NEW YORK — High-end hair appliances aren’t just appealing to the pros. Apparently, the masses also want the technologically advanced tools to get their hair dried faster and to make locks appear shinier and smoother.
HairArt, maker of the T-3 Tourmaline Hairdryer, is finding consumers are even willing to spend up to $200 on a blow-dryer, $50 above the price professionals pay. The T-3 launched exclusively in salons in February, with an eye solely toward the professional market. But its innovative design has grabbed a bigger audience.
“The main difference is the use of tourmaline, which is injected into the dryer’s different components,” said Kent Yu, co-owner of HairArt, which is based in Rancho Dominguez, Calif. Tourmaline, a semiprecious gemstone, Yu explained, is a mineral similar to a magnet, in that it has a natural electrical charge. Tourmaline, however, has an ionic charge that eliminates static electricity. The technology is also credited with drying hair very quickly, so the dryer doesn’t need a heavy motor. More than $500,000 was invested into developing the 13-oz. blow-dryer.
“Traditionally, dryers use a lot of torque or air flow to dry hair faster,” Yu said, adding that tests show the T-3, which uses a small motor, dries hair 60 percent faster than traditional dryers.
In addition to a modest global salon distribution — about 2,000 U.S. salons carry the T-3 dryer— specialty stores such as Fred Segal in California and Harrods in London also carry it. According to Yu, additional beauty retailers, such as Ulta, are looking into carrying T-3 products, too.
“These retailers are really into catering to their customers, who want top-of-the-line beauty products,” Yu said. An article in People magazine discussing T-3’s celebrity hairstylist appeal, he said, put the line in front of the consumer. The T-3 is used by Orlando Pita and Guido and Eugene Souleiman, as well as by hairstylists for Tyra Banks and Debra Messing.
Pita, who used the dryer throughout New York Fashion Week, plans to stock his new Meatpacking District salon, set to open next month, with T-3 appliances. “I think the heat system that they use helps you get the hair straighter and smoother, and when used in conjunction with the brushes, which are made with a ceramic core, it heats up the core so it’s like using a hot roller set,” Pita said. Not only will stylists use the products, but Pita will also sell T-3 items at retail, since many of his clients ask where they can purchase the items.
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Yu is pleasantly surprised by consumers’ reactions.
“Our roots are in the professional industry, so we wanted to make top-of-the-line tools for them. I guess consumers, being the way they are nowadays, they want [them] as well,” Yu said.
HairArt, a 20-year-old company founded by Yu’s father, Jackie, also makes shampoo, conditioners, scissors, capes and plastic goods used in salons. T-3 is the newest division of HairArt, and is now the fastest growing one. In just six months, T-3 already generates about 25 percent of the company’s global sales. “We’ve really discovered a niche in high-end appliances and tools, [a category] which has been overlooked by other companies,” said Yu.
T-3 is expected to generate $4 million in U.S. sales by the end of the year, and global sales of T-3 products are expected to exceed $25 million by the end of the year. Overall, Yu expects the company to post 50 percent sales increases for 2004. Historically, the company’s sales have grown 10 percent per year.
The next evolution is the T-3 Domed Iron, which is designed with a rounded plate so it can both curl and straighten hair. Also using tourmaline in the design of the ceramic heating plates, the iron reaches temperatures of 410 degrees; ordinary irons reach only 356 degrees. Despite the heat, Yu said, damage to hair is minimal. The T-3 iron retails to the professional market for $120 and for $150 to consumers. It is packaged in a mat that the iron can rest on between styling hair sections.
Then there’s the Wet to Dry Iron, which straightens and dries wet hair in just one pass. Channels and vents in the iron’s design allow steam to escape from the iron.
“It’s really wild,” said Yu.
Wet to Dry retails to professionals for $150 and for $200 to consumers. It is equipped with a swivel cord for easy handling.
There is also a brush line, which uses tourmaline in the bristles to make hair antistatic. The brushes, which have ceramic barrels, are designed to be used with a hair dryer. Brushes will range in price from $15 to $25.
In addition to being a part owner of the company, Yu heads up T-3’s research and development division, where he works closely with engineers to develop products. He is responsible for T-3’s patented tourmaline technology.
Prior to joining HairArt, Yu worked as a technology analyst at Solomon Brothers in New York and San Francisco. He later moved to California’s Silicon Valley to work in the telecommunications field. He became involved in the beauty industry when his father expressed a desire to take the company to the next level. An analysis of the salon industry — and what it lacked — led Yu to begin thinking about a heat appliance line.
“There really was an opportunity in high-end appliances. Not to disparage anybody, but companies like Conair and [Helen of Troy] are making very generic products. We actually have engineering backgrounds, so for us this is relatively — well, not easy, but it’s what we do,” Yu said.
Now that the company has tapped the general market, there seems to be no holding back on increasing the public’s awareness of T-3’s products. Most recently, T-3 participated in New York’s Fashion Week by sponsoring the House of Diehl fashion show. T-3 blow-dryers also made it into MTV’s gift baskets.