Located in the heart of Jersey City’s Historical District, at the corner of Coles and First Street, is LaKoet Salon. While the salon offers standard haircuts and color, it’s unique for its innovative creation of custom hair products. Owner Kitty Varco uses her collection of organic herbs, powders, and butters to offer custom-made hair treatments. Varco opened up her doors to the Digest’s Associate Publisher, Marcelle Leslie, for a private tour, offering insight on her background and the treatment-making process.
Varco has been learning about the business since the young age of 16 when her mom gifted her a book on how to make lotions and balms. At first, she started playing with the ingredients for fun, but the business became serious when she moved to New York City and began selling her unique creations. Her line of products sold quickly, prompting her to get into soap making.
Varco’s business continued to blossom. But in 2010, she was injured in a car accident, putting her out of commission for six months. While recovering, she continued to create soaps and lotions from home. Her medication regimen kept her on the road to a long, healthy recovery. That is, until Varco came across the magical healing powers of the Moringa plant.
She claims that the use of a Moringa powder from a local store helped her heal within a matter of a couple weeks, making her feel healthier and keep a positive outlook. Her research on the plant progressed, eventually leading her to a moringa farmer in Uganda. With the farmer’s help, Varco began importing the oil, and continues to today. The oil has become her number one seller and a common ingredient in the salon’s customized conditioners.
While many clients at LaKoet Salon wonder why she doesn’t make customized shampoos to pair with the conditioners, Varco claims that shampoos are one and the same. Because shampoos are only cleansing agents meant to wash out dirt and unwanted oils from the hair, Varco prefers to focus on treatments that aid to the specific needs of her customers. The process begins with a client questionnaire on the condition and concerns for their hair. The treatments, mixed to order, are carefully designed to improve the overall health of the scalp and strands.
Oils are only a portion of the potion. Volcano water is used like a hydrosol, as it is pH balanced and great for conditioning infusions. Skin-loving herbs like rosemary and lavender can be steamed with the water. Because oil and water inevitably don’t mix without the use of an emulsifier, like vegetable-based BTMS 50 or stearic acid, Varco asks the client what their scalp and hair are like in order to choose an emulsifier. For someone with thinner hair, she might emulsify the water, replacing the heavier oils with agave or fractionated coconut oil, which absorbs immediately to moisturize and heal the strands without leaving residue. On the other hand, the hair doctor might prescribe a more substantial butter for someone with thicker hair.
Studies suggest that when people are searching in-store for a new product, they are very likely to open the bottle and take in the scent. To make the treatments even more customizable, LaKoet Salon offers a selection of multiple fragrances and essential oils to be mixed with the treatment. The spectrum ranges from sea kelp and agave to rhubarb and sugar. Essential oils, such as cacao and peppermint, or lavender and orange can be mixed to the customer’s liking. The option of a pure pigment additive can act like a direct surface dye to the conditioning treatments to maintain color, similar to that of a semi-permanent dye to sustain hair-color. It also works for people who don’t want to permanently dye their hair, but are looking to color-correct and tone their current color.
The conditioning treatments are so customizable that it truly becomes a product to aid the client’s exact hair needs. When asked if there was a specific application process, Varco answered that it can be used on a need-be basis, anywhere from once a day to once a week. In addition to their standard salon services and treatments, Varco and her team of stylists are available at the salon to help blend a perfect conditioning hair treatment or lotion.