The air-dry customer is the target for some indie hair brands.   

It’s prestige hair’s time to shine.

Prestige hair’s expansion is outpacing that of makeup and skin care in the U.S., according to data from The NPD Group. The hair category’s growth is bolstered by broad-spread retail adoption of higher-end hair products, when before, most pricy hair brands were committed to the salon channel. Sales are also being pushed upward by the wellness movement — consumers are looking to take better care of their hair as part of their overall regimens.

“It’s a different story from last year, when hair was only growing about 5 percent,” said Larissa Jensen, beauty industry analyst at NPD. “The retailers are getting buzzworthy brands into stores, and the brands are getting the exposure they may not have had to a consumer…that may not know about them,” Jensen said. “It’s a win-win.”

At Sephora, hair is the fastest-growing category, according to Calvin McDonald, Sephora Americas president and chief executive officer. Prestige hair is also the fastest-growing subcategory in hair at Ulta Beauty, according to senior vice president of merchandising, Monica Arnaudo. Specialty retailers aren’t the only ones betting on the space — department stores are also upping hair offerings, with Nordstrom stocking brands like Ouai and Drybar, and Neiman Marcus bringing Evolis and Grown Alchemist into the assortment.

Those added retail distribution opportunities are a main reason for the category’s leap — sales for the 12-month period ended in May climbed 19 percent to $645.4 million, according to NPD. Social media — as with many categories in beauty — is helping to fuel the fire. According to data from Tribe Dynamics, the top 10 hair brands collectively grew their communities by 34 percent in 2017, meaning those brands — including Ouai and Oribe — are reaching a larger audience.

“Distribution points are a huge player in this,” said Claire Moses, founding member of Verb, a hair line that straddles the professional and prestige markets. “Forty years ago, you could only buy professional hair care in a salon. There wasn’t the Internet, there wasn’t Sephora, you couldn’t even buy a shampoo in a department store.”

The current hair distribution landscape gives customers permission to “see hair as a choice they’re supposed to be making,” Moses contends. Verb is expected to grow between 30 and 40 percent for 2018.

At Verb, which sells shampoo and conditioner for $16, the brand is less about true innovation and more about selling professional-level products at an affordable price point, Moses said. “We call ourselves the Sephora Collection of hair,” she joked.

“More people [are] playing with their hair in a bigger way,” Moses said, ticking off temporary color and adoption of natural textures as current trends.

“We can no longer just fix our problems with a straightener,” she said. “That doesn’t happen anymore…making natural hair look and feel better? Product is an easy way to do that if you’re not going to apply heat or wash every day.”

The air-dry customer is exactly who luxury clean-hair line Playa is going after. The brand launched in Sephora online earlier this year, and will hit 131 locations in August. It was founded by Shelby Wild and Olivia Austin, veterans of Intermix and Urban Outfitters, respectively.

“People are starting to adopt the wash-and-go, air-dry movement,” said Wild. “They’re really supporting natural beauty, versus trying to mask it with hot tools and blowouts.”

In addition to Sephora, Playa is sold at Violet Grey, Mecca, Madewell, Free People and Revolve. The brand’s product lineup includes Every Day Shampoo, $32; Supernatural Conditioner, $34; Pure Dry Shampoo, $26; Endless Summer Spray, $28, and Ritual Hair Oil, $38. While launches will come, the goal is to keep the stockkeeping-unit count low.

“You’re truly simplifying your routine,” Austin said. “That speaks to that modern consumer across skin care and makeup, and you haven’t really seen that within hair quite yet.”

“Effortless hair — that’s for everyone,” said Deanna Kangas, copresident of Ouai Haircare. “Each retailer has grabbed onto that and made it its own.”

Ouai, the hair line launched by Kangas, copresident Andrew Knox, and founder Jen Atkin — a hairstylist known for her work with the Kardashian-Jenners, Bella Hadid, Hailey Baldwin and other celebrities — developed a line of styling products like Air Dry Foam, $28; Curl Jelly, $26, and Rose Hair and Body Oil, $32, that sells online as well as at Sephora, Nordstrom, Revolve and other retailers.

“Hair care is on fire everywhere,” said Knox. “It’s not just one retailer — it’s a category that we see everywhere is having a huge lift.”

At the end of the day, it’s all about getting the products to customers in the places they’re looking to shop.

“The lines have kind of been blurred because you can’t tell the consumer where she’s going to buy herproduct,” said Chelsea Riggs, brand president of Amika, which makes products like Perk Up Dry Shampoo, $25, and Bust Your Brass Cool Blonde Shampoo, $24. “The hairdresser isn’t so much bothered by [distribution at] Sephora because it’s very high-end,” Riggs said.

Amika is sold in professional and prestige channels, and while professional makes up about 80 percent of all sales, retail — mostly with Sephora — is the brand’s fastest-growing division, she noted.  

“Hair, in a lot of these retail environments, is an adjunct category and makes for a nice basket-builder,” added Melisse Shaban, ceo of Virtue Labs, a new hair brand. Virtue is sold in salons, on its own web site, and at Bluemercury and HSN.

For Ulta, where the professional hair segment remains the largest, prestige hair has become the fastest-growing category — and a big area of focus.

“We’ve been adding new brands and we’ve also elevated the merchandising within the environment for our prestige brands specifically,” Arnaudo said. Growth is coming from dry shampoos, texture products and at-home temporary color, she noted.

In the past few years, Ulta has added Drybar (2016), Bumble and bumble (2017) and Madison Reed (2018) to its assortment. The retailer also sells brands like Devacurl and Living Proof.

New brands are one reason Ulta’s prestige hair category is growing, according to Arnaudo. Ulta’s hair customer is experimental — according to the retailer’s data, 34 percent of shoppers switch hair-care brands every three months or less.

Some of the hair brands, like Drybar, also have field teams that come and educate the Ulta representatives, she noted, which boosts sales.

At Sephora, cast members are encouraged to end makeup sessions with finishing hair products, according to Knox.

The efforts at both specialty retailers to involve the sales staff more in hair underscores the crucial role communication plays in the category’s growth.

“Brands are doing a really nice job communicating the benefits of why these additional, periphery products are important and how to use them,” Jensen said, drawing similarities between hair and skin. “Beyond moisturizer and eye cream, there’s an ampule and an essence,” she noted. “That’s the direction I feel like hair’s going in.”

Talking to customer and retailer is a key part of Ouai’s strategy, according to Knox, who noted that the brand keeps all partners in mind when it comes to content creation. That means during photo shoots, Ouai is shooting assets it will use, but also creating assets that retail partners can use, he said. “Retailers are willing to use our assets because we know what they need,” Knox said.

Communicating on social media is key. Experts contend that the rise in hair is driven by its visual nature in a way that echoes the rise of makeup — both categories lend themselves to showing transformational content.

“Indie hair is becoming the new makeup,” said Martin Okner, president of DP Hue. The company makes Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Rinse, $35; ACV Scalp Scrub, $38; ACV Dry Shampoo, $23; ACV Leave-In Hair Therapy, $30, and other products that target color care between salon visits. The brand is sold at Sephora, Ulta and online, and is on track to at least double revenues for 2018, according to industry sources.

Those types of targeted products are helping to boost the category broadly, Jensen said. NPD data shows the “other hair” category was up 35 percent year-over-year, to $112 million in sales, for the year period ended in March. Hair-styling products were up 20 percent to $217 million for the year, through May, NPD shows.

“A lot of these brands [have] these unique products that are really different and not the traditional shampoo-conditioner-type products,” Jensen said. “Hair was expanded into these differentiated kinds of categories — the bond perfecters are a great example, as is [Apple Cider Vinegar rinse].”

For Briogeo, venturing into some of those more specific categories is driving growth, according to ceo Nancy Twine.

“A lot of our growth has really happened over the last year, especially when we launched Scalp Revival,” said Twine. That product, priced at $42 and which aims to exfoliate and soothe dry scalps, helped customers think of Briogeo as innovative, she said — then, the brand launched its Don’t Despair, Repair deep-conditioning hair-cap system, $36. “It just put us in a different league,” Twine said. Industry sources said Briogeo is on track to more than double in 2018, and post between $30 million and $35 million in retail sales.

The brand is in about 200 Sephora doors, as well as on nordstrom.com, Revolve and QVC. Soon, Briogeo will launch with Sephora internationally — in France, Southeast Asia and the Middle East — and with Net-a-porter and Cult Beauty.

Briogeo’s expansion has been fueled not only by category trends, but by broad lifestyle choices around wellness, according to Twine.

“Not only is she gravitating toward more clean products, but she’s also becoming more focused on, ‘How can I just enhance my own natural beauty.’ So instead of trying to cover everything up, ‘How can I make my skin look better, or how can I make my hair look really great,’” Twine said. “The consumer is realizing, ‘Hey, if I have really great-looking skin and my hair is on point, I don’t really need all the makeup,’” Twine said.

For Virtue, led by beauty industry veteran Shaban, wellness goals are also fueling sales. The brand uses a keratin called Alpha Keratin 60ku, which was originally discovered as a means to fix battlefield injuries, to aim to heal hair. The concept is resonating today because of the wellness movement, Shaban said, noting that after years of heat and product styling, people are more focused today on their hair’s well-being.

“The health and wellness movement is really cutting across every aspect of our lives,” Shaban said, and that’s causing people to regard “the health and wellness of hair as a primary concern.”

For Sisley, the luxury skin-care brand that launched Hair Rituel by Sisley earlier in 2018, wellness is also at the heart of the offering, with products like Revitalizing Fortifying Serum for the scalp, $195,or Restructuring Conditioner, $75.

“We started with the products themselves,” said Philippe D’Ornano, president of Sisley, emphasizing the line’s seven-year product development process and integration of ingredients like botanical oils and cotton proteins.

“The first results prove that we are right,” D’Ornano said. “We are massively over our best expectations…the main problem we have right now is to produce enough.” After year one, Hair Rituel is expected to make up 10 percent of Sisley’s business. New products — a straightening shampoo and volumizing spray — are planned to launch in October.

“Is the market going to go more high-end? I don’t know,” D’Ornano said. “But if a brand is successful in the high end, then other brands are going to do the same.”

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