Britta Cox & Suveen Sahib – Co-founders of AQUIS & K18 Hair
Kara Goldin: Hi everyone. It’s Kara from the Kara Golden Show, and I’m so excited that I have our next guests here. We have Britta and Suveen here from AQUIS. Yay, I said it right. Founders, husband and wife, a team, and so excited that you guys are here and on our show for everybody to hear just a little bit more about your story. And for those of you who are not familiar with AQUIS’ amazing, amazing product. So the K18 hair product was… Well really the biometric product was really what put you guys on the map. I mean, is that kind of fair to say that?
Suveen Sahib: It’s going to put us on the map. AQUIS, the hair towel was the first one, so that’s kind of what became iconic over the last five years. So yeah, we got two hair products.
Kara Goldin: Yeah. I mean, I feel like it’s… Yeah. I just feel like the… Just everything that you guys have done is just, I don’t know. I just feel like it’s really revolutionized hair products and just the restoration and the protecting of your hair. It’s awesome. So the biometric, I’m not going to pronounce this correctly at all, but that is the treatment that is, just now, launching, right?
Suveen Sahib: Yes. It’s just about launching in the first quarter of 2021 across professional channels, both in US and globally. And what we’ve been kind of doing over the last two years is essentially this marketing it. We started in Australia and then we were test marketing it in the US just before COVID happened. And we got some amazing responses. Hairdressers, colorists, anyone who kind of tried it, they fell in love with it. For them, it was like, “Wow, this is not just kind of repairing my hair. It’s actually kind of a bringing it back to a [inaudible 00:01:58].” It’s like, “Hair feels like new.” It has the bounce, it has strength, it has smoothness. Something which people hadn’t experienced before. And that was incredible.
Kara Goldin: That’s amazing. So take us back to the beginning. How did you guys end up getting here, and starting this amazing company?
Suveen Sahib: It all has to do with Britta.
Britta Cox: I started AQUIS literally 30 years ago in 1990. I always grew up with long hair, found that drying hair is just a hassle and a half. No one really enjoys that experience, just takes too long. The cotton bath towel was the only thing that existed at the time, and it didn’t work. Leaves hair dripping wet, falls off, just bad experience. So I was in the ski industry, and exposed to all the first-wicking fibers that wick sweat away from your body used as under-layers of clothes, base layers, to wick sweat away. And I just had my aha moment, that there had to be a technology that would dry hair faster, be lightweight, and be a better experience.
And I sought out the company in Japan who invented these first-wicking fibers, and work with them to design a towel that would dry hair quickly and gently. And that was… AQUIS was born. So that was 1990. And then we patented. I also then wanted something that, no matter what, you could do downward dog, yoga maneuvers, and it wouldn’t fall off. And so I created the patent, and patented the turban shape with a button loop, so literally could do anything. And it really was, fast forward decades. With the onset of social media, I would see people and they would tell me how much they… Before social media, how much they love and can’t live without AQUIS. But once you see social media and crowdsource and reviews, where you have thousands and thousands of people saying, “Not only does this towel save me time, but it’s saving my hair. My hair is less frizzy. My hair styles better. My hair is smoother.”
So honestly that was Suveen. He was the one who dove and he’s like, “Britta, how’s your towel actually making hair better?” And my answer to him was, “Well, probably, women are spending less time blow drying, less heat.” And that’s true, but this is a man. The day I met him, he gave me a book called the biology of belief. How cells talk to each other to prove their spirituality. So he wanted to go deep into the science of how the towel works. And he started really getting every book on the chemistry of hair, the physics of hair. So our big aha and learning is, understanding the biology and how our hair works. And once you do that, you really realize that how we care for our hair, between our products and our very habits, work against us getting our best hair.
So that was what got us really like, you can imagine… Being an entrepreneur, you have your time where you’re like, “Oh my God, I’ve been doing this forever.” But what keeps us so excited to keep doing it? Because we keep learning new things, and how you can help create products that actually make people’s lives better. And I’m going to let Suveen kind of go into the science of what we did because that let us, not only from the towel, to what it was doing to dry her quickly and how that… What it meant. To reinventing haircare and learning all about biomimetics. So it’s biomimicry, mimicking what biology did. So to actually repair hair, and that’s the wet products we’re going to talk about. Which [crosstalk 00:05:27]
Kara Goldin: So before we go there, I want to just stop and highlight a couple of things. So you had no experience in the haircare industry other than the fact that you had a lot of hair… You had a lot of hair and you definitely… You were curious, right? So you dug in and started to figure out exactly if other consumers would be interested in this, how you bring something from another industry? So a lot of key points that I talk about all the time. Like, I think that it doesn’t matter what category you’re in, that curiosity is such a driver. It’s really a… I think it’s really a North Star for so many people that are thinking about being entrepreneurs in any category. You’ve got to have curiosity. If you’re not curious, you probably won’t be… You’re not going to be digging this career at all.
And then I also love the fact that you had no experience. That’s something that I talk about in my book that I just launched is, really, that I was willing to try. That I’m no different than anybody else, but I just kept… I was curious and I was willing to try. And I think that that is the story of… And also the fact that you learned from other industries. So oftentimes, we think like, “Oh, we got to go talk to everybody in the hair industry or the beverage industry.” And the reality is that those people, they just don’t have the vision, or they don’t have the resilience or curiosity that you have to solving this problem. And then you mentioned so many things in that brief moment, that you were just talking also about the customers. And you were hearing early on from the customers that they loved your product.
And ultimately, that is such a key driver. Now, our brand is 15 years old, and that’s a key driver, today, that I talk about. It’s like they gave me the energy and the confidence to actually keep going when so many other people around me were saying they doubted me. They made my doubts even bigger, but I kept going back to, “What does the customer think?” And so I think you just really spoke to this. So you guys start to innovate into other categories. And Suveen, that’s where you really jumped in, it sounds like. And your curiosity-
Britta Cox: And science bases guy. Deep, deep, deep. Pretty cool.
Suveen Sahib: Kara, you actually said that curiosity and you don’t have to be from the industry. Think about your own self. You created the first flavored water. I happened to be in the beverage industry. I used to work with [inaudible 00:08:16], and at that point in time, we were kind of… We had flavored waters and it was one of the most challenging categories to work with. And none of them… None of us really ever sorted it out. You sorted it out by not being in the industry. Which, when you’re going to look at, in the context of haircare, look at how big this industry is. And you’ve got tens of thousands of products all over. Yet, if it’s all about that, then haircare should not be a struggle. It’s a daily struggle with women across the world. The amount of time, the amount of effort, the amount of money, the amount of products you put into hair. And yet that hair happiness is so limited.
Britta Cox: People are always still looking for the next product. Oh my gosh, they’re just looking for the next product, because it’s not working.
Suveen Sahib: And the reason for that is, in the haircare… There’s been no innovation, really, in the haircare industry the last hundred years. It’s like the skincare of the nineties, where it was all about repairing or masking the damage. Fast forward today, all our haircare habits and our haircare products and routines have only made our hair more and more needy for products. That’s what we live by. And that triangle, that has to kind of change. It’s not about, “How do I create another…” The world does not need another shampoo or a condition. What we kind of need to do is take a step back and see, “What’s haircare fundamentally about?” It takes, let’s say, in every six to eight weeks or 12 weeks, you color your hair or you kind of a chemically treat your hair.
And then during that period, you’re probably washing and drying your head about 20 times. Between these two, they’re compounding the damage to the hair. So every time you’re washing and drying your hair, it’s a really bad canvas. And there isn’t much you can really do with that canvas. That’s a struggle. So what looked like a hair towel was actually the most essential tool, after shampooing your hair, that Britta had created. And by simply drying it right, wicking the water out at just the right time. Does it matter to everyone? Probably, no. Does it doesn’t matter to you if you are coloring your hair, chemically treating to your hair? Absolutely, yes. Doesn’t matter to you a lot if you’re in Europe? Probably no.
Does it matter a lot if you’re living in US?. Yes. That’s because the hard water and the hair habits, and our hair diversity in US creates the perfect condition for damaged hair. And that’s where the hair towel was working. So while that was happening, what hair towel was doing was, it was giving you strength, not by adding something to your hair, it was giving you a strength from within. . It was solving the problem of frizz, not by adding a frizz serum, but by actually making the hair less frizzy inside out. And that’s what [inaudible 00:11:01] really kind of take the next deeper dive.
Britta Cox: The next, deeper dive of… The next step of that. Let’s [inaudible 00:11:08] a little bit of the science as to why the… What the differences. So the fundamental thing, and this was what shocked me, once we started understanding the physics of hair and how hair works, we realized that how we wash our hair is fundamentally backwards and not supporting us getting our best hair. If anything, it’s damaging our hair and causing us to need more products and our hair to become more needy. So hair is made of keratin. It’s the same thing our fingernails are made of, also keratin. And you think how strong your nails are when they’re dry, you put them in water for just a little bit, they get soft and pliable. So the same thing happens to our hair. The minute it gets wet, it starts to absorb water. It stretches, it swells.
The swelling, pushes the cuticle layer… So on the outside of our hair, protecting the inside are layers of cuticles, like tiles on a roof. And we have five to 11 layers, depending on the hair type. That swells, and that’s what causes each hair strand to snag on the other one, and why are hair tangles in the first place. So what do we do? We then pour conditioner in our hair, which kind of works like spackle. If you’ve got holes in your wall, you fill those holes with spackle. What conditioner does is it fills in those areas of those upraised cuticles, so your hair feels smooth, but it’s not fundamentally helping the hair to lay flat. It’s keeping that water trapped inside. So one hair hack I tell everybody is, “Wash your hair at the end of the shower, not the beginning.”
And 95% of women will… And people… Actually, men wash, I found, wash at the end. But women, we wash your hair in the beginning because then we think we put that conditioner on and it’s conditioning our hair. It’s not, it’s a placebo thing that makes our hair feel better, but once you rinse it out and you go out in humidity… Again, humidity, water, makes your hair go frizzy. So that is literally-
Suveen Sahib: That’s fascinating.
Britta Cox: Exactly, right? So that’s literally why the towel was reducing frizz and making hair smoother. Because by removing that water, the hair swelling reduced, the cuticles started to lay flat. And the hair is smoother from within. Strong from within. But as Suveen said, we also wanted to go the next step. Because once you realize that women, we also were… We want to be able to express ourselves as we want. So I want my blonde hair of my youth. As I get older, it gets darker. So I lighten my hair. Or if you’re graying, you might want to darken your hair. Or, let’s say, you just want to express yourself and have pink hair, blue hair, whatever. So we’re using chemicals. We’re using bleaches. We’re using chemicals, or perming, and doing things to our hair that really, fundamentally destroys it. We’re breaking it. So Suveen went on the next path, which is what led us to the biomimetic haircare, and understanding like, “How do we repair hair after you guys break it and damage it?
Kara Goldin: This was how many years ago did you guys actually branch out?
Suveen Sahib: We’ve been working on it for close to about five years. And we’ve had scientists who’ve been actually working on this in the same space for about 10 years.
Britta Cox: Actually, back to 2006. Our hair scientist we are partnered with is working on it since 2006.
Suveen Sahib: And like Britta said, if you can have a look at it, the last five years, the only innovation that has happened to haircare has been bond repair. You’re compromising the hair within the hair, if you can look at it. Deep in, it’s like thousands and thousands of cross [inaudible 00:14:35] ladders. So you have the rung of the ladders and you have the side of the ladders. The rung of the ladder is what you call the [inaudible 00:00:14:42]. And that’s where the bond repair products came in. And one of the… It’s the biggest category that’s really been in haircare in the last five years. They started patching these, the rungs of the ladders. And that alone kind of helped, but when hair gets damaged, it’s not just some of the rungs of the ladders, it’s the side of the ladders, also, that get broken.
So [crosstalk 00:15:06] keep them together has no meaning. You have to repair the sides of the ladders, and that’s where the altar was not customary chemistry. We started basically looking at biotechnology.
Britta Cox: But also this technology glued the hair together, and then it washed out. So it wasn’t lasting. And then as you do it over and over, it doesn’t work anymore. So we had to… Suveen really worked with the scientists to rethink it. He started looking at the DNA of hair itself.
Suveen Sahib: Yeah, what we did was we mapped the whole [inaudible 00:15:34] genome on hair, similar to what the human project for DNA mapping has been. So once you kind of understand that, and you start actually testing, every sequence, amino acids, structure of the hair, you basically recreate how nature creates here. And that’s what we accomplished. And using that, we created a platform which can allow you to express your hair in any way you want. Yet you are able to reverse the damage and take the hair back to it’s natural strength, natural elastic. You know, we all have known what hair was like before we started damaging it. What if you could get that hair back again? This has been [crosstalk 00:16:15] without weighing it down.
Kara Goldin: So you had established a brand in something… I mean, were you in hair salons, with the hair… And so that was like this… That’s another challenge that you’re dealing with, right? Because you’re going up against the big guys and kind of competing with the professional. So how did you do that? Or how are you doing that?
Suveen Sahib: Everything goes back to how they feel about it. Like you said, the industry is big. There’s a thousand big brands, but ultimately it’s the hairstylists and your colorist who touches the hair and they feel the difference. And that difference is what actually makes all the difference, to how you feel about it and how your customers, clients, feel about it. So we have been going back to some of the best colorists internationally, and in US, and hairstylists. They’ve been trying it out, and they come back and say, “Wow, I’ve never tried anything like this in 20 years. This hair has never felt so great.” And they are your influencers, they are your advocates. They are the ones who end up going out to events and say, “Look, you must try it out.”
We’ve had some… We can’t name some of the celebrity colorists who are using it on every celebrity, despite the fact that they are formally advocates of other big brands. But secretly, it’s like they’re sending this out to everyone out there and that’s what’s been making the difference. And that’s what’s kind of getting us the colorists, the stylist, and then the big partners who distribute the salons. They’re coming and becoming our partners. We are looking at rolling it in over 15 countries, including US, in the next four months.
Kara Goldin: That’s amazing. From Marin County, because you guys are based in Marin County. Just another amazing disruptor that’s coming from this area. That’s so great. So how do you see haircare changing within the next five years? I mean, what do you think is kind of the key thing for salon owners or consumers? Where do you see that for your brand?
Suveen Sahib: Kara, look at this. [inaudible 00:18:29] back. If you will kind of walk into a store, everything was always about repair. Or a salon. Everything was about hair repair or-
Britta Cox: It made it look better, it was kind of cosmetic-y.
Suveen Sahib: For the first time, if you can ever look at it this year, or like last, about, 18 months, it’s been about healthy hair. The conversation has shifted from styling, to repair, to healthy hair. [inaudible 00:18:53] What I’d love to be able to see is, first of all, the number of products that are there on the shelves come down by one [inaudible 00:19:01]. I think. Because if, fundamentally, our hair is becoming healthier, then there should be less need of more and more products, and less need of more damaging routines in our hair. Less is more works for hair more than anything else. [inaudible 00:19:20]
Less toxicity in your hair. Less toxicity into our environment.
Britta Cox: It’s more sustainable for the environment, and more sustainable for our hair. Honestly, I wash my hair once a week, and look, I’m pretty smooth. I’ve not used conditioner on my hair in four years, and I’ve never been better. I do less, and it just responds better. And I think, going through COVID especially, everybody’s spending a lot less on makeup, and more on skincare and wellness. That’s been a trend before COVID, and it really came home during COVID. And so that’s where we’re all about like, “Let’s stop covering up and doing things to make our hair just look better, but then we’re struggling with it because it’s actually not better,” and that’s not sustainable. So how do we actually really just give people stronger, healthier hair so they have a better base to work with?
Suveen Sahib: And the same is true for the salons too. As we. come out of the COVID, you’ve got half the seats… As a salon professional, you have half the number of seats. You have to be able to manage it in less time. Nobody’s dying for those 45 minutes, 60 minute treatments. What our salon professionals need are products that work fast. This works in just four minutes, that are less number of products… And, finally, that are experiential by themselves. So that when you use it on your client, the client says, “My God, I want this.” You don’t have to spend time trying to sell it. We all talk about how salon professionals are not great salespeople. That’s wrong. We had been-
Britta Cox: Well, they’re not good salespeople. When the product works, then they sell it. [crosstalk 00:21:00]. It’s like, “You have to have this, time to sell.”
Suveen Sahib: To give you an example. This was just before COVID, one of the top salons in New York who’s used to kind of stocking hundreds of products of other top brands. They came back to us and they said, “Look, we have two haircare products. They were half of our retail sales.”
Britta Cox: In their first four weeks of selling… So the brand is K-18 biomimetic hair science. And K-18 is the peptide that we’ve patented. So when Suveen was talking about the ladders and the amino acid chains and mapping the DNA, we mapped every possible sequence of keratin to find the one particular peptide that actually can go in and repair… Renew that hair from the inside. So the future for us is that platform of being able to do different things with your hair. I mean, our bodies are made of proteins, which are all different combinations of amino acids to get different things.
There’s a whole platform where we’ve actually now, in clinical trials, been able to have products that actually help to curl hair from within. And that’s lasting and more naturally based. Even our K-18 products, our pH is closer to where your hair wants to be. It’s not the high crazy levels. It’s not a lot of heavy product. It’s fewer ingredients that work faster and work better and are more sustainable. So that’s what’s, really, super exciting for us is just better… Fundamentally better hair based on science and based on biology.
Suveen Sahib: Ultimately, the only reason it should matter is if it saves… As a client, as customers, if it saves me five minutes of my time. If it’s going to save some of my frustration, if it saves some of my effort, then I think… Then you could have more time to yourself. Hair is one of the biggest sources of frustration on a daily basis.
So if you can [inaudible 00:22:53] time and money, I think we can put time in our job, and that’s fundamentally what matters.
Britta Cox: And then on the other side, it’s also the thing that makes you feel good. If your hair looks good that day, you feel pretty good. And it gives people, literally, more confidence. There are people… You can ask, and we ask these kinds of questions to people, “Have you ever not gone to a party or an event because your hair didn’t look good?” And, “Yes.” The answer is fundamentally, across the board, pretty much, “Yes.” We had people who didn’t go to a wedding because they couldn’t get their hair done.
Kara Goldin: And how do you guys get the word out, then, about your product? What is the biggest marketing for your product?
Suveen Sahib: Advocacy. I mean, you said that very early on. It’s all about somebody falling in love with it, the right person falling in love with it, and they speak. When you fall in love, you speak about it and that’s been what’s helped grow the hair towel. You can imagine it started with that. The whole idea of, “Do I really need a hair towel?” That’s [inaudible 00:23:55]… You didn’t really fall in love with it. You wouldn’t talk about it. That’s what’s grown the hair towel [inaudible 00:24:05] selling hundreds of thousands to millions. And that’s what will help us get K-18 out. If you really kind of think of a community as a sacred part of growth of the brand and the business, and kind of stay solely focused on them, we believe we have a future. We have a great future.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, that’s great. Well, that’s how I first heard about it, too, just through friends. They love the product and it’s an amazing product. And do you think… Do you have different formulas for colored hair versus non colored hair? I always hear about that’s… Is that reality for these haircare products? I know that’s something that I always hear talked about. I have no idea if it’s true or not?
Suveen Sahib: Once again, over there, the whole micro-segmentation that’s happened in haircare industry. Damaged hair, this hair that hair. Fundamentally that’s incorrect. Hair is made of keratin. Yes, if you are curly hair… If you have curly, kinky hair, your hair structure is slightly different, but it’s still the same. We have over emphasize the need of these micro-segments. Colored hair, non-colored hair. And I think that’s where we fundamentally need to move the product architectures, which are about more universal and can take care of hair, across ages, across generations and hair types. And that’s what K-18 is, it works as well on someone who has [inaudible 00:25:35] hair, and is bleaching their hair.
As well as someone who has curly, kinky hair who’s taming her hair or perming it. And that’s what we fundamentally believe in, that just like most of your skin… Just like the color of your skin doesn’t matter, so should not the texture of your hair and how you [inaudible 00:25:55]. So yes, we’re looking at working out the migrations. But the idea is haircare products which have a more universal appeal than creating small, incremental products, which really don’t solve a problem. If it doesn’t solve a problem, you should not have it. So yes, you have… Color is a big part of our expression. We have a product there. Straightening is a big part of expression. And again, that’s managed by toxic chemistry. We are working on that. [inaudible 00:26:25], making hair wavy, those are big parts of expression. So the big swells where expression changes, that’s when we, again, we’re looking at how do we really enable that without damaging hair. And even if there’s some damage, can we reverse that damage and bring back hair?
Kara Goldin: But right now there’s just one product for both colored, as well as-
Britta Cox: I think the big thing we want to do is also help educate people to understand the biology of their own hair and how their hair works. Because once you fundamentally understand that better, it’s easier for you to maintain and realize some of the things you might do from one time to the next, and how it affects it, how to counteract that. So for example, we just need to cleanse our hair, and focusing at the roots, at the bulb of our hair, to make sure the follicles don’t get minimized and have the hair stop growing out of that follicle, and the hair thinning. Pretty much, that is a universal thing. We just need to cleanse, and gently cleanse without stripping too much of the natural oils. You know, when you start to understand your hair, you may need, depending on hair type, a little bit more of… To be able to comb it through or whatnot, but we’re fundamentally trying to help people just understand it better so they can get the best result they want.
Suveen Sahib: Which, in this case, means that if I’m treating my hair, which is where the K-18 treatment comes, then I need to protect that hair at home. So you have a daily regime of products that work to take care of the hair at home. So the whole idea is focusing on the triangle of washing, drying, and chemical damage. When you are at the salon, you can damage your head the most. So you need the most intense treatment. And then you need to take care of that hair when you are back at home. And that’s where the hair towel or other hair care products that compliment it at home work together in giving you your best canvas.
Britta Cox: Or something like the dry shampoo thing. I use a dry shampoo in an emergency situation, which I don’t have a lot of anymore because I was using them when I traveled, which I’m not. And I’d be like, “Can I get a week on my travel? Can I shampoo on Sunday, travel, get through media meetings and get through the whole week.” And I would cheat if I had to, like on a Thursday, Friday and do a little dry shampoo at the roots and give it some lift and not look greasy. However, dry shampoo is really not great for the follicles of your hair, where your hair grows out, it clogs it up.
So then I’d be like, okay… But it’s not a replacement of washing your hair. And I think some people misunderstood that it’s like, “Oh, I can just clean my hair with the dry shampoo.” That’s not what it was made for. Just know that you create buildup when you do that. So then maybe you need a detox shampoo at that point, because you’ve been doing this. What have you been doing? Do your products have a lot of silicones in them? Are they coating your hair, that you need to kind of cleanse it deeper, and just to understand how to manage it better.
Kara Goldin: So where do people get your products, now? If somebody wants to order them and try them out, where’s the best place?
Suveen Sahib: The hair towel is available all across online, with the best of the best [inaudible 00:29:36]. Both in US and globally. The K-18 product was still recently available on our site. We’ve taken the site down because we’re working on the branding and the formal launch of the product. So it should be available-
Britta Cox: December first.
Suveen Sahib: December first. And then the from there, salons, both of US and [inaudible 00:29:58]-
Britta Cox: So, honestly, the easiest place for everybody is our website, aquis.com or K hair-
Suveen Sahib: K-18 hair.
Britta Cox: K-18hair.com is for the K-18 biomimetic haircare repair, and aquis.com. And then we’re in Sephora, globally, Australia. Mecca out of the UK. Tmall in China.
Suveen Sahib: Hong Kong. Joyce Group in UK, Selfridges, UK. Sephora In Europe. So yeah… And Sephora in Middle East.
Kara Goldin: That’s amazing. Very, very cool. And the two of you have built this company, like I said, together. Which is just amazing, another husband and wife team and great example. I love seeing that. Very cool. Are you guys on social? How do people reach you and follow you and see what’s going on?
Suveen Sahib: Britta is.
Britta Cox: I’m Britta Cox. I think Britta underscore Cox on Instagram and Facebook, again.
Suveen Sahib: And I’m Suveen Sahib. Same [crosstalk 00:31:05].
Kara Goldin: Very, very cool. So awesome. Definitely, if you guys liked this episode, definitely give five stars and share it. We’re so excited that you guys came on today to talk a little bit more about this, and we’ll definitely be looking for all those new innovations that you guys are talking about, and definitely buy this product, you guys. It’s amazing. I’m really excited to see what happens more with the K-18. So that whole line is just amazing.
Suveen Sahib: [crosstalk 00:31:43] champion.
Britta Cox: Yeah, you really are.
Kara Goldin: No, I love it. Well, thank you so much, everyone, for listening and we’ll talk to you soon.
Suveen Sahib: Thanks.
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