People: How hairdressing paved the way towards a diverse and inclusive mentoring platform

The below is a guest post from Joan Dellavalle, owner of Ebony and Ivory.

As an international student who arrived in Perth from Zambia in 2001, I had never felt so excluded as when I sat in a local hairdresser chair trying to get my hair washed and blow dried. The experience though gave me the courage to use whatever savings I had to study, become a hairdresser and open my own inclusive salon space – Ebony and Ivory.

What does an inclusive salon space look like?

For me, it is a space where people of all backgrounds – race, colour, culture – can come in and not feel like what I felt two decades ago: that having a different type and style of hair is not something to be ashamed of, but an opportunity to learn more about other people’s diversity – their uniqueness.

Achieving an inclusive social space such as Ebony and Ivory does not have its roots in large amounts of funding or being able to recreate the current “it” style.

Instead, it comes down to acceptance and a genuine interest to listen, discover and empathise with other people’s stories – funnily something that I feel are the characteristics you need when you are a hairdresser!

After all, how many of us have talked non-stop, divulging often personal stories or funny incidents with our hairdressers?

To that end, creating an inclusive salon space at Ebony and Ivory involved:

  • Creating a warm brand that says “we’re open to anyone.” It’s amazing how things such as the design of your logo and what language and image you post on social media can say about you and your business!
  • Hiring and training hairdressers from diverse backgrounds and importantly with an interest in not just hair but the people under the comb, hairdryer, colour brush.
  • Taking that inclusive space to outside of the four walls of a salon! More on this…

From the salon to the streets of Perth

Hair salons are a grapevine of stories and I realised, a place to understand more what’s happening “out there.”

Two styles of stories generally come out – one of inspiration and the other of challenges – the latter often of how young people are lacking positive role models and the opportunity to learn about diversity, difference and a different perspective.

After years of listening to such countless, remarkable stories, I was reminded of how in Zambia, we would spend time with our Elders, just listening and talking as they shared their knowledge and wisdom. Here we learnt about the power of listening, of possibilities, of accepting, of being open to difference.

The stories and my experience of sharing them gave me the idea to create a diverse and inclusive space to the streets of Perth. That’s how the Ebony & Ivory Masterclasses and Mentoring Program began!

Since 2017, I have myself run more than 21 lifeskills Masterclasses, sharing my own story of changing exclusion towards inclusion and collaborating with role models (such as Dr Rishelle Huma, CEO of Indigenous Women in Mining, Florence Drummond and international educator and Oprah’s favourite guest of all time, Dr Tererai Trent) who didn’t let difference get in their way of achieving their dreams and also advocating for diversity and inclusion.

We start the Masterclasses with setting a promise to each other how we can all contribute to creating a safe, inclusive and diverse space to gather.

These Masterclasses are mostly aimed at adolescents – to date we’ve had over 80 – go through one-day through to seven week programs, designed around learning and accepting difference via immersive storytelling such as:

  • Watching the movie and talking about A Wrinkle in Time to talk about differences in spirituality;
  • Collaborating with relevant organisations such as Edmund Rice Centre to connect and listen to stories of refugees;
  • Open discussions about bullying and overcoming stigma, run by youth leaders or positive role models who have themselves experienced these challenges.

You know that it is possible for anyone, everyone, including a small business such as mine, to make a difference when you have the same young people return to your programs – confident and comfortable in themselves – to teach others about acceptance.


About the expert

Joan Dellavalle is the creative mind behind Ebony & Ivory hair and beauty. The Perth celebrity stylist and fashion designer has forged her Zambian routes into building the powerhouse salon that is Ebony & Ivory. The refreshing and colourful energy of Joan allows each client to feel as they are family when they walk through the Perth CBD store.

To find out more about Ebony and Ivory and our work towards a more diverse and inclusive community: https://www.ebonyandivory.com.au/the-community

Image description: Joan is standing with her hands together, presenting in front of an audience, with three black, leather armchairs behind her. She is wearing a dark green velvet blazer over a matching green blouse, has blue, curly hair, and is smiling.