When Zaina OHalloran couldn't find a haircare product that could cater for her daughter's curly hair and allergies, she decided to take matters into her own hands and launch CurlyEllie. Here she shares the secrets to her success and reveals her top tips for embracing curls...
When and why did you launch CurlyEllie?
The CurlyEllie story began over a decade ago, when as first-time mum I was dragged into the world of childhood eczema, allergies and sensitive skin by my darling son, Aidan.
I thought I had pretty much nailed our family’s vegan diet, lifestyle and all the natural potions and lotions to soothe Aidan’s sore skin. Then came Ellie!
With a shock of curls, allergies and sensitive skin, my go-to care routines struggled to meet her needs and traditional products like tea tree oil caused allergic reactions.
Even worse, what worked on her skin caused tears at haircare time and what worked for her hair caused even more tears due her reaction to the ingredients.
With a sore-skinned, frizzy, tangled-haired and grumpy Ellie, I set about researching the pure and natural ingredients that could soothe her scalp, discipline her frizz and put a smile on her face.
Together, we experimented with ingredients, haircare routines and learning about texture, condition and how to nourish her tresses and gloss her curls.
Ellie’s favourite vegetable is broccoli. We discovered that combinations of plant products such as broccoli seed oil, quinoa and babassu oil brought incredible benefits. They don’t just gently clean her hair and calm her scalp, but actually make looking after her curls a pleasure for us both.
Our relentless search for natural, vegan products to soothe Ellie’s skin, nourish and hydrate her curls and make our hair care time together easy, quick and fun became our joint mission.
This continues to be at the core of everything we do.
How difficult was it to make your products vegan?
Choosing vegan was a natural choice.
I carefully sourced each individual ingredient. I knew they had to be effective in giving Ellie amazing curls but would not irritate her allergies. One of her allergies was to dairy.
As a result, our diligence in sourcing has always been second to none, and this is something I am proud of.
Ellie’s allergies meant that the purity of our ingredients was paramount, and this continues to be a guiding principle for CurlyEllie today.
Additionally, caring for our planet is as important to me as caring for Ellie’s curls. Vegan means less impact on the planet and a more sustainable, natural and ethical approach to product development.
What was the development process for your range?
Our development started with finding the right ingredients that were kind to hair, skin and the planet as well as nourishing and effective at caring for curls and scalp.
During our product development, testing product combinations became a regular pastime. Ellie’s reaction to each combination was a key factor in deciding to continue a combination or scrap it and start all over again.
After each product mix, I would try it on Ellie and wait for her reaction. ‘Thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ became a familiar game at home.
Over the years, we have had almost 100 ‘thumbs down’, but the CurlyEllie collection that you see now are the ‘thumbs up’.
Finding the right fragrance was a big challenge for our product development process. Fragrance sensitivity is such a huge concern for so many adults and children with allergies. We had a custom-created, allergen-free fragrance made for the collection.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when launching your business?
I wish I had known how many people had a similar story and experience!
I had thought that Ellie and I were fighting our own personal battle against allergies, sensitivity and frizz. However I began to hear from so many adults and parents on our Instagram page that they were struggling too. I would have launched even quicker!
How do you ensure your products are eco-friendly?
‘Kind to hair, skin and planet’ is one of our mantras. This means being kind to the planet not just with our ingredients, but also with our packaging.
We take great care in ensuring that our ingredients are sourced in an ecologically conscious way. For example, we use Camelina sativa, also known as false flax, a member of the mustard family and an exciting new player on the natural hair care scene. It is short-seasoned, fast-growing and can produce seeds even with very low moisture.
Almost all parts of the plant can be used and there is minimal wastage.
After the oil is extracted, what is left is a protein-rich feed source for cattle, poultry or swine.
With our packaging, we have used recycled plastic for the last six years. With our website orders, we wanted our boxes to be received and used and used again, so we made them fully recyclable and full of activities that kids and adults can do after taking out their CurlyEllie goodies.
Of course, we can always do more and we are planning to start a refill offering in the future.
How did you ensure the entire CurlyEllie range was kind to skin conditions such as eczema?
My daughter Ellie, who is the inspiration behind the range, suffered from eczema and hyper-sensitive skin. It was important that her haircare product was able to help soothe her scalp and not irritate it.
I looked to the natural world for solutions. As a result, the highest ingredient in our collection after water is Aloe Vera, also known as the ‘miracle plant’.
Regular use of Aloe Vera in your hair has been shown to repair dead skin cells on the scalp, promote hair growth, prevent itching on the scalp, reduce dandruff and scalp conditions such as eczema.
This level of analysis is put into every ingredient that gets Ellie’s ‘thumbs up’ and makes it into our collection.
What are your top tips for anyone with curly hair?
Embrace what nature has given you. You were gifted with wonderful curls and by treasuring and looking after it, they will be your crowning glory .
We have so many fab tips on our website ranging from washing to styling to heat protection. Some of my favourites are:
- Start caring for your curls as soon as possible, using gentle and moisturising products.
- Avoid heat where you can, but if you do use heat make sure you use heat protection.
- Weather has an impact on curls so make sure to adjust your routine for the weather – heat protection in the summer and more moisture in the winter.
- Use satin scrunchies to avoid breakage.
- Sometimes tangles are unavoidable. Gently tease out knots when the hair is wet, and well-lathered with conditioner. Start at the ends and hold the hair near the knot and very gently work the brush through the hair, a small section at a time. Never pull the hair vigorously – if it’s hurting your scalp, then it’s damaging your curls!
- Embrace your curls, they are beautiful.
Why did you decide to apply for the Vegan Trademark and how have you used it in your marketing?
Ellie’s allergies to dairy meant that anything that went near her had to be vegan.
When I was out shopping and balancing a shopping basket with an active toddler and a small child, the distinctive sunflower trademark offered an instantly recognisable quality guarantee that a product is free from animal products, derivatives or animal testing.
Later, after I had set up CurlyEllie and started going through the registration process for the Vegan Trademark myself, I really began to understand the rigorousness of the process.
This only solidified my confidence in the sunflower trademark and any product that is able to claim it.
What’s next for CurlyEllie?
We’ve had an exciting 12 months as we watched high fashion embrace CurlyEllie and natural vegan haircare.
We were humbled to see models rocking their CurlyEllie curls in the Guardian, Esquire Magazine and on the post-Covid catwalks. We were named in the Maire Claire 2021 hair awards in the category of Best Natural Formula Hair Care.
The next 12 months are set to be even more exciting and eventful.
Currently, we are in the process of creating sensational new products (no spoilers here).
Looking to give your hair a little more TLC? Discover the best vegan and cruelty-free hair masks to rescue your hair