New York haircare line and salon, Hairstory - aptly named - has an origins story that would make Marvel Comics blush. Eli Halliwell, Chairman and CEO of Hairstory, with his own elegantly-dishevelled do- confidently setting off his smart-casual look, gave up his job as a Wall Street investor once he encountered the power of Hairstory’s alternative-to-shampoo New Wash. “Looking at me now, you’d never believe I once had pathetically thin hair.” He laughs. “When I encountered New Wash, I had no choice but to team up with Michael Gordon and Mauricio Bellora to bring these revolutionary products to the world.” Eli gave up shampoo in November 2014, and he never looked back. You could be next.
“If we had our own Superhero movie, it would be an eco-thriller. The villains: Shampoo companies, creating a dystopian world by contaminating water supplies and oceans and perpetuating their control through the vicious cycle of over-cleaning and over-production of oil in their customer’s hair. New Wash would save the day.”
Eli’s story begins at the end of his third year of college. “I found out that my roommate and best-friend had died in a plane crash. In my senior year, when I was supposed to be interviewing for positions with massive corporations like Goldman Sachs, I was actually having an existential crisis.” Eli’s confrontation with mortality caused him to question everything about his destiny on Wall Street. “I thought: is this what life is meant to be about? I decided I had to get off the standard corporate path.”
Far from the industry he parades today, Eli’s ‘off-the-beaten-track’ moment came in the form of a fish-tank. “A friend of mine had invented a new kind of fish-tank, the original version had multiple tanks connected with waterfalls that the fish could then swim up. Hydroponic plants filtered the water naturally. I was in.” Eli moved to Rhode Island to begin cold calling pet stores and started selling them. “It snowballed. It was an amazing year. To this day I value the ‘cold-calling’ approach with any startup or new initiative - as I did when I joined Hairstory.” The old ways are still the best.
On Easter of that year in Rhode Island, Eli had a cathartic breakthrough. “I felt ready to move on. Within a week I’d broken up with my girlfriend and moved to New York. The next chapter began when his childhood friend Michael Gordon introduced him to the infamous NYC salon, Bumble and bumble. “The salon had been doing well and decided to sell a majority stake to Estee Lauder. I went to have a haircut, and we got talking. They told me they had five years until they bought the remaining stake, and they needed an MBA kind of guy onboard.” Michael Gordon and Eli brainstormed a vision of a University at Bumble and bumble. “My job was to make this vision into a reality, I took the business plan and executed it. Constructing the curriculum, the building, everything.” Halliwell left Bumble and bumble. with a fully fledged further-education institution as his legacy.
Eli Halliwell was a recognised business mastermind in the hairdressing industry when Hairstory entered the picture. It was the provocative gauntlet-drop to shampoo, New Wash, which first caught his eye.
“New Wash breaks the cycle of over-cleaning , stripping with shampoo, which forces your body to overproduce oil. It lets your hair and scalp relax to their natural state.”
For Hairstory, the real you is better. “When I was younger, my hair was a nightmare - it was thin, wispy. Once I embraced New Wash and allowed my natural hair oils to do what they were made to do, I realised it didn’t have to be that way.” Eli joined the Hairstory squad as CEO, armed with business insights inspired hugely by Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia. “Let them go surfing, says Chouinard. Literally, he lets his employees go surfing. He runs daycare in the office. He does not focus on growth as the key metric, he creates products which are supposed to last a lifetime so they can be ecological.” Teaming Hairstory up with Chouinard’s 1% for the Planet project, Eli has taken this eco-friendly model to heart - working against lesser-conscious shampoo producers.
“Our existence is no longer up for debate. We have a seat at the table. We’re now accelerating, redoing everything and rebuilding our entire infrastructure. We wanted to have more flexibility and more power, so we’re launching two new versions of New Wash: DEEP for those who are naturally more oily, RICH for whose hair is more thirsty.”
Hairdressers are New Wash’s most powerful advocates for sharing the message of New Wash, “We are creating a new category of hair cleansing.’ smiles Eli. “Eventually everyone will have to pay attention.”With a new warehouse opened in the UK, New Wash is making the move across the pond, with Eli Halliwell heading the charge. Hairstory’s war against shampoo in Europe is just beginning.
GM Your profession? Entrepreneur and investor.
Eli Which year were you born? 1971
GMWhere did you grow up?
EliVermont. First on several hippie communes and later on a small farm.
GM Who gave you your name? Does your name have any particular (or, special) meaning?
Eli My mother is Jewish and my father isn't, so my mother wanted me to have a biblical first name since my last name would not be identifiably Jewish.
GM What’s your favorite music?
Eli I like it all - country, R&B, rap, a-cappella.
GM What’s the most inspiring artwork you’ve ever seen?
Eli I like Andy Goldsworthy's art. The only installation I've seen of his in person is at Storm King, NY.