By  on July 10, 2007

NEW YORK — The Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. announced Monday that it has entered into an agreement to purchase Ojon, the privately held hair care company based in Ontario, Canada.

The deal is expected to be completed this month. Terms were not disclosed.

The company's founder, Denis Simioni, will remain president of Ojon, and will report to Philip Shearer, who is a group president of the Estée Lauder Cos. Shearer said he plans to keep the company's existing management team and headquarters in Canada, and will continue to operate Ojon as a standalone business. However, Lauder will appoint a general manager to the brand. As well, Ojon is expected to maintain its relationship with its current manufacturer, Originitalia.

Simioni, who formerly ran an ad agency and worked with hair companies such as Wella, founded Ojon and incorporated it in 2003 after discovering a "miracle" hair oil produced by the Tawira Indians. The tribe, which lives on land straddling Nicaragua and Honduras, has a name which translates in English as "people of beautiful hair," said Simioni. Ojon is the name of the tree that produces the oil-bearing nut.

"My wife tried it, and she had color-treated, dry, brittle hair," Simioni recalled, adding that his wife's grandmother procured the original jar. "We saw an immediate difference in her hair." Intrigued, Simioni headed down to Central America to meet the makers of the product. "I was given a canoe and told to paddle until I saw people who weren't wearing hats — they're the only tribe in the region that doesn't," he said, laughing. "Five hours later, I found them — and they did have amazing hair." One thing led to another, and Simioni partnered with the Mosquitia Pawisa Agency for the Development of the Honduras Mosquitia (MOPAWI Organization), a local non-profit group that works on behalf of indigenous communities in the region. Through its contract with MOPAWI, Ojon purchases wild-crafted palm nut oil and other ingredients from thousands of Tawira producers, who collect the ingredients in a hand-crafted process consistent with ancestral practices. The ingredients, largely palm oil and cacao, are then sent to Originitalia, a factory in northern Italy, where they are purified and blended into Ojon products. The program has established thousands of jobs for local workers, said Simioni.Ojon's key product is the aforementioned hair oil, which retails for $55 for an approximately six-month supply. Recently, the company has expanded into skin care. In late 2006, Ojon also introduced the Rare Harvest Tawaka collection, a three stockkeeping-unit skin and hair care treatment line based on a "wild-crafted blend" of natural ingredients harvested in the Honduran rainforest.

In the U.S., Ojon is sold in upscale specialty store distribution, including Nordstrom, Sephora and Ulta, as well as on QVC and in about 300 high-end salons. The company is also in talks to bring the brand to Neiman Marcus, said Byron Donics, president and chief executive officer of HTI Collection, who has helped Ojon establish its distribution network. Ojon is also in limited international distribution, including Canada, Liberty in the U.K. and selected doors in Australia and Japan. "It's true that a lot of hair care business is done in the mass market, and that's where you have the color business, a lot of styling products and basic hair care," said Shearer. "But this is more. This is a line which is unique; being in prestige distribution enables us to tell a unique story. And the basic [retail] model is evolving. Consumers are a lot more flexible in the ways that they look at things, including where products are distributed."

As well, Shearer sees the Ojon acquisition as the "start of a long line of interesting ingredient stories, with items that are sustainable and beneficial to the consumer. Hair is the start, but we can and will go further."

While none of the executives would discuss current sales or five-year goals, industry sources estimated that Ojon currently does about $40 million in wholesale sales yearly, and that that figure could easily double within the next few years. However, each addition will be carefully considered, said Shearer. "We have to make sure that we always respect the branding, and that we stay at the upper end of the price spectrum," he said.

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