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Greenwashed and Dyed: Nori's Eco Salon

Dye it green: Roza Adjory gets to the roots of a customer’s hair

Kristin BurnsDye it green: Roza Adjory gets to the roots of a customer’s hair

Though it’s surely not a record to be held for long, Nori’s Eco Salon in Encino is the only full-service green beauty salon in Los Angeles. As the push toward greater ecological sustainability continues, now even your hair — the stuff you put in it, the place you get it done — can be green.

Kristin Burns

(Click to enlarge)

Dye it green: Roza Adjory gets to the roots of a customer’s hair

Kristin Burns

(Click to enlarge)

Sister Roya Adjory works the phones

Kristin Burns

(Click to enlarge)

Kristin Burns

(Click to enlarge)

Some places may slap in an energy-saving bulb or two, but owner Roya Adjory and her sister Roza have gone the distance. If it can be eco, it is eco. The counters are PaperStone. The ceilings are insulated with shredded denim. The walls are coated with paint that contains zero volatile organic compounds. The light bulbs are compact fluorescent. The furniture is either recycled or made with certified sustainably harvested wood. Business cards are printed on recycled paper with soy-based inks. The floor is formaldehyde-free and made of jute backing and cork with linseed oil, which exudes a fragrance that has prompted people to remark, “Wow, it smells so earthy in here.” And if she can sweet-talk the landlord into it, Roya will install solar panels on the roof of the mini-mall complex that houses the salon.

“I’ve made it onto Greenopia as a four-leaf salon,” Roya says proudly of her mention on the urban consumer Web guide to green services and products. “It’s the highest leaf you can get.”

But for her customers, the most important adjustment may be in the dye that goes directly onto their heads.

“None of the findings are conclusive,” says Roya, who runs a hand through her own hair, recently chopped into a sleek Joan of Arc crop that shows off her large eyes and high cheekbones. “But they are discovering certain hair-dye chemicals in the tissue of people who have cancer. In baby boomers especially, who are going gray and have been covering up for 10 years, they’re finding signs of accumulation of toxicity. Especially if you don’t do any kind of cleanse, or whatever. Nobody talks about it because it’s a very chemically intensive industry.” The scalp, she adds, has the highest blood circulation in the body. Dye toxicity is also increasingly becoming a concern for the people who work in the beauty biz. Stylists are exposed to the fumes and pigments every day.

Roya herself used to get sores inside her nose from the fumes wafting off the expensive Italian hair dyes. But since she switched to the sulfite-free, ethanolamine-free EcoColors line — voilà! — the sores disappeared.

On this scorching-hot day in the Valley, when it seems like the makeup on your face might slide off from the heat, and global warming feels imminent, the salon talk isn’t about melting glaciers and drowning polar bears. Instead, as Roya’s sister Roza blow-dries a woman’s hair, talk turns to their life in Iran. Their mother, the Nori for whom the salon is named, ran a salon in Iranian Azerbaijan, the Turkish northwest section of the country.

“My sister was beaten up in Iran,” says Roya.

“What happened?” I ask.

What what happened?” Roza sighs. “Everything happened.”

Roya describes being a fashionista and shoe freak obsessed with Charles Jourdan and miniskirts in the small town in which they grew up. But then came the Iranian revolution in 1978. Things got bad, then worse. Islamic fundamentalism became the dominant force in the land, with all aspects of corrupting Western culture banned under punishment of death. You could wear lipstick but risked being whipped in the street. What price, beauty? Nori pushed her salon underground.

Soon, even that was not enough and Nori closed down the salon she ran for 42 years to move to America and set up shop. Roya, unable to gain entry to Iranian universities, left for college in the States. Roza, who was beaten up in school, eventually followed, escaping with their father by way of Germany. If there is a striving now within them to live and let live, to cause no harm, you might trace those roots back to their turbulent days in Iran.

After a while, Nori herself emerges from the back room. A small woman, almost 70, with bright-red lips and large, impeccable hair, she doesn’t say much. She just smiles and tends to a girl who wants an up-do — Nori’s specialty — for prom.

Roya went back to Iran recently, as part of Global Exchange, with a group of 21 other women, for the first time in more than two decades since moving to the States. It was disturbing on one level. Eco-wise, it is a disaster, Roya reports. It’s polluted. Old cars and scooters belch smog into the streets. There are no clean-air or clean-water regulations. There are, however, plenty of regulations governing the lives of women, who are forbidden from beautifying, lest it sexually arouse the men.

Feeling rambunctious, Roya argued with the female inspectors at the airport. “But the men’s arms are exposed. Maybe those are turning me on.”

People find ways to rebel. Roya saw teenagers wearing short pants and verboten toenail polish. In Tehran, women did indeed wear headpieces, but the hair peeping out was highlighted. Clothing covered the body from head to toe, but it was tight and sensual, flouting if not the letter of the law, then its repressive spirit. Roza runs her hands over her hips, the flank of her stomach. “It was sexy, in a way.”

“Life goes on,” Roya says, “but in hiding. When they get home, the chador comes off.”

And yet there was no denying the energy of the place. As she describes the smell of the air — burnt, saturated with spices, like a thing you could taste — Roya closes her eyes, conflicted, remembering. Life there is lived within the gaps. Asked if she would want to open up a hair salon in today’s Iran, she laughs.

“No,” she says wryly, “I am not a nationalist.” Being a nationalist, she believes, keeps people away from each other. She thinks globally now. And Nori, she suspects, always has.

“My mother is quite green. The older generation in general is much more sustainable. They are ‘keepers.’” Henna, she points out, is the original nontoxic hair color.

Roya would like the salon to be more than for just hair — to be a true salon, in the French sense of the word. A place where people could gather to talk and debate, to display art, to learn about green living. She would invite women over. They would push the furniture aside, draw the shades and dance.

In the meantime, Nori’s continues to offer good old beauty-parlor standards: haircuts, color, styling, waxing, scalp and foot massages with essential oils. And some less standard ones: state-of-the-art bio-energy-charging Aqua Chi 5400 FB Hydro-stimulation Spa, anyone? It purportedly sucks the evil out of your body through your feet.

Nori’s Eco Salon, 15826 Ventura Blvd., No. 224, Encino, (818) 455-9488 or www.norisecosalon.com.