ICON recipient Miiroko Hair Colour brings the salon to home

The Canberra Innovation Network loves to celebrate our success stories. Wouldn’t you? And it helps when bragging rights come by way of someone as amazing as Claire Chesterton, who made her name in Australia, then Japan, as the hair colour guru we all need right now (locked down, socially isolated, or just over public encounters).

Claire is one of our favourite ICON grant recipients and a press darling.

We were lucky enough to grab her for a quick chat.

Every journey to a new business has a story. What’s yours?
It goes back to three years ago, when I was having a glass of wine (or two) with two hairdresser friends after work. One of them was talking about a client who was colouring their hair at home, but could never get it right because the colour she chose was too dark. We couldn’t understand why we weren’t able to give her our professional grade colour – knowing full well that with expert advice and the right colour, 90% of all colour mistakes could be avoided.

Since then, I’ve made it my mission to create a professional-grade home colour kit for those who cannot afford or access a salon. So everyone can feel confident they have a quality colour that’s right for them.

It took three years to find a great colour manufacturer and develop a winning formula that is vegan, free of nasty chemicals, doesn’t smell, and gives beautiful results.

How did COVID affect your path?
Our journey started long before COVID, but with everyone in lockdown and unable to visit a salon, the demand for a quality, home hair colour has gone through the roof. In a post-COVID world, I believe a lot of that demand will remain, because the way people live has changed. More and more people are working from home and moving away from the metropolitan areas, with less access to hairdressers and quality colour, they need something that can be delivered to their door that they know will give them great colour results.

Do you think that lockdowns and travel restrictions helped or hurt your business?
A bit of both. As I mentioned, the demand for a quality home hair colour has increased drastically. However, the product, which is made in Italy, has seen very long delays due to the lockdowns there, and delays to international freight. So even though the demand has increased, our launch date has been pushed back several times.

Your enterprise is also deeply rooted in your family – can you tell us about how having a partner / growing family shaped your business and entrepreneurship plan?
My husband has been so supportive of this business – I really couldn’t have done it without him. We were living in Tokyo while I worked on this, for three years, and he supported us the whole time. My husband is Japanese, so I guess that’s where the Japanese influence comes from in MIIROKO. We wanted the values of the business to reflect some of the things we love  about the Japanese culture (the craftsmanship, attention to detail, and simplicity – which I think can be rare in the beauty world).

We had our daughter in 2020. She’s the absolute best! But in the space of one year I had a baby, started a business and moved country during a pandemic … I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone.

Which (if any) CBRIN programs have you gone through and what did you learn from them?
I’ve been fortunate enough to do the Idea to Impact course at CBRIN and I would highly recommend it! I learnt the importance of consumer conversations and now have a fantastic network of entrepreneur friends who have already shown their support for our business.

What advice would you offer to a new startup? Someone with an idea but no capital and no plan beyond a pitch?
Gosh! I don’t think I’m in a position to give any advice on business. What I will say is that there is no harm in exploring your idea – talk to people, sign up for courses, get to know the ‘world’ of your product – so to speak. If, after all that, it’s still looking like a good idea, then talk to someone at CBRIN; they’ll be able to point you in the right direction for the next steps for your business.

How do you detach from the all-consuming world of new biz/family/global noise?
Ha! Can anyone detach from all that? If so, please contact me and let me know!

But honestly, I love being outside; that helps calm the nonsense that goes on in my head. I’m also into cycling; it’s a great way to see beautiful sights while keeping fit  – although Canberra’s winter is making me like the sport a little less.

You’re a grant recipient, which is awesome. What would you do with a further bag of money, that came with no strings attached?
I’d employ people! We can’t do this on our own and there are so many talented people out there that could really help us reach more people who want quality hair colour.

Do you have any mentors or folks you look up to in the business world?
Absolutely! We have so many mentors and people we look up to that I couldn’t possibly list them all. I think the thing that inspires and humbles me the most is how generous they are with their time. These people are very busy, but just half an hour of their time can make the world of difference to a new business – and I am forever grateful for it!

A couple of people I have to mention are Troy Trewin from Grow a Small Business, who has helped us build a solid foundation; Jodie Fox, who founded Shoes of Prey and Kate Morris from Adore Beauty, who have provided invaluable insights into running an online business, and, finally, my own folks, who ran a business in Canberra for 35 years. My dad says the key to running a successful business is to keep showing up (and a bit of luck) – I reckon he’s right.

Thank you so much, Claire. My hair is beyond help, but you make me feel that anything ELSE is possible ?
You are too kind!

Learn more about  Miiroko’s professional hair colour for home for a look that’s supported by hairdressers, totally vegan and used by the pros.