Cofounders Sheena Lister and Megan Andrews talk about growing a community of Barbs.
Successful businesses often solve problems. Creating new products is part of the equation, but reaching a group of people that don't see themselves reflected in the marketplace can be just as important.
That reminder shined through during a recent conversation with Sheena Lister and Megan Andrews, the cofounders of gender inclusive haircare brand Barb.
After years of buying short hair products that were geared toward men, they created a brand for all people who have hair above the chin line.
“We’re creating products and community that are designed for people who express themselves through their short hair,” Lister said.
That group has been typically underrepresented in this facet of the beauty industry.
Now, they're Barbs.
Here’s a look at how the San Francisco-based startup's journey so far:
Lister and Andrews have each had short hair for more than 15 years.
“Throughout our short hair journey we’ve been buying products that are marketed and made for men,” Lister said. “...We thought, imagined and hypothesized that there are lots of people like us that would appreciate a different type of product.”
In working to solve for their own needs, they also set out to provide products for a group that is underserved in the market, while also providing opportunity for that group to see themselves reflected in the media that is a big part of the beauty industry.
The brand is focusing on women, nonbinary and trans people. As they build, the cofounders are aiming to create a lifestyle brand for all people with short haircuts.
Launched in June 2021, the brand has a single SKU: A soft clay pomade. It’s a medium hold, natural finish pomade that is designed to be soft on the hands, rather than sticky. The cruelty-free product is made to work on its own, or with other products.
Barb cofounders Sheena Lister and Megan Andrews. (Courtesy photo)
In developing products and bringing them to market, the cofounders are considering and involving their community.
This is evident in elements of the pomade, such as its gender-neutral fragrance. Equally, marketing materials and Instagram photos show women and non-binary proudly rocking short hair.
“All of these things are designed so people can identify with our brand without feeling like they’re fitting into a binary or box,” Andrews said.
It’s the identity of the business, and led the cofounders to deem this community Barbs. As Lister explained it, Barb could be a noun, or an action. It’s also a mindset reflected in people moving through the world and living their “true, authentic selves,” Lister said.
And the Barbs aren't only represented in the consumer base. The people who style their hair are BarbTenders, while those who carry the products are BarbTailers. After all, they have an important place in the industry, and the cofounders say they have been overlooked, as well.
Lister and Andrews want Barbs to be involved at every step of the way, providing input and pointing out new opportunities. That ideal is set to be put into practice with a new program the brand is launching in June. Called BaRb & D, it will bring together 16 stylists and barbers to help develop three new products. The partners will be compensated, and credited across the products and marketing materials for their role in developing them.
When it comes to selling the product, Barb is taking a multifaceted approach. A big portion of the business is direct-to-consumer through their website (thebarbshop.com), and they’ve primarily found marketing success through Instagram.
Through wholesale, Barb has also entered more than 40 barbershops and salons. A partnership with Urban Outfitters is extending a presence through the retailer's digital channels.
It has led to a 26% month-over-month growth rate. And the seeds of loyalty are being planted. Since launching with an initial cohort wholesale partners, they’ve seen a 100% repurchase rate.
They're getting mentorship and support along the way. Lister and Andrews are part of the latest cohort of XRC Labs, an accelerator focused on retail tech and consumer goods. They’ll be pitching on Thursday, May 19, at the program’s demo day at New York’s Webster Hall.
Going forward, the cofounders are working to develop more products, with the aim of rolling out those identified in the BaRb & D program in the first quarter of 2023. With more SKUs, they see potential to enter larger big-box retailers, where many digitally-native beauty startups are now finding success.
They want to create a space for all, and that means there's plenty of room to bring others in who weren't necessarily considered in the original plan. Initially, they set out to reach 25-49 year-olds. But a recent consumer survey showed interest from a wider range, as respondents were aged 18 to 73.
It reflected the potential to reach people in those groups who are underserved in beauty. For instance, women in their 50s and 60s opt for short hair, but typically don’t have products designed for them.
Lister and Andrews are ready to welcome them as the Stately Barbs.
“The community has already been there,” Andrews said of people with short hair. “We’ve been around for a long time, but we’re giving people a name and a home.”