What started off as a dream to create an organic and cruelty-free haircare brand has now become a reality for businesswoman Yolanda Cooper.
Yolanda, from Belfast, launched her Paradoxx haircare range in the UK last month, with premium retailers Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, Harrods and ASOS all snapping up the opportunity to stock the brand and later this year it will launch in the US with Bloomingdales, Saks and 5th Avenue all on board to sell the range.
The 33 year-old mother of one, a former marketing executive for Northern Ireland tanning brand, Vita Liberata, spoke to The Style Edit about bringing the collection from conception to fruition and how she feels about achieving a world first in having created a haircare brand that’s 90% plastic free.
Tell us a bit about your career background?
I was with a digital marketing agency for about five years – I blagged my way into it while I was still at university cause I figured everyone was going to graduate and start looking at the same time so I wanted to get in there early! I’d always loved Vita Liberata products and just assumed, because of the name, that it was an Italian brand, I got a spray tan one day and discovered they were actually from Northern Ireland. I couldn’t believe there was a big beauty brand from here so after that I was just on a mission to work for them. I hunted down the CEO and pretty much forced her into giving me a job! I was with them for six years, initially as Head of Digital Marketing and then took over the role of Global Marketing. That’s how I fell into the beauty industry, it was never really planned.
Did you always want to have your own business?
With working for Vita Liberta I became really aware of what I was putting on my skin and had started seeking out better skincare and even when it came to makeup I was looking for mineral options rather than those that were full of chemicals. Every product that I owned was the best version that I could find. Then I looked at my haircare and it was whatever product that was on sale or on offer in Boots and I just had this moment where I thought ‘why am I not paying attention to the hair care that I’m using?’ After looking around I couldn’t find anything that I really loved or connected to. I found there were two ends to the spectrum; either the clean and green brands that were less aspirational, and more Holland & Barrett but had really great formulas or there were these really cool brands that were all over Instagram and were what Millennials wanted to use but were full of toxins. I thought there was an opportunity to create great haircare and formulations but execute it in a really cool, relevant way. It was about bringing both ends of the spectrum together which is where the name came from.
“I thought there was an opportunity to create great haircare and formulations but execute it in a really cool, relevant way. It was about bringing both ends of the spectrum together which is where the name came from.”
You’re the first plastic-free haircare brand, was that deliberate?
I had a moment of realisation when I thought that in the first year I would be potentially creating hundreds of thousands of units of packaging and felt there was no way I could do it in plastic so decided to use aluminium.
Plastic can be recycled but the problem is consumers are not doing it correctly so it can be reclaimed from the sea only to end up back there and it’s a continuous loop. If aluminium ends up in the sea it doesn’t release anything. So, yes, consumers may still not recycle it properly but it’s not harming the environment.
Also every time plastic is recycled it degrades and loses quality, so at the end of its lifecycle it’s going to end up in landfill or back in the eco system whereas aluminium can be recycled for ever and ever and it always maintains its quality.
It’s now become one of our biggest USP but to me at the time it was such a simple decision born out of a reaction. It’s better for the environment, there are less CO2 omissions in transporting it and it can be recycled on an infinite loop
It felt like a very obvious, natural decision but now everyone is like ‘oh my god you’re the first plastic free hair brand’ so that was a happy accident!
We’re 90% plastic free as of this minute with our range of six and that’s a level that I’m promising not to drop below. We’re also going to be looking at even better ways to improve on that.
Our shampoo and conditioners currently have plastic tops to pump it out and we’ve been asked why not do it in a tub or bar but at this present time the majority of people still want the convenience of a pump. Until everybody adopts a new way I want to be able to service our customers with the way they want to use a product but in the most environmentally friendly way I can.
An aluminium bottle is three times more expensive to buy than a plastic alternative but for us, as an ethical range, I’d rather take a hit on our bottom line, it’s not always all about capitalism.
What makes Paradoxx different from other haircare brands?
I care as much about what the product goes into as what goes into the product.
We took all of the nasty lists that we could find from the likes of Sephora, Credo Beauty, EWG, etc, and educated ourselves. There are things like formaldehyde for example that everyone knows about but it goes right down to the likes of fragrance which is a loophole because brands can put that word on their ingredients list then hide other ingredients within it that are actually quite toxic. All of the fragrance you smell in our products is from essential oils so it’s all natural.
People don’t realise that the skin on your scalp can absorb more than the skin on your face. I think this is the cleanest hair care that you’ll find on the market and I think that’s pretty unique.
How important is it to look at the ingredients in the products we are using?
Very. I think a lot of people don’t know about all the risks or that there is an alternative out there.
Not many people look at the ingredients list at the back and know what it means. There’s a really good app called Think Dirty and it allows you to scan any barcode and see it on a scale from 1-10 and it will explain why it’s got the score it has. I would encourage everyone to download it.
Was it important the brand had an Irish connection?
I was very passionate about starting the brand here. I moved back from London to create it so when we started researching ingredients it made sense to use extracts that were native to Ireland. In doing so we found this untapped myriad of amazing extracts. In the mask we use kelp seaweed, our Hangover Hair Elixir is in a hip flask because there’s Jameson’s whisky in it and the salt spray uses Celtic salt which is ten times purer than Himalayan salt.
Have you been surprised by the reaction?
I’ve been blown away! I was creating this and in my gut I knew it was good because I was thinking ‘this is something I would actually want to buy myself’ but when we when we gave it out to the most prestigious buyers in the world – Saks, 5th Avenue, Bloomingdales, Harrods, Harvey Nichols and they all came back and loved it, it was just amazing. I’m still in shock. The buyer from Harvey Nichols said we were the only brand out of 50 that ticked all of the boxes and that was an unbelievable feeling.
Have you a vision for how you would like the brand to progress?
We have six products at the minute but already have 21 other innovations in the pipeline. I wanted a small initial collection that would suit all hair types. It’s a good introduction to the brand and makes it easy for us to communicate with our audience.
You’re on track to raise £1million in funding and were the first non-tech business to receive funding from Tech Start NI, congratulations!
Thank you! The majority of investment here is targeted at tech so I didn’t expect to get any local support but we were the first non tech company to break that mould. That set a precedent and now other private investors, that have only ever invested in software before, have joined. I think they can see that we’re doing something that’s authentic and good for the world. Everyone has been very supportive.
What are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve had to overcome so far?
There are a million challenges every single day. Wakening up and not knowing what you’re going to face is sometimes challenging but it’s also really exciting.
I would love to say there aren’t any more challenges starting out as a woman in business but there definitely are. There is a definite perception of a young woman in business, especially going into beauty – there is an ‘oh isn’t that lovely type’ reaction. It wasn’t until people saw the business plan and heard us talk abut potential growth that they saw how serious we are about it – and there’s no doubt about it, this will be a global brand – then all of sudden people were taking it seriously but there was definitely a hurdle to get over.
How important is the influencer relationship for brands?
Influencers will definitely be a part of our strategy but I’m very concerned about the way in which the world is going with influencers. Our strategy is going to be more focused on the micro-influencers who maybe don’t even get paid but have highly engaged audiences who trust their content. I’d rather people really loved our product and spread the message that way rather than through the whole #ad.
Press and PR is a big part of our strategy because I honestly believe we’re moving away from this influencer bubble and back to a more traditional, trusted medium.
You have a three year old son, how do you balance motherhood and business?
The day I was due to sign my very first investment to get the business up and running I got a call from the nursery to say Jaxx had an ear infection. There and then in that moment I decided Jaxx will always come first. So I had these 17 documents in front of me ready to sign before the deadline and I just had to throw them all together. As I was about to walk out the door the nursery phoned back to say he’d just falling asleep and to come for him i 45 minutes. That was just enough time to get them signed. But don’t get me wrong, it’s a daily struggle time wise.
What does success look like/mean to you?
Success to me is growing a business where everybody is proud of what we’re dong. The biggest thing for me is creating an impact in the industry and being known for doing something better. Making money isn’t the motivation, yes that’s great and you can’t start a business without it, but for me it’s about educating other brands on how to make better choices and giving consumers a more natural alternative.
We’re partnering with an organisation called A Plastic Planet who are about educating people on how to make better choices. We’d like to be the beauty arm of that so we can help other brands.
“For me, I think as consumers and brand owners if we don’t all take responsibility for reducing CO2 omissions there will be no world for our future generations. It’s a problem we all need to fix.”
How will you feel if other brands start following suit?
I’ll be delighted and if they want help I’ll help them, Defensiveness can be other brands’ downfall whereas I’m quite ok that we have enough other unique things that if people want to come along on this journey then great. The plastic free issue for me is about starting a conversation in the industry that encourages other brands to make a switch to a greener option.
As far as I’m aware we’re the first haircare brand from Northern Ireland. The beauty industry is a big industry though so there’s definitely room for more.
Have you always been environmentally conscious?
I’ve always been concerned about recycling on a personal level but I think whenever you have a child you think about the bigger picture and their generation’s future.
For me, I think as consumers and brand owners if we don’t all take responsibility for reducing CO2 omissions there will be no world for our future generations. It’s a problem we all need to fix.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to start their own business?
Do it and don’t think about it!
When I left my job and started this everyone told me how brave I was and I didn’t get it at the time. Now I look back and think ‘that was one hell of a year!’ It’s hard work and it never stops but other than my family it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
What would you tell your younger self?
I don’t believe in regrets but I’d probably listen a bit more to all the advice I’d been given.
What has been your favourite holiday?
My honeymoon, we went to Vegas and had a real party for four days then went to Mexico and relaxed. That seems to be the two levels in my world – party hard and then do nothing!
Do you keep fit?
Nope I never exercise! I think I’m skinny-fat, I have a small frame but I jiggle and I’m ok with that. There are more important things to worry about.
How would you describe your style?
I think I’ve got multiple personality disorder when it comes to style. If I’m tired I’ll be in flat boots, ripped jeans, an oversized jumper and my hair in a bun. Then other days I’ll go full on fancy.
You have five minutes to do your makeup, what are your go-to products?
Benefit Precisely My Brow, PawPaw lip balm, Nars Climax mascara.
You get a blank cheque to spend in one shop, where would you choose?
If I wanted one amazing piece then Harvey Nichols but if I wanted lots of amazing pieces and value for money then Zara.