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Hairstylist Achieves National Distribution

Hairstylist David Babaii, who styles the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie (he created her sultry hair...

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Hairstylist David Babaii, who styles the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie (he created her sultry hair look for the recent Vanity Fair cover), has achieved what dozens of hair care upstarts can only dream of: critical mass.

This story first appeared in the June 13, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

His new hair care line, David Babaii for WildAid, is scheduled to be sold in 10,000 mass, drug and food stores by the end of October. By the end of April 2009 it will be available in 25,000 stores. Sales for the balance of 2008 are estimated to reach $20 million — and $60 million by the end of 2009.

The shampoos, conditioners and styling products have already grabbed unprecedented media attention — especially for a line to be sold mainly in stores such as CVS Pharmacy and Target — thanks to the help of client, friend and business partner Kate Hudson. This week Hudson appeared on several TV shows chatting about the line, including “The View,” “Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” “Access Hollywood” and a satellite media tour, which called for the actress to sit for hours conducting dozens of 5-minute interviews. She also appeared — glamorously — at the line’s media launch party held at ABC Carpet & Home, which attracted hundreds of media, fashion, beauty and animal activist types. The upscale specialty housewares store also sells the line.

While it all now seems an easy recipe to success (famous actress + famous hairstylist = successful hair care line), Babaii’s more seasoned business partners were led to be less than optimistic.

“When we started doing the sell-ins with retailers, the meeting would always start out the same,” recalled Joseph Kim, who, along with brother David, oversees the line’s strategic planning and distribution. The two also serve as chief financial officer and founder, respectively, of professional tools company FHI Heat, an estimated $40 million company.

“They’d tell us that they only have planogram resets once a year and that they could only consider the line for 2009. But about 40 minutes into the meeting they were doing shelf cutting,” said Joseph Kim.

The excitement already generated in the very competitive mass market hair care category, which registers about $5 billion in U.S. sales, speaks to the variety of the different elements involved in the David Babaii for WildAid line: It is positioned as a professional brand. It uses exotic and natural ingredients. It is free of petrochemical and parabens and sulfates. It will donate 10 percent of profits to WildAid, the animal protection organization.

Twelve items are launching in stores next month, including a Mise en Plis Extra Hold Styling Spray for $20, Amplifying Whipped Mousse for $19, Volcanic Ash Sculpting Clay for $17, Hair Polish for $18 and Bohemian Beach Spray for $15. Shampoo and conditioners are available, too. Ingredients in the products include volcanic ash, white ginger, blue algae and shea and Cupuacu butters.

The brand sits under a newly formed company, Eco Beauty Ventures LLC, and is based in Ohio, as is FHI Heat.

Babaii, thankfully for the brand, isn’t shy about asking for help. His relationship with the Kim brothers started several years back during a photo shoot with Uma Thurman. His go-to flatiron was on the fritz but an assistant had packed an FHI Heat flatiron as a backup. Babaii became addicted to their products, so when he began thinking about adding pro tools to his shampoo line, he turned to FHI Heat to serve as the private label manufacturer.

As for his partnership with Hudson, he asked the actress to become involved in a hair line he was thinking about developing, and to serve as the face and voice of the brand. She said she would be game, but she wanted the line to be different — and to make a difference.

“About 100 million sharks are killed each year. That completely affects our systems and the nature of things. This is more than having an affection for animals. This is also about protecting the environment,” Hudson said at the product’s launch event on Tuesday.

Another Eco Beauty Ventures partner is advertising executive Eric Steinhauser, who oversees marketing for the line. Ads, which center around Hudson, were shot by Peter Lindbergh in South Africa with a film crew of about 50, said Kim.

Some $4 million has been budgeted for the product’s 2008 launch and will be spent on TV and print ads, as well as public relations events. Beauty and fashion magazines are scheduled to unveil the ads featuring Hudson in their September issues.

About 2,500 Sally Beauty stores, 600 Targets, 250 West Coast CVS units, the entire Duane Reade chain and about 1,000 Supervalu banners are among the retailers scheduled to first receive the line. Ulta, Rite Aid, Wal-Mart and Walgreens will roll it out in 2009. The line is currently sold on the db4wild­aid.com Web site; the range will make its debut on HSN July 3, 4 and 5, where Babaii will be touting the different products and Hudson is scheduled to call in to generate interest and sales.

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