The hair-care industry can feel oversaturated and overwhelming, at least if you've ever spent a few minutes debating shampoo formulas in the aisle of a Sephora. When shopping for hair products, we're faced with a slew of formulas all promising salon-worthy results in a bottle, and unlike the skin-care and color cosmetics categories, it's often tough to parse out much in the way of differences from one brand to the next. What's more, very few brands within the hair-care category launch with notions of inclusivity in mind when it comes to hair type and texture. And even fewer do so with an emphasis on natural ingredients.
This is the void that Nancy Twine, Founder and CEO of Briogeo, saw in the market while working on Wall Street. As a child, Twine and her grandmother would spend time concocting their own beauty products using natural ingredients at home. As an adult, Twine saw plenty of hair-care brands claiming to be natural, but was often disappointed once she got into the nitty gritty of the formulas, not to mention experienced what she saw as underwhelming results. After the sudden loss of her mother, Twine was inspired to switch career paths in pursuit of her own venture: She left a well-paying job at Goldman Sachs in 2014 and launched an all-inclusive hair-care line, Briogeo, that's now one of the top-selling in the category at Sephora.
Ahead, Twine opens up about how she got start and evolved her brand into a Sephora staple.
What interested you in hair care to begin with?
My grandmother used to make natural products on her farm. As I was growing up, my mom and I used to make a lot of our own products in the kitchen using natural ingredients that we would source from our local health-food store. It was something that was very much a part of my childhood and family life. In 2010, I lost my mom suddenly, and it opened up my eyes to the fact that life can be short and I really wasn't doing what I loved. I realized it's really important that you do what you're passionate about. I did a lot of soul searching to figure out what I wanted to do next and I remembered how much I loved mixing up my own products. I even learned from a young age that you can create highly effective beauty products using natural ingredients.
At the same time, I started to see this change that was happening in the beauty space with more clean brands popping up on shelves, but in hair care there wasn't one dominating. I knew this was an opportunity, so I started spending my nights and weekends developing a business plan.
Tell me a little about your transition from working on Wall Street to beauty.
After graduating from the University of Virginia, I took a job at Goldman Sachs on Wall Street and I was there for seven years. Prior to leaving my banking job, I worked with a natural chemist to develop my first four formulas. I took those formulas to a trade show to meet buyers, though I was still working in banking at the time, and I left the trade show with two new accounts, but it wasn't enough for me to leave my paid job. I met Sephora [representatives] at the trade show. At the time, they weren’t interested in taking on any new hair-care brands, but I knew it was something they were having conversations about. The time just wasn't right.
Fast forward six months after the trade show, I received an email from Sephora that they were ready to start focusing on hair care and wanted to bring in Briogeo. It was so different from other hair-care brands they offered at the time. I was actually the first hair-care brand they scouted since Drybar, so we were really different being that we were clean and focused on a diverse hair-care offering. Two weeks after the email from Sephora, I gave my notice at Goldman Sachs. I believed if I took the Sephora opportunity the right way, it would afford me the ability to make a living off of this idea I had. That was in 2014, and I haven't looked back.
What were your first steps after you decided to leave Goldman Sachs and start Briogeo?
There was so much learning, even deciding where I was going to warehouse the unit because if I was shipping to Sephora, I was going to be buying more than 100 units. I knew it wouldn’t fit in Manhattan Mini Storage anymore, which is where I was storing everything at the time. There was a lot of researching, calling and asking tons of questions. I also had to start thinking about the consumer: Why would someone buy Briogeo over a well-known brand? I had to figure out a marketing plan and I knew sampling was really important. I felt if someone could try the product, they would believe in it. It was like boot camp. I had a business plan, but I needed to create a reality business plan. I knew I was going in Sephora, but there was so much more I had to learn and do. And the best way to learn is to be thrown into something. Reading is helpful, too, but you learn so much when you're put into the situation and have to react.
When you started to build this plan, what was your vision for the brand?
I knew our ingredients were totally different than our competition's. We eliminated everything from silicones; 95 percent of brands have silicones in at least one product. Our whole methodology and how we thought about ingredients was completely different from any other hair-care brand at Sephora at the time.
Also, our focus on diversity was different. You don't see diverse women represented in a lot of specialty and prestige brands and the default is to think this isn't for me. I still believe one of my greatest accomplishments is creating a line that's inclusive for all women, all ethnicities and all hair textures and types. That's hard to do, and people really appreciate that. From a brand perspective, sometimes hair care can be really serious, scientific and even pretentious — we just approach hair care with fun. There's something about that lighthearted element that we bring to Briogeo that makes it more approachable.
Can you explain what "clean" or "natural" means for Briogeo?
We developed a methodology called six-free. This was in place when I developed my first four products. I did a lot of research that identified the top ingredients used in most hair-care products that are either potentially harmful to the body or the environment. The six ingredients commonly used were sulfates, silicones, parabens, phthalates, DEA and synthetic dyes. Since then, we have a long laundry list of ingredients that we don't include, but those six are most often used in hair-care products.
Your first retailer was Sephora. What impact did that have on the business?
Sephora is just a special place because they have really special brands. The word special can be really broad, but I think it's important to be thoughtful about your distribution and instead of being everywhere, be thoughtful about who you partner with. Sephora is one of those places where they have such a curation of incredible brands. It felt like such an honor and it felt prestigious. I think it set the stage for me pursuing excellence. Sephora operates in the mindset of excellence. It helped set the stage for how the company performed. In order to do well, you have to have the same mindset.
Why is being inclusive a priority you set for the brand from launch?
I don't like the idea of segregating beauty. I realize that everyone has different skin and hair types and each have their own concerns, but including everyone was so important to me. I have to so many diverse friends and family members and I never wanted to create something that was all about me. Briogeo is not all about me, it's all about everyone. I want my friends to find products in my hair-care line that they like, no matter what hair type they have.
Everyone does things for different reasons and sometimes people do start things with themselves in mind, but for me it was about everyone. I think that's who I am as a person. My mom was that way, too. If there was only one slice of pie left, she would give it to her guest before she takes a piece, and that's how I am. Briogeo is for me, but more importantly, I wanted to make sure it was for everyone else.
What hiccups or challenges have you had to overcome to get Briogeo to where it is today?
One of the things I really didn't think about when starting the brand was how difficult it is to grow and manage a team. We are almost 20 people now and I don't have a management team in place, so I work with so many different types of people and different working styles and different needs. It's taught me a lot about psychology and being open to talking about a variety of topics. One of my greatest learnings has been about people, and it's tough. It's a constant evolution. I don't know that I'll ever perfect being a manager because I'm constantly learning new things.
What can consumers expect to see in the future from Briogeo?
Without saying too much, I think formulating hair-care products with clean and conscious ingredients was the first stage. Consumers can expect to see more focus on clean and conscious in an overall lifestyle setting.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Homepage photo: Courtesy of Briogeo
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