K18 co-founder Suveen Sahib on ‘driving the future of the cosmetic industry’

With roots in science and technology, Suveen Sahib, co-founder and CEO of K18, has been able to crack the code behind the science of hair. For Sahib, an understanding of the biology of hair was the missing component in the hair-care industry.

“I took a deep dive into trying to understand the biophysics and biochemistry of hair to learn that what looks like a fiber is actually one of the most sophisticated biological composites. And, the solutions to our caring for a hair do not lie outside of hair, [but instead] they lie inside of hair,” Sahib said on the latest episode of the Glossy Beauty Podcast.

After launching in the middle of the pandemic in Dec. 2020, K18 hit $75 million in sales in 2021 with just one consumer-facing product. This year, the company projects it will garner more than $100 million in sales. Though K18’s strategic TikTok marketing strategy, which has included partnering with top beauty influencers Mikayla Nogueira and Brad Mondo, is partly to thank for its buzzy debut, Sahib credits the brand’s tried-and-tested bio-tech formula as the main driver of its success.

“We launched it at the height of a pandemic and decided to go with a global launch in 50-plus countries. It was the most brutal way of testing the product. [We wanted to make sure] that it worked literally across every hair type, every generation and every [hair-care] service,” Sahib said. “That’s where it delivered on its promise. Stylists loved it because they could use it in every service, no matter what hair type. It saved them time, and it made [customers’] routine much simpler in a post-pandemic world.”

Below are additional highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.

Launching a hair-care brand in the salon
“[K18] could have been launched as part of Aquis, but there were two fundamental things. The architecture of both the products was very different. Also, the distribution footprints were different. Acquis [is] a retail product. To build K18, it needed to go to the salon channel. For a product that’s already existing out there in retail [Aquis], you can’t just bring [it] to the salon. The salon community loves to start and run with a product, and stylists would be the biggest drivers and provenance of K18. That’s what drove the decision of making [K18] a separate brand and giving it its own personality and its own relevance, which would work with the stylists, rather than simply launching it as an extension of Aquis.”

A hero product for both the consumer and the salon
“K18 is different because K18 is a progressive, experienced product, like retinol. Retinal does not work if you use it once; [you have to keep using it, and it will] continue to improve your skin texture over a period of time. That’s the case with K18. We created two products: One is a salon-only product that is used before chemical service, which is called the K18 Hair Repair Molecular Mist. … Then once the chemical service is done, then they follow it up with the K18 mask. Because the K18 mask is progressive, you take that mask experience home, and this is how it works.

“I don’t see it as a tug-of-war between the two; I see it as one integrated world. Your own stylist is where you get all your information from, and your stylist understands your hair better than anyone else. In the past, the biggest of the hair-care brands globally — whether it’s Kérastase, Olaplex or Redkin — all sprang up from the salon space and created offerings which extended to the salon experience at home. That’s how we also see K18: building it up in the salons, getting the love of the pro stylists across the globe and making sure that they not only just love the product, but also that the product simplifies their life in the salon. If it’s not simplifying this life in the salon, it has no value. And then leveraging some of their love to build up our franchise with the community, which is essentially their community.”

How K18 sets itself apart
“[K18 is all] about [testing] new molecules, just like what’s happening in the pharma industry. It’s also about creating a path to a more sustainable way that drives the future of the cosmetic industry. Essentially, we see biotech as future-proofing beauty. … No. 2 is biocompatibility … and No. 3 is sustainability. Biotech essentially takes all the plants and animals out of the equation, because what it harnesses is what’s most abundant in the world; it’s harnessing bacteria to become protein factories. In the next 10 years, we see biotech essentially replacing all cosmetic chemistry — not just in hair care, but across all of beauty. K18 is playing a pioneering and leading role in that evolution.”

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