EasyStraight, mass’ first high-end straightening kit.

NEW YORK — Hair straightening is hitting the mass market with brute force next month as one of the most eligible players in the fledgling category emerges onto drug store shelves — complete with a national print advertising...

NEW YORK — Hair straightening is hitting the mass market with brute force next month as one of the most eligible players in the fledgling category emerges onto drug store shelves — complete with a national print advertising campaign.

This story first appeared in the January 30, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Maria Dempsey, former vice president of marketing for John Frieda, and Haime Munoz, a salon owner and product inventor, are launching EasyStraight, the first long-lasting at-home straightening kit to be sold in drug stores, priced at $29.99.

EasyStraight is a brand of the newly created company HM Mane Solutions LLC, based in Weston, Conn., of which Munoz is chairman and Dempsey is president. Neither would comment on sales projections for EasyStraight, but industry sources estimate the kit could generate between $3 million and $5 million in first-year sales.

While it may seem the two are capitalizing on the straight hair trend, they are simply bringing to market a technology Munoz created more than 10 years ago for clients of his private hair studio on 66th Street and Lexington. He now operates a salon eight blocks north on Lexington Avenue, called Haime Munoz.

Munoz has worked for Schwarzkopf in product development and has studied Vidal Sassoon’s color and technique. But it wasn’t until his Caucasian clients introduced him to their leading hair care problems that he took an interest in hair straightening.

“These women were relying on relaxer kits designed for African-Americans to get their hair straight. It was destruction,” said Munoz of the sodium-based relaxers and lye-based products, which were too harsh for their hair.

Pleased to meet the demands of a challenge, Munoz began to dabble with straight hair solutions for several years until he ultimately came up with one that could be used for Caucasian women, safe for both color treated and highlighted hair.

“It was an overwhelming experience for my clients,” Munoz said, once the formulas were tested.

The $300-plus treatment began to grow in popularity among beauty editors and clients in the early Nineties and soon Munoz was shipping the solution to friends and relatives all over the country.

About two years ago, when thermal reconditioning became the ultimate way to straighten hair, Munoz started thinking about bringing his product to the mass market as a less expensive, at-home alternative. Last year he and Dempsey, who was looking for a new venture after she voluntarily left John Frieda soon following its acquisition by Kao Corp., began hammering out packaging and marketing plans.

Included in a box of EasyStraight are four separate products to be used in four steps. Step one is applying a Conditioning Oil, containing chlorophyll, to prepare and protect hair for the straightening process. The second step is the application of Straightening Cream, a low-ph formula to gently straighten hair. Step three calls for users to apply a Straightening Sealant, which is followed by a shampoo, and then step four, a leave-in conditioner.

The kit also contains gloves, a cap, a cape, hair clips, a comb and a mixing spatula.

EasyStraight, Munoz stressed, is not to be confused with thermal reconditioning — which can take up to six hours to apply and reshapes the hair root. EasyStraight, on the other hand, takes less than an hour. No flat irons are required for EasyStraight to work, unlike thermal reconditioning, which uses flat irons to “retrain” hair follicles of their new shape.

It is also much more high-end than what is currently offered on drug store shelves, such as Schwarzkopf & Dep’s Lilt Straightening kit, which launches this quarter and retails for $6.99, and Playtex’s Ogilvie straightening kit, which sells for $10.99.

EasyStraight’s results are designed to last three months.

The new product has been warmly received by retailers: Walgreens, Eckerd, Longs, Brooks and Duane Reade begin carrying EasyStraight in February in the styling section of hair care aisle.

The only challenge may be educating Caucasian women on the ease of straightening hair at home. Up until now, Munoz said, Caucasian women have really only colored and permed their hair outside of the salon.

“Black women have been educated at a young age that this is possible to do at home,” Munoz said.

To get the company’s message across, Dempsey is planning print ads for beauty and fashion magazines beginning in April. A 1-800 number on boxes will allow users with questions to consult a straightening expert on how to use the kit. A Web site, easystraight.com, will also serve as an educational tool for users.

“And don’t think EasyStraight is going to be a one-hit wonder,” Dempsey added. In September, the company is planning a hair care and styling line to complement the kit.