[12 MINUTE READ]
Happy Friday and welcome back to your weekly Friday Founder Interview! This week, we've been staying in more and trying to treat ourselves with some much-needed self-care.
The stress of the past 18 months has definitely affected our hair health and so, this week, we spoke to Daniel Hodgdon, CEO of Vegamour.
Vegamour is a plant-based, effective, and safe hair wellness brand that aims to help you achieve your hair health goals.
We were lucky enough to have a chat with the CEO Daniel about his background, why he started the brand and why Vegamour really works. So, grab yourself your morning coffee and let's get into it ...
"A harmonious relationship between farmer and land was absolutely essential to the success or failure, feast or famine of the entire family."
Morning Daniel! Thanks for joining me. Please could you start by telling me a bit about your childhood and how you feel it has influenced you today?
Although my father is an engineer and I grew up mostly in large metropolitan cities in Asia & Australia, my dad comes from a long line of New England dairy farmers. Every summer, he’d send me back to his native Vermont to work on my uncle’s dairy farm. So, I guess you could say that my interest in agro-biodiversity and regenerative farming developed while working on the dairy farm each summer from the time I was eight years old until I was 18. It started with fun things like feeding the baby goats and sheep, before moving on to other simple tasks like weeding the vegetable gardens, mucking stalls, picking stones out of the fields and canning fruits and vegetables. Finally, once I was old enough, I would help bale and stack hay, chop firewood and milk cows.
Wow! How interesting! Do you think your farming family background affected your outlook in terms of production, not just in terms of food but beauty products?
Definitely! Coming from ‘the city’, you don’t always see what goes into producing the food that we can find in grocery stores. Working on the farm gave me front row access to all the work and care that goes into planting tomatoes, corn, watermelon, potatoes, squash. Each year produced completely different yields and varieties based on the weather, soil content, amount of rain, early or late frosts and whatever the livestock were fed or grazed. My uncle’s family literally lived off the land. Nearly everything they consumed, they either grew or raised. There wasn’t money for exotic fertilizers, and crops needed to be rotated and skillfully managed in order not to deplete the soil.
A harmonious relationship between farmer and land was absolutely essential to the success or failure, feast or famine of the entire family. Therefore, a deep understanding of and respect for nature was vital for survival. My key takeaway was: if you’re good to the earth, she’ll be good to you and provide you with all that you need and more. In fact, most of the time she gives back more than what we put in, but you have to treat her with respect, kindness, and, yes, even love. For anything to grow and thrive, the ecosystem in which it lives must be in balance.
Wow! You are clearly very in tune with the land and nature! So, how did you get started in the beauty industry?
My interest in biodiversity led me to the savannas of Africa and the rainforests of Southeast Asia, where I formed relationships with traditional growers. That eventually led me to set up a business creating sustainable supply chains of plant-derived ingredients for global beauty and hair care brands, Southern Botanica.
It sounds like your travelling experiences have affected Vegamour’s brand ethos. When did you decide to start up Vegamour and why?
I wanted to understand the full potential of the raw materials we were producing at Southern Botanica, so I began doing extensive research on our materials as well as other plant actives produced by various colleagues in our field. What I discovered was exciting! Not only was there ample clinical evidence to show that our raw materials were great for hair, but many were also anti-inflammatory. They stimulated blood circulation, reduced scalp irritation, and had a significant impact on hair thinning issues such as DHT production and increasing the body’s own ability to produce miRNA-33, IGF-1, as well as helping to reawaken dormant hair follicles.
So, my initial inspiration for Vegamour was born from frustration. I had clear clinical studies that showed how plant-based actives – when used at the correct percentages and made bioavailable, had a significant impact on hair health and growth – yet none of the hair or skincare customers we were working with seemed interested in pursuing the science. I saw an opportunity to replace harmful chemicals in hair products with organically grown plant actives which outperformed said chemicals.
That’s really great! Was the timing important for setting up Vegamour?
Hair loss has traditionally been thought of as a male concern. However, 40% of alopecia sufferers globally are women, and 80% of women will experience hair loss at some time in their lives! Yet somehow this cohort has historically been underserved.
There are many potential underlying causes of female pattern hair loss. One of the leading causes to emerge as a direct result of the global pandemic is stress. We had been advocating for a holistic approach to hair wellness for the last three years that included addressing stress-related hair loss. So, when large numbers of women began experiencing stress-related hair loss during COVID-19, we were there to help them address their concerns.
That's wonderful! Does Vegamour consider issues relating to sensitive skin and allergies?
Most definitely! We formulate products that are applied near sensitive eyes and on sensitive skin areas, so we must remain hyper-vigilant when it comes to ensuring that all of our products are non-irritating and hypo-allergenic.
That makes me feel a huge sense of confidence in your brand. Could you describe the ways in which you consider sensitive skin and allergies throughout the manufacturing process and when selecting ingredients?
Well, we use 100% vegan, clean, organically grown, plant-based ingredients in all of our products and use botanical oils as delivery systems that closely mirror the skin’s own natural PH balance. Further, each product is subjected to rigorous safety testing, including skin and eye irritation tests prior to being approved for release.
Thanks for sharing the process. And how does sustainability factor into your business?
Sustainability and biodiversity is ingrained in our company DNA. For Vegmour, it means creating eco-friendly, green economic opportunities whereby those involved (farmers, harvesters, processors, etc) can earn a living income, on their own terms while doing no harm to the environment.
We currently work with over 5,000 women in Fair Trade partnerships in Northern Namibia, Swaziland, and South Africa that create eco-friendly, economic opportunities for ten months out of the year. We incorporate sustainable, wild-harvesting, and hand-processing techniques that leave no carbon footprint and utilise every by-product of the plants we produce to eliminate waste. We even allocate a percentage of our proceeds to help create literacy, HIV awareness, and tree planting programs in these regions.
In the US, we work with independent, organic farmers in a similar fashion; paying sustainable, above-market rates for plant actives, and are currently exploring ways to contribute financially to localised causes in the rural communities in which we purchase our plant-based actives (i.e. opioid treatment centres).
Good for you! Sustainability is more than being eco-friendly, it’s about company values and giving back to the communities we take from. Do you think consumers are more conscious of the ingredients in their beauty and skincare products nowadays?
Yes, and I believe it is a great thing! It started with small steps taken by online retailers like CREDO, Follain, and Detox Market and was supported by early beauty and wellness bloggers. These early pioneers forced the larger players like Sephora, Ulta, Boots, and Douglas to begin paying attention to the importance of clean beauty as the demand from informed customers steadily grew.
It is definitely a step forward. What were your biggest challenges in starting up a business?
Getting people to listen was really difficult at first. Clean beauty was just emerging when we launched Vegamour in 2016. Early clean beauty products were ‘rough’ in the beginning. I like to use the analogy of gluten-free bread. It was horrible when it first came out, but eventually, people learned how to do it right! Clean hair care wasn’t even on the beauty radar when we started, and beauty wellness was still several years away. So, we had to create awareness around the importance of clean hair care as well as create an entirely new category (hair wellness).
I can imagine that was tough! What strategies do you think have been key to the success of Vegamour?
I think that our early decision to launch as a digitally native brand was crucial to our success in the following two ways. Firstly, it allowed us to test, learn and adapt with modest marketing budgets. This was necessary as we were not VC-funded, so it forced us to learn how to attract and acquire our cohort profitably by learning who she was, what she needed, and how to speak to her.
Secondly, it allowed us to have direct access to – and therefore, a direct line of contact and feedback – to our customers. We now own those customer relationships (vs. a 3rd party retailer or a brick-and-mortar store) and we rely on that customer connection to help us understand what we’re doing right and where we need to do better.
"We incorporated a proprietary microencapsulation technology to reconfigure biomimetic vegan silk protein into a format that would physically adhere to hair follicles, even after rinsing. The results were revolutionary!"
I love that! Consumer relationships should be the backbone of any business! Personally, what is your favourite thing about your job?
Getting to work with so many talented and amazing people. From our product development and formulation teams to our global regenerative farming and wild harvesting partners, I’m surrounded by the best and brightest! It’s inspiring to be around so many gifted people and I love what we’re all building together.
It sounds like you have a great company culture! Which is your favorite product/treatment that Vegamour offers?
One of our most groundbreaking treatments is our DYI keratin treatments that are made possible by the development of our hero KARMATIN™. As a vegan company, we had to find a suitable source of vegan keratin, which we ended up discovering in the form of biomimetic spider silk, synthesised from fermented yeast.
However, just like animal-based keratin, vegan keratin won’t stick to your hair over the course of a regular shower shampoo cycle. So, we incorporated a proprietary microencapsulation technology to reconfigure that biomimetic vegan silk protein into a format that would physically adhere to hair follicles, even after rinsing. The results were revolutionary! We managed to create the first and only formaldehyde-free, vegan keratin treatment, as well as the first Shampoo and Conditioner with growth actives clinically proven to penetrate the scalp!
That is incredible! What do you think makes Vegamour stand out from competitor brands?
Our functional medicine approach to hair issues - in that we not only use clean plant actives to address the symptoms of poor hair health - but most importantly, we use these bioavailable actives to address the underlying root causes. The symptoms are just the manifestation of an underlying issue. In the case of hair thinning, there tend to be multiple underlying causes. Therefore, a thoughtful, holistic approach needs to be incorporated to be effective.
That is a very refreshing point of view. What would you say has been your biggest “pinch-me” moment since starting Vegamour?
It has to be when we were approached by Sephora to build out our Hair Wellness concept for their digital and brick and mortar channels.
Amazing! I love Sephora so much! What inspires you?
People! I feed off the positive, creative energy of other people and each new thing I learn from them.
Me too. There is so much to be learned from others! Could you describe what an average day looks like for you?
We’re still a relatively small company in terms of headcount so there’s not really an ‘average’ day for me at this point. This week and last, I’ve been in Europe meeting with our chemists and engineers to work on new formulations and setting up new production processes. I also met with PR and online marketing agencies in London to put the finishing touches on our UK launch strategy in Q4 of this year. Each day is a complete mixed bag, so I don’t think any day quite qualifies as ‘average’.
I can see that! Do you think you have a work/life balance?
I feel like ‘work’ is a state of mind. If I’m spending time on things that I’m passionate about and that inspire me, I don’t feel like I’m ‘working’ in the traditional sense. That being said, I would definitely benefit from a little more time spent with friends, family and a personal trainer!
Definitely! What words do you live by?
“Whatever you do, give it your full attention in that moment, do it to the best of your ability - and then turn over the ‘results’.” Also, “Don’t sweat the small stuff or the big stuff. Everything will work out in the end - if it’s not worked out yet, then it’s not the ‘end’.”
Those are great! Finally, what does the future hold for Vegamour?
We will be launching our new GRO Well and GRO Ageless (anti-graying) supplement lines, as well as our new hair maintenance lines. We will also be expanding our brand presence in international markets (UK, EU, UAE & APAC).