How This Brooklyn Beauty Brand Is Shaking Up A Traditionally-Stuffy Industry

We were thrilled to partner with Amika, a haircare company known for their Instagrammable packaging, at our Miami Vision Summit! We sat down with Chelsea Riggs, Amika’s brand president, to talk about how the company is doing business differently, with an eye toward philanthropy, self-expression, and approachability.

As an independent beauty brand, what are some of the benefits and challenges of operating in Brooklyn, NY?

A benefit of being a Brooklyn based company is the access to talent. Brooklyn, and especially the specific neighborhood where we are located, is full of creative and young talent. Early on being in Brooklyn was a little bit of a hassle for new hires, but it is now a major benefit for more than 50% of our staff who also live nearby. Williamsburg & Bushwick are home to one of the biggest artist communities in all of NYC, which influences the type of residents due to proximity to the best restaurants, boutiques, events and nightlife. The community which we live and work also inspires the overall essence of the brand and company culture.

One of the challenges of being in Brooklyn is the ease of access to clients, vendors and industry events. Many are in Manhattan, and purely due to NY traffic and transit system it can be a challenge for clients to visit our office or for our team to hop over to a vendor for a meeting. Oh, and the NYC rent! 

The brand has experienced tremendous growth over the years. How did you manage to get its name out there and onto the shelves of big retailers? 

Sometimes things look like an overnight success on the outside, but we’ve been at it for almost 10 years! As an early hire for the company, I played a large role in developing and executing our distribution strategy in the early days. We were in Birchbox, Sephora, Bloomingdales and a handful of local retail partners within 18 months of launch. Having a unique product(s) and strong branding is the first step in getting your product noticed by retail merchants and editors. It’s important to choose retail partners who believe in the potential and have the ability and incentive to increase the brand equity. It turns out many of these retailers happen to be premium or indie retailers themselves and understand the point of difference it brings to their company to have independent and/or exclusive brands. 

The methods we used the grow the brand were based on our limited budgets, as we were (and still are) 100% independently owned. We first started with Facebook & YouTube as our main marketing channel (before Instagram days), then we introduced PR when we got a small budget, and soon after we began mass sampling when Birchbox came into the market. We are a professional salon brand and our stylists all over the world are our biggest brand advocates. They are trusted resources for hair products & trends, like a facialist or dermatologist would be for your skin. We tapped into social media to communicate our brand philosophy and use it as a vehicle for education and inspiration. These are still core methods we use today, but as we’ve grown, and our budgets have as well—we have a lot of additional support to choose from.

However, in today’s market you have a plethora of brands entering the beauty industry every year due to lower barriers-to-entry. There is no shortage of options for retailers, so you really need to have a product and brand that is addressing a market need. What’s amazing about starting a brand today, even in a crowded market, is the ability to communicate directly to your customers. Social media is game-changing in that respect. You can learn exactly what your clients’ needs are, in real time, and include them in the product development process. You can see how they interact with the product, how they recommend it to their closest friends, and have a direct relationship. It’s an amazing switch from the traditional beauty industry approach, or really any industry. It’s also very important to merchants that you have a strong digital presence and connection to your core customer.

Just because “that’s the way it’s always been done” doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way.

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Amika is also rooted in philanthropy. We’re big believers that responsible businesses are the future and have the power to change the world. Why is it important for brands to pay it forward? 

Amika has always given back, since we were able to. However, only this October we announced that we have partnered with one organization that we are whole-heartedly passionate about: HairToStay. It inspires me to work with such an amazing organization that is only just beginning and to play a part in their journey. HairToStay is a nonprofit organization committed to raising awareness and financial aid for scalp cooling technology, a treatment which can prevent hair loss during chemotherapy. 

It’s our mission to do a part in spreading the word about scalp cooling as an alternative to chemotherapy related hair loss. Cancer treatment affects all of us, whether directly or through a friend, family or colleague. As a business, we can use our voice, and amplify the message through our large network of professional hairstylists and salons to educate clients about this new, amazing technology—so that cancer doesn’t have to define you. 

How has social media impacted the success and growth of the brand? 

Since we’ve used social media as a core marketing focus since the early days, we’ve seen a lot of changes. It started out as an outlet to communicate directly to our customer, give a sneak peek into the behind the scenes world of the brand, and break down brand-customer barriers that previous existed. Today, social media serves as a platform to not only interact but also learn from our customer, provide education and inspiration, and facilitate a community of not just Amika fans but hair junkies. Influencers have played a massive role in increasing the brand visibility and trust in the products. While we still stay connected to a large number of influencers, we have a select amount of ongoing partnerships with those who align with our brand ethos and that beauty enthusiasts trust. 

What is the biggest hurdle you’re currently facing as the president of an indie beauty brand?

One of our biggest hurdles right now is scaling the brand. We have a strong core of loyal Amika fans, but how do we take what has worked so far and spread that to a larger base of beauty consumers? With all the success and triple digit growth year after year, we still have tons of room to grow. Only a small base of people who have heard of the brand have tried it, which on the positive side, means there is a tremendous amount left to grow! 

If you could go back to year one, what’s one piece of advice you would give yourself? 

Don’t be afraid to do things differently. It’s something that we inherently always did because I (and the founders) did not come from the beauty industry world. A lot of the advice we received back then was from industry veterans who gave us the lay of the land and how “things are done around here.” We entered the market as outsiders, bringing a fun & colorful hair product to the professional salon products world–which historically was very stuffy. We had a direct relationship with end consumers and retailers, which was technically a no-no at that time if you wanted to be a pro brand. These two things set us apart and gave us the momentum to create something the market needed, which is now an entire category itself–prestige hair care. While it’s not to say that advice from people who came before you aren’t relevant, you must find your own way of doing things too. Just because “that’s the way it’s always been done” doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way.

We’re also big believers in speaking things into existence (hey, Oprah!). What is your dream partnership for Amika? 

We are big believers of collaboration, it’s even listed in our core values collaboration over ego. It’s a tough choice, because there are so many amazing brands we would love to partner with. But, the one we would most definitely choose is off-white. I mean, who wouldn’t want an off-white blow dryer! They also say to Dream Big, right?