircut.
A-H SHOP | SALON partners Rubi Fernandes and Chad Wijayatilake have thoughtfully (and painstakingly) planned out every detail of the brand experience – both in-salon and online. As true creatives, the pair are constantly evolving the business and the space it resides in. Here, Rubi and Chad have a two-way conversation with Gritty Pretty Art Director Amie Jones (another true creative) about design, fostering a sense of community and finding inspiration in the every day.
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Pictured: A-H Salon | Shop in Newtown, Sydney.
Amie Jones: “Hi guys! What are your roles here and when did you get your start in this space?”
Rubi Fernandes: “I co-founded the salon, and Chad is one of our salon partners — we are coming into our third year this year in November. The original salon did start in Newtown but it was a six-chair salon so it was quite small. After so many years we just outgrew that space and needed to expand.”
Chad Wijayatilake: “It’s a great team, everyone is slightly different. It’s like a big puzzle, everyone has their own piece of the puzzle and it works really well. We like that because it creates a really nice flow and no one is in direct competition with one another. If there’s something I’m not that strong at, I’ll tell our clients that should see another specific person because they are amazing at that particular thing.”
AJ: “There’s a similar environment at Gritty Pretty – we all have our own unique strengths that come together to create something special. We all work together and support each other.”
RF: “We wanted to create that culture where there is a bit more freedom. We do a lot of things outside the salon. It is really important to keep that family feeling within the salon.”
CW: “We also wanted to create that welcoming, family-like feeling in our design and layout up here, which is why we have put so much thought and consideration behind it.”
Pictured: A-H Co-Founder and Partner, Rubi Fernandes & A-H Partner, Chad Wijayatilake.
AJ: “The space does feel very curated, but also homely — which isn’t easy to do. Why are design aesthetics so important to A-H?”
RF: “I think that for us, the aesthetics of the salon are important because we had the community in mind when we were building the space.”
CW: “Our building is really special to the history of Newtown. This building was purposely built to be a post office in 1860. This top level, where our salon is, is where the postmaster would live with his family. The building also has a clock — it’s the only town clock in Newtown, so we keep the time of Newtown.”
RF: “It’s just a really special building, so for people to be able to come through and share that history is pretty incredible. We are a high-end salon, but clients don’t feel like that have to dress up to walk in here. From the feedback we get, people don’t feel intimidated coming in, yet they are in a very beautiful space. Everything has been carefully curated to make people feel more welcome.”
AJ: “Well you have definitely have achieved that because that’s exactly how I felt when I walked in!”
RF: “Sometimes going into a big, shiny warehouse space can be very intimidating, so we wanted to keep a sense of warmth and we put a lot of thought into the materials. For example, we added texture to the walls to give it that very Newtown feel.”
CW: “It does feel homely. To walk in everyday and feel that light coming in — you’re never in a bad mood when you see that light.”
AJ: “Totally. Lighting plays such a big part in your mood. You need that natural light.”
CW: “Yes! Lighting plays a huge part for me.”
RF: “We have done everything so it is all modular — so basically all the mirrors and everything can be moved. We have had book launches and photoshoots up here. We just had a big fashion launch up here not long ago, and one of our clients actually used the space for her 40th birthday party! The space is so versatile.”
CW: “I find it funny, because when we get clients in they love reorganising the space, saying, ‘Oh my god, this would make the most amazing loft apartment!’. People run crazy with the ideas of what they can do in here. It’s also able to evolve with us as our vision grows and changes.”
Pictured: A-H Salon | Shop in Newtown, Sydney.
AJ: “That’s also the beauty with having a digital platform — The Gritty Pretty aesthetic is pretty unique, minimal, and forward-thinking. We are always looking at new ways to move and grow.”
RF: “How did Gritty Pretty get to where you are now from your beginnings?”
AJ: “We started as a blog — Morgan (our previous Creative Director) and Eleanor often spoke of their late weekend nights working on it together in their apartments. They built such an amazing foundation for the business. And now look where it is! The business has definitely grown up, as most businesses do. We veer across so many channels now — we have the blog, the magazine, the e-store, and a more recent aspect of our business are the incredible reader events we get to create.”
CW: “What inspires your creative and editorial team as you continue to create fresh, engaging content?”
AJ: “I’d say for the team, we’re all inspired most by real women, innovation and universal beauty.
Personally, I am constantly being inspired, I can’t help it. My mind is always seeing and hearing things — I had to give up carrying a notebook because I couldn’t keep up with myself writing things down. The web is a quick hit; the best ideas stem from simple things in my day-to-day.”
RF: “I agree, sometimes the best inspiration comes from the everyday.”
Pictured: Gritty Pretty HQ in Rosebery, Sydney.
AJ: “Totally. As an editorial team, we bounce off each other. It’s so nice to work with a team of like-minded women and collaborating on everything we do. Everyone brings something to the table.
I am more of a purist and prefer things to be minimal, whereas others in the office are different entirely, so the outcome is usually a nice blend. Does that make sense? But we usually all crush on the same stuff! Our Editorial & Beauty Assistant Hannah and I are always looking to the runway and the shows — their colours, shapes, and styles.
Most importantly though, our readers are such a huge inspiration. It’s so important to listen to your community and understand what keeps them inspired.”
CW: “Our clients are also at the front and center of what we do. A lot of our clientele have been coming for a really long time. I think a big part of that is that we give back to the community, we are such an open space. We find a lot of our clients just pop in to hang out.”
RF: “But I think the biggest thing is the fact that our customers feel nurtured when they come in. And we get feedback that it feels genuine, which it is, it’s not just a put-on thing. And I think that you can’t buy that.”
AJ: “Speaking of buying — how did that idea for your e-store come about?”
CW: “Online is the future. It just felt like the next step for the salon — our clients love that if they’re running low on a product they’ve picked up from, they don’t have to drop in to get it.”
RF: “It’s also quite unique for our industry because it’s not just about hair. We have different lifestyle categories — we have skin products, candles, watches and homewares. We did a beautiful collaboration Naomi from Studio Enti to create exclusive cups.
Pictured: Gritty Pretty HQ in Rosebery, Sydney.
AJ: “So where do you see yourselves and the business in 5 years’ time?”
RF: “There’s many things we’d love to do, but right now, we are just focusing on our online store — it’s still fairly new thing for us so we are still really in love with that and putting a lot of effort into that.”
CW: “I mean in 5 years’ time, we might be a one-stop shop for hair and the works. What does the future hold for Gritty Pretty?”
AJ: “I love the idea of your one-stop shop! For us, it’s important for Gritty Pretty to connect with our audience both online and offline. Creating reader events and experiences is a major priority for us — it allows us to take that two-way dialogue we have with our readers online and via social platforms like Instagram and Facebook and move them to face-to-face conversation. We’re just had our One Night Only Beauty Basics Masterclass events in Melbourne and Sydney, with our Brisbane event scheduled in a couple of weeks time — it’s really important for us to create these luxury opportunities where we can immerse our readers into the Gritty Pretty brand for a few hours. They connect us with our amazing community and readers which is great for us, plus they get a fun night and a glass of champagne while they are at it!”
A-H SHOP | SALON can be found on Gritty Pretty’s Little Black Book of Beauty. Click here to book an appointment.