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Meet the Mentor: Shaun McGrath


Sustainable Salons Creative Ambassador Shaun McGrath is a hairdressing and wiggery artist. He won the Australian Hair Fashion Awards 2018 Avant Garde Hairdresser of the Year for making wigs with refuse sourced from Sustainable Salons recycling bins.

From February to June 2019, Shaun mentored Box Hill Institute students on the art of turning waste into wigs for The S Event and the Hair Expo’s GenNext Show.  

Shaun said, “My role as mentor is to push the students and their creative boundaries to create unique and exciting works of hair art, to keep them excited and encouraged during the long three-month process, most of which was on their days off. 

“Now I’ve used everything over the years to build wiggery, metals, glass, rock. Things that are way more difficult to work with than hair, so improving my thinking and my skill set across all mediums. 

“Wiggery with waste takes you from the familiarity of hair to substances that behave differently. This is what I want the students to take from our experience together. Opportunities like this didn’t happen in my day, that’s for sure,” he said.

Keeping apprentices engaged and excited about their work is a top priority, according to Shaun. He said, “Apprentices these days are like hen’s teeth and a lot of salons are having issues finding them, salons are becoming top heavy with seniors and management. 

“Apprenticeship places need to be filled to ensure a good future for our industry. Our job is to inspire them and it has never been more important.

“I love fashion, art and repetition. If we repeat one item 1,000 times, the unison of the repeated object is beautiful. Hair is just this, one thing repeated over and over.”

The wig that put Shaun on the Avant Garde map contained 9,000 safety pins linked to form strands of hair.  

“It’s this concept I set out to teach the Box Hill Institute students and here is what we built,” said Shaun. “We took old hairdressing magazines and created a long flowing mane of colourful paper planes. The paper plane wig was made by five students, every Monday for nine weeks.

“To keep the student’s energy up, we made the wig in stages, building the wig base and assembling it in part before finishing more of the paper planes. By making the goal visible, our momentum to finish was greater,” he said. 

The large (and heavy) floral wig was intricate in its own way. Discarded hair was used to make daisy-like flowers, which were padded with plastic fern from a found, old topiary ball and real lichen found on a pot plant, enhancing the ‘nature’ aesthetic of the overall look. 

“The wig had an organic flow to it, with the base created from randomly moulded hessian making the flowers appear to be growing from where they fell, as if upon things of stone and wood,” Shaun said.

The other showstopper close to Shaun’s heart were the giant plastic horns, which made the biggest environmental comment within the two shows.  

“With plastic being the world’s biggest environmental problem, the repurposing of it made a real statement,” he said. “Plastic is choking the world.”

Shaun said that since hairdressing was a high-impact industry, the plastic horns wig was made to provoke people to think about how else to use plastics.

Exciting Box Hill Institute students about their work and sustainability by creating avant-garde wiggery for stage shows should gear them up for more green solutions and catwalk work in the future, showing hairdressing careers can be much more than just a hairstyle.