Retail

Tapping AI To Build A Better Hair Day

Good hair does not come easy — or cheap. According to some estimates, the average woman in the United States will spend about $80 and 11 hours per month on getting a good hair day going. Over the course of a lifetime, most women will have spent around $55,000 on their hair according to data from beauty supply eTailer Prismaxx.  And, of course, averages vary greatly depending on location. The women of California go in for the biggest monthly expenditure on their hair at $150, while women in Texas, Ohio, Florida and New York all spend north of $100.

And yet for all the spending of time and treasure, it doesn’t seem women are particularly satisfied with their outcomes. About 60 percent of those surveyed reported their hair lacks volume, while nearly a third report their hair is damaged and frizzy.

And while the team at Prose won’t help much with the expense part of the equation, they believe their vision for fully personalized, fully bespoke hair care products for sale can take on those latter two concerns. Prose customers may still be spending a lot to fix their tresses, but Prose argues at least what they are spending is actually being invested in a good hair day, as opposed to more dry, damaged disappointment.

What Prose offers as a replacement is bespoke hair care products for consumers — on the logic that if people have nearly infinite variety in their hair types and textures, the array of one-size fits all options in the world of hair care are more likely than not going to fail most customers. People are buying a lot of products, Prose Co-Founder and CEO Arnaud Plas said, but they aren’t buying products that work.

To fix that problem, Plas founded Prose with the idea of melding an old-school approach to making products for beauty with a new-school distribution channel.

“All beauty products used to be personalized,” Plas said in an interview. “We wanted to find a way to modernize this process.”

Which it has, in much the same way that many of the bespoke products of the digital era have — with a quick questionnaire that lets customers fill in how thick their hair is, how well it does in heat and humidity, whether it’s been colored, what its texture is, how easily it take on environmental smells and what scent they would like their custom shampoo conditioner set to come in. Prose theoretically offers seven possible scent offerings, but depending on what other elements are going into the formulation, practically speaking customers get a choice between three scents.

Once the consumer profile has been filled out, the algorithm designs a custom hair care product that is mixed in Prose’s New York lab and shipped to the customer’s door. Possible offerings are a shampoo, conditioner and a hair mask — which range in price from $25 to $38.

Though the prices have netted some head turns — as they are roughly twice the price of high-quality drugstore brands — Prose says it uses rarer and more expensive ingredients in its formulations to achieve a better total effect. An effect, incidentally, that it is willing to guarantee. If a customer is not satisfied with their formulation, they can send it back and have it retweaked to better meet their needs free of charge.

At least one reviewer — who was quite dissatisfied with the effect of her first formulation — testified to the fact that the re-do was a much greater success than the first attempt.

Some beauty chemists, however, are a bit skeptical of Prose’s offering. Perry Romanowski, a long experience cosmetic chemist, told Slate that there are basically four types of shampoos — regular, deep cleaning, conditioning and dandruff fighting. Deep cleaning has more detergent and is more drying, conditioning has more conditioning agents in it and dandruff fighting is essentially an OTC medication dissolved into soap. The most effective way of controlling shampoo’s effect on one’s hair, he noted, isn’t in the formulation of the shampoo. It’s in controlling how much one actually uses on their hair at once, and how often they use it.

But Prose offers a different take, noting that its algorithm collects 135 data points on each customer, which makes it able to take into account a customer’s “total hair needs on a molecular level” in a way that a customer simply can’t.

And Prose has certainly succeeded in convincing investors of its vision — the firm was launched a little under a year and a half ago, and snapped up $18 million in Series B funding in late 2018 to scale its vision of offering personalization to the masses. Insight Venture Partners led that round, which has brought Prose’s fundraising to an eye-catching (particularly for a beauty and wellness startup) $25 million. It’s a big bet, Insight’s Karen Green told Fast Company, but one worth making. Because beyond the science of what Prose can (or can’t) do, it does offer something that every investor wants: a unique way to reach out and capture consumers.

“This is not just about science, but about luxury,” says Green. “The ultimate luxury is a product that is made just for you.”

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