NEW YORK — After much research, George Jilly, a self-proclaimed botany enthusiast and co-founder of Uhaircare professional hair care products, chose neem seed oil as the principal ingredient for the line’s Hydrating Cleanser and Conditioner products.

As Jilly explained, the botanical has been used by herbalists for centuries, and has a heritage as a nourishing oil with strong antioxidant benefits.

Jilly and his wife, Vanessa, launched Uhaircare in Australia in early 2004, and are now getting ready to bring the brand to the U.S. The line’s therapeutic and botanical positioning is an outgrowth of earlier collections introduced by the pair, namely Uskincare and Uspa, which are already sold in some 15 spas and salons in the U.S.

“This company is basically myself and Vanessa. We’ve been in the business for more than 15 years, and for us it’s not just the commercial aspect of the products, it’s really a passion,” he said.

Jilly has worked for several major beauty brands, and in the late Eighties developed a retail store concept for the Australian-born skin care brand Jurlique. The couple then went on to open Balnae Aroma Spa, one of the first boutique day spas in Melbourne. In 1991, Jilly a took a five-year hiatus from developing his own spa and skin care collection, based on treatments at the spa, to help bring Aveda to the Australian market.

Since the husband-and-wife team founded the company U Brand five years ago, they have expanded its distribution network to 12 countries and grown the offering to 60 stockkeeping units. Company sales for 2004 are expected to reach $12 million to $14 million, while Uhaircare first-year U.S. sales are estimated to be approximately $1 million, according to the company.

Jilly noted that while they had always planned to create a hair care line, requests from Taiwanese distribution partners jump-started development. The company has teamed up with Australia Steamboat/Chocolate Fish distributors to distribute Uhaircare to the U.S.

Items in the 14-sku line range in price from $18 for Native Mint Volumizing Cleanser to $24 for Cinnamon & Ginko Anti-Oxidant Hair Spray. Just as it has done in Australia, Uhaircare will employ a grass-roots promotional campaign that hinges on getting it into the hands of salon professionals.“The focus for us has always been to win over professionals through performance,” declared Jilly, adding that a nod of approval from salon professionals gives a product instant credibility and creates a loyal following. “It’s a slow process, but that’s fine. We’re patient.”

— M.P.

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