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Influencer Peddler: Jen Atkin

Hairstylist to the Kardashian-Jenner clan and many others, Jen Atkin's Ouai is on its way into all Sephora doors — and to $15 million in net sales for 2017.

Jen Atkin didn’t put her name on the bottles of her hair-care products for a reason.

“The brand is not really about me,” Atkin, hairstylist to the Kardashian-Jenner clan and Bella Hadid and founder of her brand Ouai, said. “It’s my baby and it’s my hair-care brand, but I did not want to go the route of telling my story and it being about me and how I do hair. I wanted to talk about how I could give the power of doing your hair to women and teaching them the tricks I learned backstage and throughout the years.”

That concept was rolled into the brand’s latest marketing campaign, Live Life Your Ouai.

“When I thought of the name, I wanted to make a conversation piece, I didn’t think about all the amazing puns that would come our Ouai,” Atkin, a pun enthusiast, said.

Roughly a year-and-a-half post-launch, Ouai is growing — the brand will roll into all Sephora U.S. doors in September; right now, it’s in about 300 Sephora U.S. doors. That rollout, plus the brand’s expansions with Sephora in Southeast Asia and Dubai, is expected to bring Ouai to at least $15 million in net sales for 2017, according to industry sources.

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Social media plays a big part in the company’s strategy — but it’s not all marketing. Ouai and Atkin’s Instagram accounts are used frequently to connect with customers.

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“We start having meetings and putting them on Instagram Stories and have the conversation start [by] asking people to DM [direct message] us things,” Atkin said. Ouai and Atkin will interact with customers, asking for opinions on smells and colors, she noted. “It makes my job so much easier — we just basically crowd source and go with the popular vote.”

Ouai can generally get a new product to market in six to eight months, Atkin said. Once the product is settled, the next step is influencer marketing, she noted. “We start talking about what our mailer would look like, the influencers we think would really connect with this product,” she said. Next comes educational video content, about two months before, and then about three weeks out, the influencer mailers are shipped “to start getting some UGC [user-generated content] ahead of the product launch,” Atkin said. Then one to two weeks before, Ouai will start teasing the drop.

That drop can happen with Sephora or other retail partners, or on Ouai’s own web site, as the company doesn’t follow a retail launch schedule.

“I spoke with one of our retailers, and they were like, ‘Oh, it’s so crazy, other brands we work with have their products they want to come out with scheduled for two or three years,’” Atkin said. “To me, that just doesn’t make sense. What trends are going to be in? What hairstyles are going to be popular? It seems strange to me to think that far ahead. I want to see what our community wants and try to stay current for what they need.”

And what they want includes Ouai-pun “merch,” Atkin said. The business sells “Ouai-sted” sweatshirts, T-shirts, hats and pins on its web site.

Here, Atkin discusses her boundary-free use of social media — her personal Instagram account has about 2 million followers, while Ouai’s has about 250,000.

WWD: How do you pick what goes on Ouai’s social channel versus your own? You have a lot more followers.

Jen Atkin: I’ve been on social media for six years now, they’ve been on for a year-and-a-half. To me, Ouai is this amazing community — it’s its own entity, and it’s its own vibe. When we sit and go over the calendar and [plan] what we want to go on the Ouai Instagram page, you’ll notice it’s not pushy with product. What we really wanted to create was a cool vibe and inspiration board for our girl. We get a lot of images from our followers that we repost. My own personal one is just my own, as a celebrity hairstylist and an entrepreneur and a wife.

WWD: What’s the first social media platform you check when you wake up?

J.A.: I’m definitely a one-eye-open Instagram girl.

WWD: What about before bed?

J.A.: For sure, Snapchat. I’m a late-night Snapchatter. My husband yells at me, like, “Come on, go to bed,” and I’m like, “I’m not caught up yet.”

WWD: Do you actually watch everybody’s Snapchat Stories?

J.A.: Yes. I see the power in Instagram Stories, but for some reason, deep down, I’m still a Snapchat girl. It feels a little more curated. And I feel like people are more uninhibited on Snapchat and I like that. We all look better on it. I feel like the people who are really set on not learning how it works are the ones that love Instagram Stories.

WWD: What’s your favorite social platform?

J.A.: My favorite is probably Twitter. I get a really good laugh following Chrissy Teigen and Gary Janetti. It’s not as scary of a caption as Instagram, and it’s the only way I get my news. I would know nothing that goes on in the world if it weren’t for Twitter.

WWD: Are there any social platforms you don’t use?

J.A.: Facebook. I know it’s important, but like, my mom started using it too much and then it got not cool to me.

WWD: Where’s your line between how much of your real life you’ll put on social versus what you keep private?

J.A.: There’s no boundary, which is kind of good and bad. When I get recognized at a mall or the airport it’s so funny to me because I don’t register that people actually watch what I’m doing. My husband was at the Women’s March and said like 40 girls came up to him like, “Oh my God, you’re Jen’s husband.” And that was weird for him. It’s so weird that people know who we are. I snap like nobody’s watching, I guess.

Two years ago we made the decision as a family to freeze embryos because we weren’t ready to have kids, and I talked to my girlfriends about it and was like, “I want to share this.” The minute I started opening up about it, so many people came forward and were like, “Oh, I did that two years ago,” or “Best thing I ever did,” and I was like, “Why did no one tell me this?” I told our story on social, I even snapped at the doctor’s office. I’m really glad I did because so many women came forward and said, “Thank you so much for talking about it.”

Obviously, I don’t take my phone into the bathroom, but there are so many things in my life I’m still figuring out and I’ve never felt weird about sharing stuff. It’s hard not to post political things sometimes. I get yelled at by people who are like, “I’m unfollowing you,” but at the end of the day I’m a human being with opinion and I feel like I need to be honest about every aspect of my life. I don’t like to be filtered.

WWD: How much do you interact with your followers?

J.A.: All the time. I DM them back. The hard thing is when people will send résumés or ask about consults for their hair — I wish I had time to get back to them. Or sometimes they tell me they want me to tell Kendall [Jenner] or Bella [Hadid] “hi,” I get a lot of those. I try to converse a lot. I travel so much for work that I can feel lonely, and there are a lot of times where social media is my social life. I work every day — I don’t get to go to birthday parties, or baby showers or go to the beach with my friends and their kids — so for me right now, it’s my outlet, and my way of keeping in touch with everyone.

WWD: Who do you follow?

J.A.: Definitely funny stuff. Sh-theadsteve is my favorite, he’s so funny. My husband had me follow @this_girl_is_a_squirrel, it’s about a rescued squirrel that this girl puts on Instagram every day. It’s a lot of makeup artists, I follow a lot of Nineties magazines. I follow hairstylists, I follow my clients. There’s a really funny account called @mytherapistsays. I follow Gary Janetti because he’s so funny. Beyoncé’s on there.

WWD: What’s your lifestyle like, outside of the hair world?

J.A.: I haven’t worked out in six months, almost to the day. I was like a Tracy Anderson-Barry’s Bootcamp-Modelfit SoulCycler, and I was crazy about getting up and going to the gym and getting to work and things had gotten so crazy that I was like, ‘You know what, I’m going to sleep.’ And I’ve lost like eight pounds, I’m eating like crazy, and drinking — cookies, the whole thing — we walk to get ice cream almost every night. I’ve lost a lot of muscle, I’m definitely skinny fat right now, but it’s kind of fun — I’m into it. I’m super weak, my body’s very sore, I’m definitely falling apart, but I’ll get back into the swing of it.

I don’t have hobbies. My hobbies are petting puppies, going to puppy stores to see rescues. I like bagels.

WWD: Do you go back to Utah, where you’re from, a lot?

J.A.: I haven’t been back in a while. My grandpa just turned 99 and I missed his birthday party. He’s the cutest person on the planet. I’ll call him and be like, “Grandpa, my hair-care line launched,” and he’ll be like, “When are you having a baby?” and I’ll be like, “OK, bye.” He reminds me all the time that nothing will ever compare to kids. He’s the one that pushed us to freeze embryos — better safe than sorry. He was really supportive about that.

WWD: What about clothes — what’s your style?

J.A.: Super random. I have been really lucky because my clients and friends have been coming out with clothing lines. I wear a lot of Good American Jeans, Andrea Lieberman’s line ALC, it’s age-appropriate for me, Rachel Zoe’s stuff, Revolve — I think Revolve’s doing a great job with their jeans and their shorts. I love Ksubi — I went to Australia and Elle Ferguson turned me on to Ksubi jeans. I wear a lot of Frame, Anine Bing…Olivia Culpo just did a collab with a brand called Le Tote; she sent me some shirts that are cute. Nicole Richie’s House of Harlow stuff is really cute when I want to be a girl.

WWD: Do you shop?

J.A.: Honestly, I have no time to shop. Which is good because I save money, but I’m lucky — I just wear what my friends send me, and I really like their stuff. I do these outfit selfies not because I’m narcissistic, but because I like to show people what my friends are making.

WWD: When you get together with your influencer pals, do you talk social strategies or just real-life topics?

J.A.: We talk about both. Social media is such a big part of everybody’s life. I saw Jess Alba this weekend and we always sit down and give each other pep talks, and talk about what’s working and what’s not, and what we didn’t know a year ago and what we know now. What’s been really amazing for me is working with the girls I do — I have learned so much from them as businesspeople. Obviously the Kardashian-Jenner girls are so great, and so authentic with their social and what they’ve created. Chrissy Teigen is great because she teaches me how to be uninhibited. That’s one thing I really appreciate in her — I saw her the other day posting about her period break out. When I’m with Huda [Kattan] or Pat [McGrath] or Charlotte Tilbury or anybody who is out there building their brand, we talk about how hard it is. People see all the sparkly stuff, but it definitely is blood, sweat and tears, and we’re all really in it, you know?

WWD: Walk me through your beauty regimen — what do you use?

J.A.: Hold on, I’m actually in my bathroom. I use Ayur Medic Orange Blossom Exfoliating Milk Wash. I swear by Dr. Ourian Epione Firm and Fade — it has hydrocortisone in it and made it so I don’t get breakouts and helped with my melasma a lot. He also has this Restoration Serum that is really incredible. I use Charlotte Tilbury’s Eye Makeup Remover. On my body I use Christophe Robin’s Regenerating Plant Oil with Rare Prickly Pear Seed Oil. I am really dying over this Herbivore brand — I really like their Hibiscus Coconut Water Hydrating Face Mist. I use Shiffa from Dubai — I use their body oil. For hair I have all Ouai, and Byredo Gypsy Water Hair Perfume. I have Glossier’s Invisible Shield, Charlotte Tilbury Goddess Skin Clay Mask I swear by, and Dr. Dennis Gross, his Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel. For fragrance, I’m obsessed with Tiziana Terenzi Kirke Extrait de Parfum. I have Sephora Ouai scents near it, we have four scents we used to create the line. I use Kiss Lashes — those little cluster lashes. I have a lot of palettes — I have Chrissy’s Becca Palette, I have Khloé’s Koko Collection from Kylie Cosmetics, KKW’s eyeshadow palette as well as her new contour kit. I have Huda Beauty Liquid Matte colors in Jetsetter and Gossip Gurl. I use the KNC Beauty Lip Mask like once a week.

I have a lot of stuff in here. I have a lot of Lip Kits and Kylie Cosmetics. Her Illuminating Powder, her blushes are really good — my favorite color is called Barely Legal, which I am not. Glossier Balm Dotcom, every day, Kevyn Aucoin Concealer, the really heavy one, to cover my melasma, Charlotte Tilbury Cheek to Chic Blush in Ecstasy, YSL powder, YSL eyeliner, Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Wiz and Clear Brow Gel, which I live by every single day. I just started using this liquid eyeliner from Pat McGrath. Troy Surratt’s Eyelash Curler, Huda’s Tweezerman Tweezers. For brushes I use Troy Surratt’s and Charlotte Tilbury’s. Frank Body has amazing masks, I love their brand. I use Honest Beauty Blotting Sheets because I get really oily.

Mascara-wise, I’m obsessed with Diorshow. Lip color-wise, I’m obsessed with Kylie’s Mary Jo color and Charlotte Tilbury came out with a Coachella Coral. I’m that crazy girl who, when I find something I really like, I buy 10 of each. In case the apocalypse happens, I’ll have plenty of makeup.

WWD: Wow. That was thorough. Did I miss anything?

J.A.: I’ve been Snapchatting you the whole time.