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Kristin Ess Is Building a $100 Million Hair Product Empire

Just two years after launch, the brand is rolling out internationally and far exceeding initial sales projections.

Kristin Ess is on her way to building a hair product empire.

The celebrity hairstylist launched her namesake brand, Kristin Ess Hair, exclusively with Target in January 2017. Two years later, the line, which was codeveloped by Maesa, has expanded from just 15 hair-care and styling products to include hot tools, hair accessories and, most recently, scalp care. This month, the brand will rollout to its first international markets — the U.K., Australia, Canada and Mexico. Ess and Maesa declined to discuss sales figures, but industry sources project the business will do close to $100 million in retail sales in 2019.

The line, which is sold only at Target and on in the U.S., is now available on in Canada and in the U.K. It is rolling out to 350 Priceline doors in Australia, 35 Liverpool stores in Mexico, and in mid-February will launch in 90 Sephora Mexico stores.

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Kristin Ess Hair was the first celebrity or influencer-developed hair-care range to launch at Target, and thus far, the line has far exceeded expectations. At launch, it was projected to do just $5 million to $10 million in sales its first year on shelves.

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Demand for the products are fueled by Ess’ loyal social media following — an early adapter to digital, Ess, who is known for working with equally social-media-savvy clients such as Lauren Conrad and Lucy Hale, founded the tutorial site, and now boasts 503,000 followers on Instagram.

“It’s resonated with consumers at a level we’ve never expected,” said David Hutchinson, senior vice president of Maesa Group. “It fills that void between mass brands in the category and…the more high-priced premium salon brands. There’s nothing really in the middle talking to consumers.” 

The brand’s minimalist aesthetic gives it an “affordable luxury” feel, said Ess, and word-of-mouth has also contributed to sales. “The sharing factor is really big,” Ess said. “I get a lot of people who say, ‘Oh, I introduced this to my mom or my friend.'”

Ess is heavily involved in product development, tuning in to her followers to get ideas on what to develop next. Video tutorials and how-to’s remain her specialty, and with each product launch, she shares her skills and the new product with her followers, who she encourages to share their own videos. A product that launched last year, the Rose Gold Temporary Tint, “far exceeded sales expectations” after Ess shared it with her following, and even sold out momentarily.

“What sets us apart is really caring about the education part,” Ess said. “People tell me all the time, ‘Thank you for helping me how to do my hair at a later stage in life.'”

The brand, which now includes close to 40 stockkeeping units, has had two major category expansions in the past few months: hot tools and scalp care. Hot tools dropped before holiday and includes eight stylers — curling irons, flat irons and blow dryers — in sleek matte white and rose gold, ranging from $50 to $100. Scalp care rolls out this month, including the Purifying Micellar Shampoo, Detoxifying Bubble Hair Mask, Weightless Hydration Daily Scalp and Hair Mask, Anytime Anywhere Scalp Plus Hair Milk Oil and Instant Exfoliating Scalp Scrub. Prices range from $10 to $14.

As the brand expands internationally, Hutchinson said the plan is to stay exclusive at Target in the U.S.