Plant power

Appleton entrepreneurs launch botanical-based beauty line

Posted on Jun 30, 2017 :: The Business of Life
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

As a stylist, Abigail Kuehl has seen her share of hair, and she began to notice a trend. Some of her clients were complaining of dry scalp, irritation and thinning hair.

The owner of Bold Salon in downtown Appleton, Kuehl connected the frustrations to artificial detergents and ingredients in haircare products. Inspired by her personal dedication to use natural products when possible, Kuehl began to plot developing her own line but needed a bit of a nudge.

The push she sought walked into the salon in the form of David Calle. The former executive with Unilever, a global company composed of more than 400 brands, including Suave, Dove and Axe, had recently moved to the Fox Cities. As they began to talk, the two bonded over their desire to provide people a healthier alternative.

As Kuehl began to describe her vision, Calle, who has an engineering and finance background, quickly knew she was on to something that extended beyond her circle of clients. “This is something that is actually affecting everybody, and we’re becoming more aware of it,” Calle says.

Indeed, a report by market research and consulting company Grand View Research cited growing demand for organic and natural haircare products in its results that project the organic personal care market will reach more than $25 billion by 2025.

With the vision of giving people a “fun, cool, performance-minded alternative,” the two got to work on developing the line. The first task was giving it a name, and they settled on ANTIDOTE 1848.

“There’s two parts to the name,” Calle says. “The first part, antidote, the definition really is to counteract a poison, something that’s harmful. 1848 (Wisconsin’s statehood year) was a nod to so many things about the state that inspired us.”

They developed their products with the help of research and development experts in personal care product formulation. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say Calle and Kuehlstarted with what they didn’t want to include.

To research, the pair drew on Skin Deep, the cosmetics database maintained by the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to protect human health and the environment. Calle and Kuehl identified three ingredients they wanted to avoid: sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate, parabens and synthetic fragrances.

SLS is a detergent that Calle says can over-dry people’s scalps and may result in irritation and a condition that looks like dandruff. Many personal care products use parabens as a preservative, and some studies have linked the ingredient to hormone disruption and breast cancer. Fragrances have been associated with allergies, dermatitis and respiratory distress, according to EWG.

Noting that the body absorbs much of what people put on their skin and the vast majority of shampoos contain artificial detergent and ingredients, Calle, a master gardener, and Kuehl turned to plants to power their line. They wanted gentle and sustainable ingredients, but equally important, they wanted the products to work well.

Whereas water is the No. 1 ingredient in most products, aloe vera is the top ingredient in much of the ANTIDOTE 1848 line. The two strive to source most of their ingredients from Wisconsin, including ginseng, aloe that’s processed in the state, cranberries and herbs from a company in Green Bay.

“It’s really meant to focus on scalp health because that’s where healthy hair starts,” Kuehl, an Aveda-trained stylist, says of the products.

Sodium cocoamphoacetate, a milder alternative, replaces SLS, and the fragrance comes from the actual ingredients as well as essential oils. For Kuehl, developing safer alternatives was also personal, as she and her team at the salon touch products all day.

“They’re going to be better for the long-term health of individuals, and it’s also better for our environment,” she says.

The line, available at Bold Salon and online, debuted in fall 2016 to stronger-than-anticipated sales. Calle says it replaced another popular brand in the salon and has been selling four times as quickly, driving incremental sales at the salon overall. Products include shampoos, conditioners, styling aids and a face and body wash. Calle and Kuehl plan to continue to expand offerings.

Bill Bush, a client at Bold Salon, uses several products from the line and says he’s noticed that his scalp isn’t as dry. “It’s kind of the whole package,” he says. “There’s just a wonderful aroma to the shampoo.”

As they expand the line, Calle and Kuehl, who craft the products themselves, would like to find a manufacturing partner, preferably in the state. The two see boutique salons as an ideal partner, as they encourage creating a consultative, educational relationship between clients and stylists.

In addition, they see community involvement as an important part of their work. They have created a template for salon owners to get involved and partnered with Boys & Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley for an Earth Month hair show.

“When you buy the products, you’re actually going to see a difference in your own community through events and programs that are here,” Calle says.

The business: Beauty Care Product Developer

Product price range: $18–$24

Employees: 2

Hours: 30 per week