We find out the OUAI to great hair with founder Jen Atkin
I'm with the brand
OUAI is truly the haircare brand for our times. Launched in 2016 by celebrity hairdresser Jen Atkin — who herself boasts over two million Instagram followers — the brand prides itself on being modern, chic and easy to use. These are products that are not just Instagrammable, knowing and using them makes you an insider. We had the oportunity to talk to the super chic Atkin herself to find out what went behind the brand, the best ways to use her products and why she felt there was a niche for a woman-led hair brand.
Why the name OUAI? What does it mean?
When I was thinking about what I wanted to call the product, I definitely didn't want to call it my name, because I felt that it was egotistical and so passé. I wanted to create a brand that wasn't about me. It was my idea, but I wanted to create a brand that was socially savvy and connected to its customers.
OUAI is all about effortless hair and was inspired by the French girls who roam Paris and who wear beautiful bags and shoes, but still look like themselves. The brand is named after the casual way of saying "yes" in French. I like that people are able to correct their friends and say it's pronounced "way".
Why did you start OUAI and what did you want to achieve with this brand?
When I looked at what was missing in hair brands there were so many things. The packaging was always boring and not very chic. I wanted the packaging of OUAI to mimic Chanel from the 1920s — something that wasn't noisy and reflected that sense of luxury. The descriptives on haircare was also getting out of hand. I wanted simplistic names... and the fragrance was the most important thing to me.
Most haircare smelled like little girl or old lady. I wanted something with modern tones and scents. We spent the most time and money on the fragrances because we used the same company as Tom Ford does for his fragrances. The Dry Shampoo and the Texturising Hair Spray are heavily fragranced because when you want to get rid of that smell from the gym, or the scent of cigarettes or 'club' smell or whatever it is... I wanted to make sure that it was covering these odours and that your hair smelled really good. We've seen a surge of amazing brands led by females because women are really driving the conversation on social media. Our investor, president and most of our staff are women. I wanted to create a woman-to-woman conversation about haircare and our needs.
"With my celebrity clients, I'm excited to send them tubs of travel sizes because everybody uses hotel shampoo and it drives me crazy!"
— Jen Atkin
The brand is based in California, were you influenced by L.A or the state at all?
For sure. In Paris when I was doing the shows, a lot of inspiration was Californian beach waves, and I was like "Wait, I know how to do that already." Women are very busy and I wanted to give them products that are easy to use and layer. I also wanted to give them internal help with our supplements so they can get their hair to a healthy place so they can just wash and go. It was inspired by French women, but the busy lifestyle translates to women in any city.
Tell us about your supplements.
The supplements take 90 days for you to see results. There's only so much you can do with external products. We have amazing, nourishing shampoos that are sulfate-, pthlate- and paraben-free. That was important to my clients, as they wanted something natural, that wouldn't strip the hair's natural oils and ruin their colour. But the supplements to me are the gamechangers.
I used to tell my clients to take biotin and fish oil from health food stores, and they would see changes in the quality of their hair, and that was exciting. We pushed back the launch of the supplements by a year, because we had so many specifications and I wanted it to be just one pill a day. We went back and forth till we got enough nutrients and vitamins in there so that you'll see a difference. I worked with a female doctor to get the supplements right.
Who are you inspired by?
I am lucky because I work with a wide range of people. My clients are my guinea pigs. My friends and my clients are the first to try my samples. Everybody I meet is part of the conversation. With my celebrity clients, I'm excited to send them tubs of travel sizes because everybody uses hotel shampoo and it drives me crazy! My biggest pet peeve is when I do their hair after, and I'm like, "You washed your hair with hotel shampoo didn't you?" 'Cos everything feels grimy and weird. We have Treatment Masques in individual packets and lots of kits like our Blown Away Kit and our Holiday Kit.
Which Kardashian is the most adventurous when it comes to her hair?
Khloe. She cut her hair short for the first time two years ago and that was so fun, because I've been begging her to do it for years, and she loved it short.
What are Jen Atkin's must-have products?
I have an arsenal. I love Christophe Robin's Volumizing Spray. I use a lot of our Wave Spray on our clients just to build up body. I use the Dry Shampoo Foam on dry hair just to give it more body, even when the hair is clean. It also helps bring extensions back to life and look like natural hair.
The Matte Pomade helps to keep baby hairs in place and sculpt it. I use the Hair Oil for all my looks on the red carpet, and to get all my glossy looks. I use Hair Oil for all our sleek buns and our Medium Hold Hairspray with a toothbrush to make sure everything's nice and flat.
What are the trends you think will still be big in 2018?
I predict that girls will start to go shorter and shorter. With our busy lifestyles, shorter hair is just easier for us to manage. I'm seeing a big resurgence of the '90s — with that Versace moment with the models that was so exciting [in the SS18 show in Milan]. So many of my clients in their 20s are referencing '90s photos. I myself just cut my hair a month ago, and I love it... I'm so obsessed. A lot of my clients are showing me pictures of Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington. And for longer hair, Claudia Schiffer and Cindy Crawford are good models, with their layered, longer looks, but maybe with a cool fringe. The '90s was such an amazing time for hair and we saw a variety of different hairstyles.
With products like Olaplex, girls are going a lot lighter, like bleaching their hair and going pastel and having brighter colours. Ombré — that natural-looking highlight — is still really popular.
Ouai is available at Sephora