Biotech hair-care brand Virtue Labs, which lists the patented, self-regulating human protein Alpha Keratin 60ku as an ingredient, is expanding by adding new products and pushing a new retail strategy in the U.K.
After launching in February 2017 with a line of shampoo and conditioner, the company has introduced a number of new recovery products recently, including a mask, a powder and dry shampoo, all of which are infused with the brand’s proprietary protein.
The timing of the launches was strategic, according to CEO Melisse Shaban, who calls the new additions “gateway” products.
“Starting with shampoo and conditioner, like we did, you realize you have to displace something and someone else to get into a woman’s daily routine. Introducing a mask or a dry shampoo gets people who have heard about you and are curious about you to actually try the product. They’re basket builders,” she said, referring to the grab-bag shopping that occurs at physical retail checkout. The strategic launch approach is not dissimilar to that of buzzy millennial beauty brand Glossier, which initially launched with four hero products and later built out a full cosmetics line.
Shaban, a longtime beauty industry executive — she previously served as CEO of Frédéric Fekkai and StriVectin — explained that the brand seeded around 3,000 samples of the product to friends, family and customers (not to influencers, social media stars or ambassadors) prior to the recent launches. They were offered a chance to try the product before launch “to build a strong relationship.”
“We have to invest in the customer before she invests in us,” said Shaban. For the February 2017 company launch, that seeding number was as high as 8,000 — also friends of the brand.
Despite a luxury price point, with products ranging between $30 and $60, sales since Virtue Labs’s launch are expected to reach $8 million by year-end, and the repeat purchase rate among consumers is more than 35 percent, according to Virtue Labs.
According to NPD Group, the hair market is the fastest-growing category in the prestige beauty space, worth $645 million, up 19 percent from last year. Virtue Labs, with its $25 million in investment — $3.4 million was raised as recently as June — is positioned well to scale, especially as wellness becomes an increasing part of the hair conversation.
“Hair was so style and appearance driven, but what we are seeing now is a return or re-emphasis on healthy hair. It’s now a beauty trend to have healthy hair,” said Shaban.
While the Raleigh-based company originally started with a direct-to-consumer model, Shaban now insists on being “where the customer shops.” In the U.S., that means an expanded presence in salons and also in luxury stores like Violet Grey and Bluemercury, where Shaban launched the line this summer and expects to be in 90 doors by the end of the year.
The next step is to expand in the U.K. Virtue Labs will be launching at London’s Nicola Clarke salon — Clarke is a popular colorist, who regularly tends to Kate Moss, Madonna and Cate Blanchett — as part of the continued physical salon strategy, and at U.K.-based e-commerce site Cult Beauty, known for incubating smaller brands and specific products versus full collection ranges. Virtue Labs is also looking to align with luxury English beauty retailer Space NK later in the year.
“The days of huge channel and distribution conflicts, whether it’s Amazon or not, are gone. You just have to do a better job of telling your own story,” said Shaban. “Globally, now we are doing that.”