Twenty-five years ago, John Paul DeJoria and the late Paul Mitchell decided to start their own product line. They started with two shampoos, a conditioner and a gel.
And the rest is history.
Today John Paul Mitchell Systems is a $600 million-a-year haircare powerhouse. The company now produces more than 90 products, including the brands Paul Mitchell, Modern Elixers, The Tea Treea Collection, Paul Mitchell LAB, PM Shines and Paul Mitchell The Color. The products are sold through 25 distributors within the United States to approximately 90,000 hair salons. Internationally, the company works with distributors in 45 countries that supply thousands of hair salons.
DeJoria, who once was told by a high school teacher that he would 'never, ever succeed at anything in life' recently was recognized by the prestigious Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans -- an organization that honors individuals who have overcome humble beginnings and adversity to achieve success.
In addition to its financial success, the company is known for its social responsibility. John Paul Mitchell Systems doesn't test its products on animals, it uses recycled unbleached paper and soy-based ink whenever possible and it supports a wide variety of philanthropic activities. In fact DeJoria volunteered in February to have his signature ponytail cut off for a $50,000 donation to the Red Cross Tsunami Relief Effort.
In May, DeJoria took some time to talk to NaturallyCurly.com about the past, the present and future of his company, as well as some reflections on his industry.
Q: This is your company's 25th anniversary. How has the haircare industry changed during that time?
DeJoria: The industry has changed considerably. In the beginning, there were 18 companies -- the majority privately owned. Today there are over 100, and the big ones have been bought by major companies such as Proctor & Gamble and L'Oreal -- whose biggest business in the United States is the retail business rather than the professional beauty business. You can look at it a few ways. They have the money to do more things if they want to -- better looking ads, better marketing. On the other hand, they spend the majority of their money pulling people out of the salons and into drugstores and supermarkets to buy their hair color or haircare products. In that way, it's not good.
Q: Tell us how John Paul Mitchell Systems got started. DeJoria: Paul Mitchell, a hairstylist, and I started company in 1980 with $700. We wanted to found a company by hairdressers, for hairdressers. It was very difficult. We had a backer who had promised half a million dollars. Then our backer pulled out. So we started with what money we had in our pocket. It was called Paul Mitchell and our first products were Shampoo I, Shampoo II, The Conditioner and the Sculpting Lotion. We should have gone bankrupt perhaps 50 times during that first year. We guaranteed salon owners they would sell all the products they purchased or they could return any unsold products for a full refund -- a first in the industry. John Paul Mitchell Systems became one of the fastest growing privately held companies in the United States.
Q: What have been the biggest technological advances in haircare since you started? >
DeJoria: I think the advent of categories has been the biggest change. We really pay attention to a category – thick hair that wants to be skinny, skinny hair that needs more volume. Things used to be categorized by oily, dry and normal. But you have people with specific needs now. They want smoother hair or more moisture or more volume. That’s what you want to focus on because it’s the texture of hair.
Q: What do you keep in mind when developing products for curly hair?
DeJoria: What want to develop products that let you maintain that curl fully if you want it -- products like Sculpting Foam. You can scrunch it into your hair and maintain that curl. If you want to pull out the curl, you can do that too. We have straightening products that help you do it without damaging it and that keep it straighter longer in humidity. We also want to have different products that allow you to accomplish what you want with less damage and more shine.
Q: Did you create Sculpting Foam with curlies in mind? DeJoria: Sculpting Foam is a mix of styling foam and conditioners We didn't necessarily create it with curlies in mind. But people with curly hair came to us. They are the biggest market for our Sculpting Foam as well as our Skinny line and our Straightening products. Q: If you could create a survival kit for people with curly hair, what would be in it?
DeJoria: It would contain the Skinny line, Sculpting Foam and a wide-tooth comb. If you get your hair chemically straightened, make sure you have a tube of Hair Strengthener. You use it and it gives your hair strength back immediately.
Q: What do you think the future holds for haircare? What types of new products are we likely to see? DeJoria: People want to be able to do things quicker and they want more shine. So we're launching a new line of styling products later this summer that work faster on the hair, and that can be used in different ways.
Q: You have so many great products for curly hair -- Sculpting Foam, deep conditioners, Super Sculpt, Frizz Calmplex, etc. But does your company have any plans for a curl-specific line?