By Amy Geiszler-Jones - Photography by Aaron Patton
The roots of Wichita’s innovative Planet Hair salon go back 25 years. And if you should choose to do as the salon’s marketing material suggests and “enter our orbit and experience our universe,” you’ll find a trio of owners who have some down-to-earth practices of giving back to the community and providing a creative, fun and professional work environment.
Owners Graham Ross and Tod and Linda Ernst opened Planet Hair at 504 E. Douglas on November 2, 1992, when Wichita’s Old Town was just starting its conversion from a warehouse district to what is now a shopping and entertainment center with residential loft and apartment spaces.
It was – and still is – a perfect location for the salon and its clientele, they said, being centrally located within Wichita and easy to access by clients in surrounding communities via Kellogg.
It was also some perfect timing. Ross and Tod Ernst had been working at different salons before that time, but both wanted new outlets and a salon of their own. They met one another through Linda Ernst’s sister, a co-worker of Ross’ at the time. Linda Ernst eventually closed her floral design business to focus on running the business side of Planet Hair, allowing Ross and Tod Ernst to work as stylists, jobs they still do today.
The building with a colorful past – it was a former saloon and brothel back at the turn-of-the-20th-century – had some colorful occupants. While the handful of Planet Hair stylists occupied the front of the building’s first floor, artists took up space in the second floor during that time. Now the salon – with its 14 or so stylists that Ross calls the salon’s best-assembled team in its history – encompasses the entire first floor. Artists are still a part of the business, in a way, as the salon showcases and sells local art, such as the one-of-kind heirloom jewelry handcrafted by Lindsey Scot Ernst. The building still remains colorful, easily recognized by the galactic mural on its west-facing brick wall, overlooking its parking lot.
In 1993, the Planet Hair owners booked a nightclub venue to put on a small event to showcase fun, inspired looks and raise money for AIDS causes. ArtAid would become the salon’s signature showcase event, eventually becoming a grander gala event that raised more than $1.5 million during the 18-year run it was produced by Planet Hair. Since 2013, the show has been produced by the AIDS service organization, Positive Directions.
“It really gave us an opportunity to be really creative and do things that were not just behind the chair,” said Tod Ernst.
“It was about a passion to make lives better,” said Ross. “It all stayed local and that’s a legacy we’ll stand on.”
Planet Hair continues its philanthropic efforts, engaging in smaller-scale events. Earlier this year, for example, it participated in a fundraising event for the Wichita Art Museum, held in conjunction with fashion photographer Irving Penn’s exhibition at WAM. This April, it will join other local Aveda salons to host the 3rd annual Catwalk for Water, a clean water awareness event held during Earth Month 2018.
Recognized nationally for its innovative and original styles, the salon has also garnered frequent attention and accolades from the beauty industry because of its philanthropic outreach. It’s a past recipient of Aveda’s Humanitarian Award.
For the past eight years, Planet Hair has been repeatedly named one of the 200 fastest-growing salons in the U.S. by Salon Today, an industry trade magazine. More than 1,500 salons compete for that designation. It has also been named one of the 100 best salons in the U.S. by Elle magazine.
Ross defined the secret to their success this way: “We enjoy what we do and we’re focused on the things we’re passionate about: clients, charities and community.”