Launching this week, Strands Hair Care tests hair samples consumers send, then produces shampoo and conditioner tailored to their needs. The digitally native brand aims to raise its profile largely through endorsements from influential hair care commentators on social media.

Eric Delapenha, founder and CEO, Strands Hair Care

Eric Delapenha, founder and CEO, Strands Hair Care

Style quizzes enable digitally native brands like Stitch Fix and Glossier to offer personalized recommendations to shoppers. And services like 23andMe and AncestryDNA have demonstrated consumers will send their DNA to companies to learn more about where they came from.

What if you combined those concepts and analyzed a few strands of hair from an individual as well as asking her questions about her hair routine to provide her with shampoo and conditioner just for her?

That’s the idea behind Strands Hair Care, which launches online tomorrow. For $60, Strands will send a consumer a test kit that allows her to send a sample of her hair to the Strands lab, which will analyze the hair for such properties as protein makeup, texture and “cuticle integrity.” (The cuticle is the outer layer of hair.)

We’re not just saying, ‘here’s a questionnaire for you to fill out.’
Eric Delapenha, founder and CEO
Strands Hair Care

The kit also allows the consumer to perform a “scalp sebum” (oiliness) test and to choose her preferred fragrances from four fragrances sent on a card. There is also a questionnaire on StrandsHairCare.com that asks about the shopper’s location for the next few months, which Strands uses to account for such factors as the amount of ultraviolet light, which can damage hair, and humidity, which can make it frizz. The kit also explains that Strands does not test the customer’s DNA, the way a service like 23andMe does. 

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Every bottle tells a story

Strands then sends the consumer back one 8-ounce bottle each of conditioner and shampoo that are formulated based on the physical properties of her hair, her preferences and location.

“We do accurate testing to create the most effective hair care products for each customer,” says founder and CEO Eric Delapenha. “We’re not just saying, ‘here’s a questionnaire for you to fill out.’”

Each bottle also includes the customer’s first name and initial of her last name, the order number, date of formulation, fragrance name and results of the scalp and hair texture tests. There is also a unique identifier the customer can use to re-order the products at a price of $30 per bottle. While the products work for both women and men, most of the models shown on StrandsHairCare.com are younger women, suggesting that is the primary target demographic.

Strands Hair Care digitally native hair care startut

Each bottle contains the customer’s name and information about the formulation.

Delapenha has spent the last two years since founding Strands perfecting the process of testing hair and then producing personalized formulations. He says the testing and production process had to be optimized so that the product is not too expensive for a mass audience, and for the hair-collection process to be easy for consumers to understand and carry out.

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Will Strands succeed? Two experts weigh in

Still, at $30 a bottle, Strands is offering a premium product. And two observers with experience in direct-to-consumer brands offer differing assessments of the prospects for Strands.

Alex Lirtsman, co-founder and chief strategist at marketing and advisory firm Ready Set Rocket, is not impressed. “It’s the wrong timing for an expensive product aimed at the excess of millennial consumerisms that solves a frivolous problem,” he says.

While acknowledging that consumers may hesitate to pay $30 for shampoo now that a recession is likely, social media marketing expert Nik Sharma of Sharma Brands notes that other high-end hair care brands have caught on, notably Prose.com, part of cosmetics company Perse Beauty Inc.

Prose, which has raised $25 million in funding, asks a website visitor 25 questions via an online quiz about her hair, lifestyle, preferences and location.

Prose then sends customers customized 8.5-ounce bottles of shampoo and conditioner, made from a selection of 76 ingredients. The shampoo and conditioner range in price from $25 to $32 a bottle, depending on the ingredients. Prose also offers hair masks priced at between $38 and $48.

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Noting the success of Prose, Sharma says, “The market is definitely there.” Strands differs from Prose in that it asks customers to send in samples of their hair, and Sharma wonders how many consumers will do that. “It seems like a time-consuming process.”

Social influencers tout the Strands product

Delapenha recognizes that consumers will have to be convinced to give his product a try and has turned to social media influencers who specialize in hair care to give his brand credibility. He has gotten some of them to try out the Strands products and comment on them on YouTube and Instagram.

“The promise of our brand is that we’ll give you the best hair care experience, bar none,” Delapenha says. Speaking of the online bloggers he’s connected with, he says, “That’s what they’ve seen so far and they’re happy to share that with their audience.”

In most cases, Delapenha says he has not paid the influencers to comment on his products. For example, Alicia Archer, the online influencer who goes by the name “kinkysweat” made a point in her YouTube review of saying that Strands was not sponsoring her commentary.

Her YouTube post on Strands had attracted more than 2,500 views as of last week. Archer has nearly 61,000 followers on YouTube and more than 39,000 on Instagram.

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Following in the footsteps of digitally native brands

Delapenha has raised $1.4 million, which he has mainly used to set up his testing laboratory and fund the initial production of his shampoo and conditioner.

He said a premium hair care product typically is introduced through salons—many of which are closed now due to the COVID-19 outbreak—or online. In going the online route, he’s taking an increasingly well-worn path blazed by a variety of digitally native brands over the past several years.

In fact, 71 of the retailers in the 2020 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000, an annual ranking of North America’s leading online retailers, are brands that were initially introduced online. Eleven of the 71 offer products in the health and beauty category, including cosmetics brand Glossier Inc. (No. 346) and eSalon.com LLC (No. 627), which offers customized hair-coloring kits. Stitch Fix Inc. (No. 40) is one of the 23 digitally native apparel and accessories brands in the Top 100.

These born-on-the-web companies have been among the fastest-growing online retailers in North America. Collectively, the 71 digital natives in the Top 1000 increased their web sales by 26.5% in 2019 over 2018, well above the 16.2% growth rate of the Top 1000 overall. And over the past five years their annual growth has averaged 41.2%, versus 17.3% for the Top 1000.

Will Strands ever gain this kind of traction? Sharma of Sharma Media predicts Delapenha will know a lot more in a couple of months. Among other things, Sharma says, the Strands team will learn whether the social media stars they’re working with are reaching the right audience, and the demographics of consumers who are interested in a high-end, personalized hair care product. In his experience, digitally native brands often modify their strategy based on their early results.

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“You’ll get a lot of learning post-launch,” Sharma says. “After a month or two, businesses typically make a small pivot internally in their price and product, adjusting to what they’ve seen from their first run of sales.”

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