As wellness continue to infiltrate the prestige hair category via product, thanks to new launches from brands including Ursa Major and Virtue Labs, hair-care company Aquis is seeing the opportunity to be a leader in wellness-hair education by investing further in digital and user-generated content.

Aquis, which had $10 million retail sales in 2018, is best known for its fast-drying towels and turbans that prevent damage to the hair when it is wet. In September 2018, the brand expanded into its Aquis Prime system, compromised of its hair turban and first-ever cleansing products: a Water Defense Pre-Wash Spray, Rebalancing Hair Wash and Restorative Leave-In Conditioner. The latter is meant to encourage customers to skip the traditional conditioning step, as hair is 56 percent weaker when wet and results in more breakage, said co-founder Britta Cox.

“Our hair towels aren’t just an accessory or add-on after someone’s shower,” she said. “We’re [explaining that] wetter hair can lead to more damage. Now with our new hair system and these products, we can teach people about how to treat the hair before it’s wet and after, so they can rethink their whole routine.

It’s an apt time to be an emerging hair-care brand. According to The NPD Group, the prestige hair-care category in the U.S. was up by 19 percent in 2018 and outpaced both makeup and skin-care segments.

To emphasize Aquis’s proposition that “healthy hair is the most beautiful hair,” the brand is focused on growth through select retailers’ websites and Aquis.com in 2019 versus physical retail doors. The brand is sold at select locations like Sephora, Violet Grey, Goop and Selfridges, but saw 80 percent of 2018 sales happen online. Additionally, the recent Aquis Prime launch was strategically meant to be sold exclusively on Sephora.com and the brand’s site.

“The way retail distribution channels were originally set up, they didn’t allow you to directly communicate with the consumer,” said Aquis co-founder Suveen Sahib, who leans on third-party partners for customer data collection. “That’s why, with our major retail partners, we have been focused on their digital properties. Our products aren’t going to be sold just by sitting in stores. We need to tell the customer how to use them.”

On its own site and social channels, Aquis is working on incorporating more user-generated content to be “education-forward.” UGC is the newest lever the brand is pulling since the release of its recent Aquis Prime system. Since fall 2018, Aquis has engaged influencers on both a paid and unpaid basis, working content creators like Erica Fae (with over 26,000 Instagram followers), Elizabeth Keene (with 414,000 followers) and Arnelle Lozada (with 38,000 followers). From October to January, the average engagement rate (measured by likes and comments divided by social reach) from these influencers was 4.3 percent, according to Aquis. Fae’s in-feed posts yielded an engagement rate as high as 8.8 percent. (Typical engagement rates for these types of influencers are around 2.2 percent, per Statista.) Simultaneously, Aquis’s #hairstrong hashtag, which was meant to encourage wellness-related hair content on Instagram, has seen nearly 5,500 in-feed posts.

So far Aquis’s strategy is working. The brand reported that traffic to its site has grown 400 percent since October 2018, and since December 2018, revenue has increased by 40 percent. Additionally, Sahib is expecting to grow total retail sales by 90 percent to $18 to 20 million in 2019, with its DTC site being a primary driver.

“We don’t want to grow our business via distribution doors or even more products. There are thousands of products already out there. For us, it about education,” said Sahib. “We need to become evangelists for hair and our mission if we can upend the hair-care category. Hair care and wellness are now one in the same.”