LONDON — With their sights set on building a 100 million euro business by the end of 2023, beauty influencer Negin Mirsalehi and her partner Maurits Stibbe are branching into new categories and regions and preparing for a Series B funding round for their honey-based brand Gisou.
Gisou has seen rapid growth since early 2020 when Vaultier7 made a multimillion-dollar minority investment in the hair care start-up, which began as a direct-to-consumer proposition.
Now, with plans to expand on the wholesale and direct-to-consumer fronts; new products in the pipeline, and a lively M&A environment for beauty, the founders said it’s time to tap the markets once again.
“We’ve been growing a lot in terms of people: we started as 20 and now we’re 70 in the office. We want to hire more people in the U.S. where we have almost 200 stores, and those stores have to be supported,” said Stibbe, adding that any new investment will be earmarked chiefly for the U.S. market, which generates 50 percent of Gisou’s sales.
“We need a partner who understands the U.S. market,” he said in a joint telephone interview with Mirsalehi.
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Stibbe added that with Vaultier7’s investment, Gisou was able to grow fivefold in the space of 18 months, although he did not reveal current revenue figures. “Vaultier7 trusted our vision and gave us the space to do what we wanted to do,” he said.
Anna Sweeting, founding partner at Vaultier7, said the journey “is just getting started,” and the plan is to stick with Gisou even as it brings more investment on board. “We are there to enable and empower them,” she said.
Gisou launched its wholesale business with Sephora in the U.S. in the second half of 2020, starting with 50 stores. That number has since quadrupled, and Gisou has also entered the Middle East with the retailer. It is now Sephora’s number-one hair care brand in that region, selling through stores in UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The brand is also performing 50 percent ahead of target at Mecca in Australia and launched at Selfridges earlier this year. Stibbe and Mirsalehi said they plan to take the wholesale business to Europe in 2022, and are already in talks with two major retailers.
Anna Croft, chief merchandise officer at Mecca Brands, said Gisou’s launch was “highly anticipated by our community, and we were thrilled to roll out the brand across 60 of Mecca’s retail stores, and online, in Australia and New Zealand this September.”
Croft added that “interaction and engagement” were at the heart of the launch strategy, “bringing to life Gisou’s world of honey for our customers via our seamless omnichannel experience.”
She said the exclusive pre-launch Insider Access campaign, which targeted Mecca’s top Beauty Loop customers, sold out within just 24 hours, making it the most successful of the year.
At Selfridges Oxford Street, Gisou launched its first U.K. counter in the Beauty Workshop space.
Melissa McGinnis, head of buying for beauty at Selfridges, said that over the last year “we have noticed customers are looking for quality, at-home hair care and multiuse treatments more than ever. Gisou’s renowned product, paired with Negin’s expertise has cemented the brand as one of our bestselling hair care brands since its launch earlier this year.”
The Netherlands-based Gisou is run by Mirsalehi, an Amsterdam native who hails from an Iranian beekeeping family, and her longtime partner Stibbe. Mirsalehi began her career as an online influencer and fashion ambassador before launching Gisou.
Gisou specializes in honey and propolis-based products derived from Mirsalehi’s father’s hives, and 50 percent of sales are direct-to-consumer. Stibbe and Mirsalehi said they want to continue building the direct-to-consumer business.
“That direct relationship with the customer is so valuable to us, and we want to stay in touch with the community. We are very much investing in our own site as well,” said Stibbe, pointing to statistics from Dash Hudson regarding Gisou’s average engagement ratio, which is 1.4 compared with the average industry standard of 0.45.
Average engagement ratio is based on number of likes and comments compared to the number of followers. The numbers Stibbe provided are based on the past four weeks.
Gisou’s newest product, face oil, launched in September and is only available online at Gisou.com. The company describes Gisou Honey Infused Face Oil as an antioxidant-rich concentrate with “natural actives and freshly cold-pressed botanical oils from the Mirsalehi bee garden.”
The face oil, which principals say has been out of stock multiple times since the launch, contains honey, safflower, evening primrose and rosehip seed oils, as well as vitamin E.
Mirsalehi said it was a big leap from hair to skin because the formulations and requirements are different, but she was adamant the new product has similar qualities and credentials as the hair care.
The new skin product, she said, is 99 percent natural, good for sensitive skin, and comes from the flowers that flourish in her father’s bee garden.
“Going outside, hair care was quite a thing,” Mirsalehi said. “These formulations were two years in the making, and we wanted to make the best possible products.”
In 2022, there are plans to launch a honey-infused lip oil, and body products, too. Mirsalehi refers to the new products as “complexion heroes” rather than skin care as there are no plans to specialize in special facial treatments or to push daily skin care routines.
“We will only focus on products where honey plays an integral role,” Stibbe said. The site also offers one-on-one beauty adviser services both for hair and face products.
Gisou’s honey-infused hair oil was originally developed by Mirsalehi’s mother, who made it at home and used it on all of the family’s hair.
“For Gisou, we had to produce a larger quantity and change a few ingredients, but the most important thing — the honey — is always there,” Mirsalehi said in an interview in 2020.
“For me, what’s important is that [the oil] is 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 a finishing product and mix it into my hair mask.”
Looking ahead, Mirsalehi said even as the brand grows, the plan is to continue behaving like entrepreneurs, staying nimble, “creating pop-ups in a matter of weeks” and supporting causes such as urban beekeeping and sustainability.
Sweeting said Gisou’s holiday pop-up is taking place in Paris, in collaboration with the restaurant Season in the Marais. She said it’s “intimate, immersive and gives customers exactly what they want.”
Season is offering Gisou honey pancakes and cinnamon rolls, and stocking the brand’s products, too. Mirsalehi said running the business has always been “fun and a challenge. We’re passionate about it and we love it.”