The Beauty of Connection

Dominique Kohli, Switzerland
Dominique Kohli posing with his wife in his salon in front of colorfully framed mirrors
Dominique and Jeanine Kohli [Photo courtesy of Dominique Kohli]

Dominique Kohli, from Switzerland, shares how he and his wife Jeanine drew inspiration from their Buddhist practice to transform their hair salon into a space that nurtures soulful connection.

I grew up in the Swiss Alps until the age of 16. Subsequently, I moved to Lausanne, Switzerland, to do my hairdressing apprenticeship. At the age of 19, I went to London to learn English and specialize in haircutting with a well-known company in the fashion world. At the outset, the general manager of the company emphasized that hairdressing is 50 percent technique and 50 percent human relations. This resonated with me because that human aspect aligned with my philosophy, one that I had just begun to practice—Nichiren Buddhism.

I met my future wife, Jeanine, during this period, when we both encountered the practice of Nichiren Buddhism in London in 1978.

After living in London for eight years, I lived in Munich, Germany, with Jeanine for three years. It was a great experience to get to know another culture and to practice Buddhism with the members of the Soka Gakkai in Germany.

Professionally, I wanted to experience how the hairdressing skills I’d learned in the UK would integrate into another culture, with the idea of one day returning to Switzerland.

Our desire was to create an atmosphere where each person would feel welcomed warmly and would leave not only happy with their hairstyle but also feeling encouraged.

Before returning to Switzerland, I asked to have a meeting with the general manager of the company where I was working to share with him my reflections. He brought in the Human Resources director, and they gave me an hour to share my impressions. At the time, this company was the best known in the world for its training and the quality of haircutting. I felt this only accounted for 50 percent of what was needed to be truly successful. I had observed that there was no training in human relations, and this was noticeable. I shared my thoughts, admitting that I had no solution for how to offer professional training in human relations. Although they listened carefully, I later learned that nothing had been done toward a solution.

An Adventure Begins

It was in September 1989 that we finally opened our little hair salon in Geneva, Switzerland. I remember the feeling of excitement and gratitude the day we were given the keys to the salon. We wanted the salon to embody something extra and determined to make it a place that could contribute to bettering the world by bringing out the life state of Buddhahood in both our lives and the lives of our clients. It was a moment that marked the beginning of a new challenge and a beautiful adventure together.

Buddhism teaches the concept of the oneness of life and its environment. It was clear to us that we wanted this awareness and spirit to be fully alive in our salon. Our desire was to create an atmosphere where each person would feel welcomed warmly and would leave not only happy with their hairstyle but also feeling encouraged.

Aerial photo of Geneva, Switzerland
Geneva, Switzerland [Photo by pawel.gaul/iStock]

The richness of the exchanges we had with our clients never ceased to amaze us and imbued our days with the deep meaning and importance of human connection based on sincere dialogue. For this reason, the practice to awaken our Buddha state was very important! Each morning, before work, we had to raise our life state, which was not always the best, through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Without this, it was impossible for us to give of ourselves freely and with joy.

A Labor of Love

Soon, two clients suggested that we use the slogan “With a human touch.” What wonderful validation of our intentions!

Having a beautiful slogan was good, but what was important for us was to be able to share this spirit with our colleagues and apprentices and to be able to continually deepen it. This was the beginning of an inner search to discover how we could train our team to work with an open and humanistic spirit, without it becoming religious.

Inspired by our local Soka Gakkai discussion meetings, we had the idea to have similar types of discussion meetings at work around themes relevant to the work context, such as optimism, the value of dialogue and how to deal with stress.

President Daisaku Ikeda’s writings have been a deep source of inspiration. He writes: “While diplomatic relations are of course crucial, even more vital is dialogue and exchange at the grassroots level, the active embrace of the reality and richness of another person’s existence . . . I am convinced that when we, as individuals, use friendship and empathy to recast the world map in our hearts, the world around us will also begin to change.”

Creating Harmony

Over the years, we observed that some clients, perhaps due to a lack of self-worth, do not like looking at themselves in the mirror. Inspired by something President Ikeda wrote on the positive influence of art and music, we gave careful thought to the art of decorating and the choice of music for our new salon, which we opened 10 years ago. Our intention was to create harmony in the salon for the well-being of our clients and colleagues.

As well as playing a wide range of music, we created seven large, beautiful mirrors with painted frames representing the metaphor of the Treasure Tower in the Lotus Sutra. The Treasure Tower, described as being a colossal stupa covered in jewels, represents the life condition of Buddhahood. We explain that these mirrors represent the inherent dignity of life. Our intention is that when a customer looks into them, it awakens in them a state of well-being.

Winning Together

In late 2022, we received a phone call informing us that our salon had been given the 2022 award for the best training company for apprentices in the services sector, which includes hairdressing, hospitality and catering, in all of the Canton of Geneva. This represents about 150 companies. It was an incredible surprise because we didn’t know that such an award existed!

We were told that the reason we received this award was because all of our apprentices had received their apprenticeship certification, two apprentices received the prize for the best apprentice in the canton at the final exam, and our last apprentice was one-tenth of a point behind the best. What made the difference is that we have retained the most apprentices compared to other companies.

Throughout the 30 years of training apprentices, there have been ups and downs, but what has kept us moving forever forward is President Ikeda’s encouragement to always seek to have dialogue until the very end, and to win together.

This award is the result of the unity of the whole salon team, as each person contributes in their unique way to the well-being and success of the apprentices as well as that of our clients.

We are glad to say that we have been able to train all of our apprentices, not only in hairdressing techniques but also in human relations. As a result, we have managed to achieve the 100 percent that has been our quest since the beginning. My goal now is to write a book, so that I can share my vision with a younger generation of hairdressers.

Adapted from an article in the August 2023 issue of Art of Living, SGI-UK.