LONDON — Having accepted a multimillion-dollar investment in her direct-to-consumer, honeybee-based hair-care line Gisou, influencer Negin Mirsalehi has two big priorities: To generate more than $100 million in revenue over the next three years, and to honor her customers. Mirsalehi, an Amsterdam native who hails from an Iranian beekeeping family and who started the business with her longtime partner Maurits Stibbe, said the investment from Vaultier7 will allow Gisou to expand in high-potential areas such as the U.S., which already accounts for 40 percent of sales, and to deepen the product offer. It also enables Gisou to forge tighter relationships with its online community. Here, the digital entrepreneur who only lets one person touch her honey brown mane — her hairdresser mother — talks to Beauty Inc about the future and making space for the bees.
On becoming an influencer: I started with fashion on Instagram in 2012 — at the time, Instagram was still up-and-coming in Europe. It was about bringing approachable fashion into the everyday lives of people. And I was more approachable than models, who were a bit out of reach. I slowly moved toward beauty, and building a community. I was also giving a 360-degree view of my life: I was talking about fashion, beauty, education and values, and at that moment I started to build a real clique of followers. It was about me, as a person, and connecting with them. It was fun, but I was ambitious. I got a lot of energy out of it, and that’s why I was able to do long hours. I wanted to turn my hobby into a full-time job. When we started doing videos, we became more and more real, in a way. I was an actual person, and people were able to get to know me through the videos.
On the origins of Gisou: We had always wanted to start something, but we never knew exactly what. Then I spontaneously posted something about how, every Sunday, my family would go to my father’s bee garden. It was fun because my uncle came, we played a lot of backgammon and games, and had picnics and barbecues, but we also assisted my dad with bee keeping. Bees are his life, and his number-one priority is their well-being. I wasn’t expecting so many people to be so interested in that part of my life, but people began asking about it, and then they started asking about my hair. They wanted to know how my mom cuts my hair. So it all fell into place. It was all right in front of my nose. I feel like our passion, everything, came together. It was a family thing, it was real, and we felt like we had something to share about bees, and the environment. And my relationship with my community went deeper.
On the product range and formulations: My mom had developed the oil long before, and was using it on us. She’s a big part of it. She cut our hair and she always was interested in beauty. When she came to Holland, she wasn’t happy with anything out there. She’s really into beauty, and very critical. She still does my hair, she’s the only one I trust with it. For Gisou, we had to produce a larger quantity and change a few ingredients, but the most important thing — the honey — was always there. From a sustainability point of view, but also because of how strong honey is — you don’t need that much. Also, bees need to feed themselves with honey, so we only take the surplus from the hives. Because of all the antioxidants and vitamins, and because honey is a natural humectant, the oil is very good for the moisture levels in your hair. For me, what’s important is that it’s not heavy, and that it’s multipurpose. I use it when I come out of the shower and before I blow-dry. But I also use it as finishing product, and mix it into my hair mask.
On the challenges of marketing Gisou: If you start a fashion or makeup brand, it’s relatively easier to show an outfit on IG or show the application of an eye shadow, because you can see the result. Hair care is more challenging on social. But it’s possible. We’ve always wanted to be about DIY. You’ll never see someone doing someone else’s hair on our Instagram feed. It’s all about doing it yourself, and making it easy for people to do it themselves.
On community, and sustainability: Although we have such big plans for growth, we still want to have that community feel. When you become bigger, there can be a gap between you and your community, but we want to give them a closer look in. We’re planning to do so many activities: We want people to do bee courses all around the world to raise awareness for bees. With sustainability, we want people to be involved in it, and see what we’re doing and that it’s a real thing. Our New York pop-up with the refilling concept was about sustainability. I didn’t know that so many girls would come with empty bottles. Seeing that in real life, we got the feeling that we were contributing something bigger. It just inspired us to do much more.
On listening to followers: Our community is very engaged. For instance, we developed packaging that included a lot of plastics, so we quickly had to change that. It’s so good to be in direct contact with them and to have immediate feedback. It can be hard sometimes, but if you find the right way of working it’s so beneficial. You have to use that to your advantage.
On being an entrepreneur: I come from an immigrant family from Iran. For us, jobs are more about safety, about going to university to become a doctor, lawyer or dentist, but at the same time my parents also gave me the freedom to explore, and the trust, too. I never knew I was able to do this until we started it. And it just fell into place.
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