Gemma washed her hair that morning as usual. Blonde hair darkened in the water, tinged purple in a Daddy-O lather, before she smoothed candy rain through soft ends, a sweet marshmallow perfume easing her into another morning. She wrapped a towel around her head as usual, took a comb through her hair as usual, and reached for the protein spray as usual. But that morning, as she held the bottle in her hand - the only thing on her dressing table without the classic Lush label - something clicked in her mind.
“We need a protein spray,” Gemma said, bursting into Dan’s lab, windswept from the salty sea air on Poole Quay.
She shrugged off her coat, already rummaging in her bag for the bottle she’d been using that morning.
“It’s part of my routine, and we haven’t got anything that does the job,” she said, telling him all about how the protein spray strengthened her hair and made it healthy.
Dan put down his coffee cup, and took the bottle, scanning through the ingredients.
“That seems doable,” he said.
This wasn’t the first time a hair technician had made a request like this. It was the beauty of having a lab and a salon so closely integrated - he could find out exactly what different hair types needed, rather than relying on his own whims, which were more often than not about creating volume. But Dan knew he had a tough job on his hands - Gemma was brutally honest.
After tapping a template formula into his laptop, Dan flitted around the lab, pulling ingredients from a wall stacked with tubs. Powders and liquids were poured onto beakers on scales, blended, and whipped together. He flicked on the burner, and the concoction steamed as the temperature rose. He poured the first version of his creation into a glass beaker, and slid it into a little freezer next to his desk, the mixture cooling while he waited for an agonising ten minutes.
When the glass was finally cool enough to touch, he ran through to the HairLab salon, offering up the beaker to Gemma.
“Feel this,” he said, hovering behind Gemma as she moved the mixture between her fingertips.
After a couple of days, the mixture had completely separated, the powders sinking to the bottom.
“It looks like one of those cocktails with a cream liqueur floating in vodka,” Dan said, his face falling.
Experiment after experiment, the same thing happened.
“Lets just put it in a black bottle so no-one can see how bad it is,” he said, almost defeated.
But he knew he had a job to do, and a challenge to overcome. Perhaps his toner-style design wasn’t right, and he’d have to start from scratch.
He brewed up a misty, milky emulsion, instead of the water solution that had been used before, and added a drop of ethanol to help the mixture dry quickly. Eureka.
Every morning, Gemma tried Dan’s latest creation in her freshly-washed hair, the spray working its way to the cortex on the inside of each hair strand, to strengthen from inside.
“This one’s a bit chalky,” she said when she arrived at work, and the next time, “It feels a bit gritty.”
Each time, Dan turned on his heels and headed straight back into the lab to start the next batch. He’d soon return with another fresh beaker.
“Try this in someone’s hair,” he said, leaving the pot in the salon.
Soon, Dan was taking elements from each version and working out which ingredient created that effect, building them together like Lego bricks to find the right formula. He adjusted each ingredient by miniscule amounts.
“What else do you want it to do for your hair?” Dan asked, another day in the lab. What was the point in Gemma having bottles and bottles of products lined up, if one alone could create the effect she wanted? And if Gemma wanted something for her sleek bleached hair that was styled with heat, it stood to reason that plenty of Lush customers would want the same.
“I want heat protection, and I want to be able to comb it easily,” she said.
Dan whipped up more mixtures and potions, pouring out wheatgrass juice, jackfruit puree and alfalfa juice. He rubbed a little of the mixture between his finger tips, closing his eyes so he could focus on the feel - the slip, the movement. He dabbed a little on his forearm, where the skin is similar to the scalp, imagining how the new version would smooth the cuticles.
It took months. Finally, Gemma showed Dan a nearly empty pot.
“I’m actually using this one,” she said, beaming. “I think we’ve got it.”
Before long, Gemma was recommending #Gains to everyone, passing round samples to other hair technicians, and the manager for the new Liverpool shop that was due to open soon. Dan breathed a sigh of relief, as the positive feedback rolled in.
But there were two things still missing - a fragrance, and a name. The fragrance was the easy part. Gemma knew exactly how she wanted her hair to be scented, because the perfume was already being used in a shampoo she’d found Dan working on. She ran to the perfume lab to ask Emma about the sugary bubblegum scent she was so in love with.
The name, however, was not so easy. What to call this new protein spray? Dan turned to Instagram for inspiration, searching for posts tagged with ‘protein’. Scrolling through a grid packed with plates of food, he spotted something else - snap after snap of people building muscle in the gym. Each picture was tagged with reams of hashtags - #protein, #motivation, and one that caught Dan’s eye - #gains.
“I hate it,” Gemma said.
Not the reaction Dan was expecting. But he was already sold on the idea of having a hashtag as a product name, and Gemma couldn’t think of anything better. #Gains stuck.
As the new Liverpool shop launched (with its very own HairLab), Gemma stood back to admire the purple bottles lining the shelves. This had come from her mind - an invention that started as a post-shower idea. She was even coming round to the name.
Gemma washes her hair this morning as usual. Purple lather, marshmallow conditioner, towel wrap, and comb, as usual. Then she picks up the purple spray with a classic Lush label, and spritzes.