Atelier Student Uses Hair Clippings to Make a Difference

Atelier student Kara Wattunen helps to make an environmental differences by cleaning up a neighborhood park for Earth Day 2023
Kara helps clean up neighborhood park for Earth Day 2023, Mrs Minnesota Earth

Atelier student Kara Wattunen has many passions.  As a professional angler, a private pilot on her way to a commercial license, an eyelash extension technician, a small business owner, and now a cosmetology student, Kara packs a full schedule.  Now, she is combining her love for the beauty industry and the planet to make an environmental difference. 

In 2022 Kara won the title of Mrs. Minnesota Earth (a pageant that celebrates women’s advocacy and accomplishments in environmental preservation and sustainability) with an initiative around fishing line recycling. This year, Kara is partnering with the ecological public charity Matter of Trust. Through the Clean Wave Initiative, this charity uses hair clippings to clean up oil spills. 

Atelier student Kara Wattunen holding her crown after winning Mrs. Minnesota Earth 2022
Kara Wattunen holding her crown after winning Mrs. Minnesota Earth 2022

Becoming an Atelier Student

Although she had interest in the beauty industry from a young age, Kara didn’t jump into cosmetology right away. “I let peer pressure get the best of me,” she explains, recounting how she chose to go to college and enter the corporate world.  

However, after years in other industries, Kara decided to make a change. “I figured it was time to chase what I was passionate about.”  She started by obtaining her eyelash extension technician license.  Now she has returned for her full cosmetology license at the Atelier Academy. “I love how everyone’s path is different [in the beauty industry],” she says, “There are so many avenues. You get to be creative every day.”

A Drive to Make a Difference

Kara connected with Matter of Trust when she was brainstorming ideas for next year’s Mrs. Minnesota Earth project. When she came across the Clean Wave Initiative, she knew it was the perfect way to merge her love of beauty with her love for the environment.  

Matter of Trust’s Clean Wave Project aims to help clean up polluted water with natural waste fibers.  This means utilizing hair, fur, wool, and fleece clippings to create mats and booms. These then soak up petrochemicals from storm drains, wells, filtration systems, rivers, and oceans.  Through this charity, hair stylists, pet groomers, and farmers can donate fibers to help keep our waterways clean.

Hair booms used to soak up oil from waterway, Matter of Trust

With this goal in mind, Kara is enlisting the help of fellow students and staff of the Atelier to collect hair clippings to send to Matter of Trust. “The beauty industry is one of the best and most underutilized industries to look at for recycling aspects,” she says, “By recycling hair, it shows people that we can be flexible and bring a new level of conscientiousness to what can be recycled. In actuality, we can recycle many more things than we think.” 

Hair mats protecting a storm drain from oil and debris, Matter of Trust

How to Help

Requirements for hair donation are fairly simple. Hair must be a minimum of 1 inch long, but they always need ponytails that are 3 inches or longer. Hair can be colored, highlighted, and chemically treated, but must be 100% real hair, nothing synthetic. 

Kara plans to set up green bins with biodegradable bags around the Atelier for students to deposit hair clippings and ponytails into. Once the bins are full, she will mail them in to Matter of Trust so that they may be recycled. She aims to collect hair through the end of the year.

Volunteers at a felting hub create mats out of donated hair, Matter of Trust

We need your help to make a difference! If you’d like to come be a part of Kara’s green initiative, head to our Guest Services page and schedule a haircut with an Atelier student.  If you also decide it’s time to follow your passion for the beauty industry, click on our Programs tab to explore what else the Atelier has to offer!

Atelier student Emma Sinnen cuts a client’s hair, Instagram

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