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It might feel like fall but summer sure isn't over yet. Rest assured that at least one bad hair day is in your future, and instead of moping around about it (you drama queen) why not try out the inimitable Kendall Square-based haircare line Living Proof? Many recognize the faces that front the company—actress Jennifer Aniston and the stylist that made her hair the most duplicated style ever, Chris McMillan—but we wanted to get behind the brand to see what exactly causes frizz, why their product changes customer attitudes about how beautiful hair can be, and finally, how to experience the revolutionary line yourself (and get paid for it). Eric Spengler, Chief Commercialization Officer and Senior Vice President of Research and Development, shares the Living Proof credo and some of the science behind these blossoming cult-favorite products.
Tell us a bit about what drew you to Living Proof back in 2007 when you joined the team?
There were some exciting things going on in personal care, so we looked into exploratory work for scientists to see what could come about in personal care, not just hair care. We look at ourselves as a beauty care company. We'll go where we think we have science that can help solve problems; where we think there are major frustrations for people in their life. The first product we launched was
frizz [No Frizz]. The summer of 2007 we did testing in the salon, evaluating competitive products and some of our formulations. One of the individuals who was doing testing called the salon and said "I have to stop the study." Usually when people call like that they are having a bad reaction and we get nervous. They said "I look like a freak. One side of my hair is completely smooth, and the other side puffed out." It was July and she was Latin. People were staring at her, and that's when we realized we had something profoundly different. That's when I came on board. The opportunity to come to a company where science was very important was attractive to me.
Right, and in the beauty industry it seems like there is often a facade between the science and what the customer sees, which is why it's so interesting that here the science is front and center. At what point did you realize frizz was a pain point for women?
We call those the "holy grails"—they cause major problems in people's lives. We created a technology that helps one of the major unsolved issues in the marketplace. Another major pain point is women's normal routine and how it causes hair to become damaged over time. What makes us different in our research is that we co-develop. We have what we like to call our "sandbox:" bring into the lab a person who is our organic synthesis chemist, our product developer, someone from marketing, a stylist, a market researcher. They're all working together in terms of examining some of the things we're looking at in the early discovery phases, which allows us to identify new opportunities really fast.
How is it finding those people? Why Boston? It's kind of unusual to have such a glossy personal care product here, especially with such strong branding and Jennifer Aniston at the helm.
Why Cambridge, right? This is the biotech capital of the universe. In the early days it was a challenge; I think you needed to be a forward thinker to join an organization like this. I've always had a personal philosophy that your only real job security is your ability to get your next job. So that means you stay current with your skills. There's always the fear with start-ups that they don't work, and when you're in the biotech world if that happens it's not a question of having to relocate, it's that most personal care companies are in NJ, NY, that area. But if you have a unique proposition, and I thought Living Proof had that from the very start, it's not such a hard leap.
What we did on the science side was recruit from biotech. Nearly everyone comes from outside personal care. Ont he product development side, we made them homegrown and brought people in fresh out of school from MIT, Tufts, Northeastern.
There's a bridge to connect between the science and people who aren't coming from that background. How do you try to explain this cutting edge technology?
A lot of our communication with consumers is speaking in simple, direct ways. So No Frizz is frizz with a line through it. Volume challenged has Full. Dry hair is Restore. They say what they do. One of the elements that got me to join was a credo that we have: "We create differences you can see across the room." For a technical person, that's saying I'm creating something that's demonstrably superior. We have a legion of users and testimonials that are beyond anything I've seen prior.
Now what's the deal with frizz?
Frizz comes about because of moisture absorbing into hair plus friction. We take highly magnified pictures of a single hair fiber; they show the cuticle, hair's external layer, with a typical silicone-based anti-frizz product. Those tend to build a non-uniform coating. If you look at OFPMA (our developed molecule) with
frizz you get a very uniform coating and polish-like effect. We do proof tests where we style each side similarly, one with Living Proof and one with a competitor. Then we use a fabric steamer on both—Living Proof is drastically different. We can measure humidity within a Dynamic Vapor Absorption chamber (a sophisticated way to measure the weight of a hair fiber) and can control for balmy, steamy conditions to fall conditions.
If skincare has also always been part of the growth vision, why did hair come first? What kind of expansion timeline do you anticipate?
We'll introduce products when we believe that we have something to offer that is dramatically different. We felt we had that first in hair. We're trying to create beautiful, healthy hair; first with style, then over time.
And how does the test lab fit into the bigger picture?
The only way you can truly understand the difference is to assess it in a simulated real world condition. The first step is in our test salon, the next is to have people use it at home. We do that in an extremely controlled way here with a head test, a classic sensory test design where we have internal people come in after it's finished who don't know what side was the test product and that gives us expert grading in terms of visible differences without bias.
We have about 1000 people in our salon database right now but are seeking many more, because we target within that database for the types we need for a specific project.
Want to join that database? If you live in Boston and are available Monday through Friday, 9am to 3pm, email firstname.lastname@example.org and mention "Racked" in the subject line. Each appointment lasts an hour, and you leave with a professional blowout as well as $30 compensation.
· Jennifer Aniston Debuts Living Proof's 'Good Hair Day' [Racked Boston]
· Living Proof [Official Site]