After a good 30 years in the hair industry, it’s fair to say Josh Wood was at the top of his game.
As one of the world’s most sought-after hair colorists and the runway mastermind behind some of Alexander McQueen, Prada, and Louis Vuitton’s best hairstyles, you might even say he had no game left to play.
Only, not too long after launching an eponymous at-home hair color line in 2018, his career hit new unexpected heights.
The hair dyes quickly built a cult following, despite only being sold on the company’s website and Boots stores in the UK, and were deemed easier and more elegant than any of its high-street competitors. In fact, the brand sold roughly 240,000 products in its first year, contributing to Boots’ first growth spike in the hair coloring category for more than a decade.
By 2019, Josh Wood Colour (the ‘u’, of course, essential for his British clientele) announced a $6.5 million series-A round investment, led by Index Ventures, with further funding from Jam Jar Investments and Venrex.
“Index are incredible partners—they have really helped us focus on our D2C offer,” Wood tells me. “We always had ambitions to help everyone to be able to find the right shade of hair color for them but with Index’s support, helping us build a digitally-focused team, we are helping so many people have an expert conversation about their” hair color.”
And the rest, as they never say, is pandemic history.
From January 2020 to January 2021, the already-growing business reaped the rewards of lockdown salon closures and increased sales by a whopping 2638% year-on-year.
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“The lack of access to expert advice and help was so difficult for people during this time,” says Wood. “We sped up plans we had for the future to really help those that were attempting hair color at home for the first time, and now this is a service that will continue.”
Josh Wood Colour has already conducted over 9,000 online video consultations since the pandemic began.
“We’ve torn up the rule book and helped our community—they wanted to get expert advice that was personalised to them, especially for color matching, and access to a product that was so scarce some said hair dye was the new toilet paper!”
Not that Wood plans on resting on lockdown’s laurels; as well as developing extensions on his affordable range of permanent dyes, semi-permanent root touch-ups, gloss shots, masks and more, he has recently brought Anna Bateson in as CEO.
“I am a marketeer who has focused on brand, community and building trust with the customer. This actually seemed an incredibly logical next step!” says Bateson, who had built a strong digital reputation as chief customer officer at Guardian News & Media and global marketing director at YouTube prior to her appointment.
“I was very keen to be able to build something, to work with founders I believed in, and with a product I felt had the potential to transform a category,” she says. “It was a serendipitous moment that as I was looking, so was Josh.”
Though her experience within the beauty sector is limited (bar a five-month stint as Charlotte Tilbury’s digital director in 2016), Bateson has been fascinated by the industry for many years.
“Specifically in my new role, it’s the deeply emotional relationship we have with our hair—how closely connected it is to our identity and feeling good about ourselves—that makes Josh Wood Colour so compelling,” she says. “We have all had bad hair experiences, that are quite profound moments, just as we have had uplifting moments when it’s exactly ‘right’ for us.”
Still, even with the best intentions, Bateson has had an unusual start as CEO. With national lockdowns still in place, her six-month tenure has been predominantly remote, meaning there are still members of the company she has not met in person.
Thankfully, the Josh Wood Atelier (aka salon) was able to re-open this week, with social distancing guidelines in place, where Bateson looks forward to feeling the energy of the brand in practice.
“Otherwise, it has been about navigating the changing behaviours of the lockdowns, ensuring we are doing everything we can to reach as many customers as we can during these times of intense demand and interest, but also preparing for the next phase of our growth when we will have to more actively create that demand, and drive discovery of our products,” she says.
For both Bateson and Wood, one of the most important factors to focus on is redefining the marketing narrative of at-home hair color overall.
“We have an amazing team and, with Anna’s guidance, we are realising our global ambitions and where we can take this brand,” says Wood. “We set out to redefine this dusty old category and what we’ve realised is we are actually restyling it.”