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Influence Peddler: IGK’s Chase Kusero on Using Instagram Without Pushing Products

Influencer hair-care brand IGK is rolling into 1,100 more doors — industry sources expect the business to more than double its sales for 2018.

Influencer hair-care brand IGK is bulking up its retail footprint.

The brainchild of hairstylists and influencers Chase Kusero, Franck Izquierdo, Leo Izquierdo and Aaron Grenia is in the midst of launching in 1,100 new doors — by the end of March, it will be in all freestanding Sephora doors in the U.S. as well as those in J.C. Penney, plus all Sephora units in Southeast Asia and Australia. IGK is also entering Space NK in the U.K.

The company’s distribution expansion, coupled with a flurry of recent launches — Swipe Up Charcoal Dry Shampoo Hair Blotting Tissues and Swipe Up No-Frizz Smoothing Hair Wipes launched in December, and First Class, Direct Flight and Jet Lag dry shampoos launched in February as part of the brand’s relaunch of the category — are expected to double the brand’s size by the end of 2018. In February, IGK opened its largest salon yet in Miami’s Design District. Industry sources projected the firm’s 2018 sales at between $35 million and $40 million.

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IGK is one of the businesses under Luxury Brand Partners, which recently sold Oribe to Kao. In 2016, LBP also divested Becca, which was sold to The Estée Lauder Cos., but the company still owns Pulp Riot, Smith & Cult, R+Co and V76, in addition to IGK.

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The four founders, who operate the IGK salons in New York, Los Angeles and Miami, partnered with LBP to launch the line with Sephora in September 2016. The concept is positioned for social-media enthusiasts and products have names like Expensive (a $29 “topcoat” meant to protect hair and promote shine), Thirsty Girl (a $28 coconut milk leave-in conditioner with hyaluronic acid technology) and Trust Fund (a $29 thickening foam).

The man behind those product names is micro-influencer Kusero, who boasts nearly 110,000 followers on Instagram (combined, IGK’s founders have close to 200,000 Instagram followers). Kusero’s social feed is filled with models, clients (who include Sofia Richie) and hair.

Here, he talks about social media, influencers and his routine.

WWD: How do you decide what to post?

Chase Kusero: I was posting a lot of hair, and I decided to stop because I was a little bit over it. I wanted to post more things that inspire me or caught my eye, so I started doing that. With the product line, I’m responsible for a lot of the packaging and the names for the products, so I try to keep it with that…like a mood board, basically. I posted Sofia Richie because she’s a client and I think her hair looked amazing. The girl in the bikini is a collaboration that we’re doing with Frankies Bikinis. I keep everything in mind with what we’re doing as a brand, but I do it in my own way. I started posting three images at once, which is something new for me, because I was bored seeing just headshots of hair — it’s sort of tired.

WWD: Is everything you do tied back to IGK, or is some of it expressing yourself as an individual?

C.K.: For sure as an individual — it’s just with having the brand, it’s given us a cool form to show what we think is cool, and I think that’s really the reason it ties in with the brand — the brand is being driven by what we’re doing.

WWD: First thing in the morning, what social media channel do you check?

C.K.: Instagram, for sure. Instagram is the way to go. In the morning, with my Instagram, usually the first thing I do is read and respond to my DMs and interact with people. I have a ton of questions that come through my DM about hair in general, products, what to use, or what kind of hair somebody has, and they’re trying to get a certain look. Then I kind of go through and I like a bunch of photos that people are tagging me in or tagging the products in. That’s usually the morning ritual.

WWD: How do you keep up with it?

C.K.: I’m good about having a routine. I think that’s the most important thing. Then it becomes, not like, work, but it fits into your day.

It’s also where we get a lot of inspiration for our products. People DMing, our clients — we work with a lot of actresses — getting that feedback and thinking about it and communicating back and forth is what gives us a lot of ideas of what to make, of what’s needed.

WWD: Is this open-communication style helping to build IGK’s community?

C.K.: For sure. It’s super important and I think that’s another great thing about my partners and I, how we’ve come together, because we’re able to cover a wider base with having one in L.A., New York and two in Miami — it works really well. We’re constantly talking and interacting and answering people’s questions, you know, turning up.

WWD: Do you use other social media — Facebook or Snapchat?

C.K.: I’m actually Snapchatting right now. I’m Snapchatting us sitting here, with Michelle, who works with us. [someone, perhaps Michelle, jumps in to suggest Chase focus on the interview, “for like, five minutes.”]

WWD: OK, so do you use Facebook — either for yourself, or for the business?

C.K.: Not really. If you don’t check your inbox for like, six months to a year, it’s really interesting what you’ll get. I had a moment where things on Instagram were getting immediately posted to Facebook, but I ended that. My business partners from Europe, theirs is big because I think in Europe it’s a bigger thing.

WWD: So, throughout the day, how do you use social?

C.K.: I Snapchat and I Instagram a lot. Hairdressers, we don’t ever want to feel like we’re pushing anything, so it’s been a bit of a trick to navigate what to post and how much is too much to post and not be pushing product because it’s something that’s exciting that’s going on. It’s not like every second of the day I’m trying to sell a product, it’s talking to influencers through social media and following certain brands.

WWD: What do your followers engage with the most?

C.K.: Honestly, Instagram stories. I’ll do more video posting, or I’ll do full haircuts or before and afters. I’ve actually neglected my Instagram posting because I’ve been on stories like crazy. Stories are where I put more random things that I think are funny or cool, whatever, and I’m constantly doing that. It gets a lot more attention than that Instagram page.

WWD: On Instagram, where do you hang out — stories, the explore page?

C.K.: I look at stories more than I look at people’s actual Instagrams. On the explore page it’s a lot of hair and celebrity stuff. I’ll have a lot of clients pop up and men’s fashion pops up.

I sat on an airplane next to this girl recently and she spent four hours on Instagram and hadn’t liked or followed anything. There’s a lot of people who aren’t doing anything in terms of liking or following accounts, they’re just looking, so I definitely try to make a point to stay as engaged as possible.

WWD: Who do you follow?

C.K.: In beauty, I follow Milk and Anastasia Beverly Hills. I’m also really good friends with Anastasia. I don’t really like to follow a lot of hair brands because I like to keep us on our own path, but in fashion I follow Vetements and Supreme. And some influencers — these beauty influencers, they’ve become really powerful. I follow Nikita Dragun, Norvina, she’s part of the Anastasia situation, Kandee [Johnson].

WWD: What would we find on your bathroom shelf, other than IGK products?

C.K.: I really like Vintner’s Daughter — it’s so good. Youth to the People, I use. Tatcha. Some people gave me bad feedback on this lotion mask — that black mask you see everybody peeling off on Instagram — but I kind of like it, I think it works well. I’ve peeled off masks before, but this feels like you’re seriously doing something.

[Friend of Kusero reminds him that when he posted about Tatcha, he became friendly with the founder, who sent him products].

They did send products. I try to do the same thing, honestly.

WWD: In terms of fashion, what are you into?

C.K.: I try to keep it in the family. You have to have a strong team and everybody gets further if you have support. I try to wear a lot of the brands of people I deal with — brands that sell at Barneys and Maxfields — the usual suspects.