Hair Obsessed: The Oribe Story – An Interview with Daniel Kaner

Hair Obsessed: The Oribe Story – An Interview with Daniel Kaner

Daniel Kaner, President and Co-Founder of Oribe Hair Care and brilliant conversationalist, talked with Estetica about the company’s joining forces with Kao Salon Division. We touched upon everything from synergies to development and roads less taken.

What can you tell us about the internationalisation of the Oribe brand after becoming a part of Kao?

“Several years ago, I knocked on Cory Couts’ (Global President, Kao Salon Division) door, and I’m pleased to say he answered. The introduction was made through my friend and longtime industry veteran John Moroney (VP Creative & Communication, Kao Salon Division). We identified Goldwell as a strategic partner for us, as their colour is the gold standard in our industry and a perfect companion for our brand, which eventually led to a partnership with the Kao Salon Division North America in 2018. What was amazing is that we really got to know the organisation before we joined them. We worked closely with Trevor Attenborough (President & GM, Kao North America) and his team, including educators, field sales and marketers, and we developed a great mutual respect for one another. It usually doesn’t work that way, as acquisitions often happen before a relationship has been formed. But we had a great relationship going into the acquisition which has made our transition seamless. Kao Corporation is a 130 year old company with amazing values and global culture… the professional division has a long history in the salon industry, led by insightful leaders like Cory Couts and Trevor Attenborough. As Trevor always says, they’re serious about how the brands show up in the community.

Kao brings a structured footprint throughout Europe and Asia: professional managers and educational facilities that span the globe, and in many ways it’s really a dream for a brand like ours to be able to share these resources. Our goal is to bring the very same values and principles into the expanded network that the professional division has provided, making sure that we’re introducing our range of products to the right salon and meeting the right type of stylist in all of the markets. Our dream is to build a global network of like-minded hairdressers, those that take great pride in their work and value their contribution to the community. The United States is our largest market, and with Kao’s influence, we instantly become a larger global voice. We’ve learned that a true global brand speaks in local dialects and is sensitive to local market conditions. Our partnership allows us to enter the market in a careful and thoughtful way.”

How has Oribe managed to stay on top?

“We launched Oribe Hair Care in 2008 during the recession… we believed that there was room for us. I’ve spent a great deal of time in my career with very serious hairdressers and business owners, and there is such a deep sense of professionalism and love for the artistic side of the business. This was the group that tested our products in the early stages; these were the salon owners that loaned us the money to create the brand; we remain deeply tethered to this community. Our products are designed to speak to them. In turn, these were products that consumers who relied on results would also be proud to use.

We have a very people-oriented culture. We spend a great deal of time finding the right team members who represent our values and brand. Moreover, we also embrace the Japanese philosophy of Genba-ism … which means we operate from an enhanced understanding of our customers and the special nuances of their business. We have a direct distribution model in the U.S., which offers an uninterrupted conversation with our partners and allows us an intimate understanding of their needs and their challenges. Success is defined in many ways, but we feel best when we earn the trust of a stylist who is willing to recommend our products to a customer.”

Which accomplishments are you most proud of?

“I’m proud of our team and the many stakeholders involved in our brand. Many of our partners have been with us from the very beginning. I think back to when we started the brand with limited resources and many of our partners believed in our goal… which allowed us to turn our vision into a reality. Our goal is greater than selling products; it’s become more about strengthening our larger network and making sure that we evolve together and leave the community stronger than we found it, providing an interesting future for younger artists and owners.

How has education been adapted in the wake of COVID?

“Our co-founder, legendary hairstylist Oribe Canales, had a unique perspective. He loved being a hairdresser, and he loved being in a salon. There was a generosity to his outlook, and the way he approached his craft, he was an artist. Oribe was passionate about education and learning. He always wanted to grow. From the outset, education has been one of our cornerstones of support to our salons. Our signature education program, Journey to Mastery, was modelled after our internal educator training program which we adapted for stylists. The global program allows hairdressers to experience a broad base of techniques. We have a special group of engaging, passionate educators in the United States who are equally talented at both setting standards and being role models. We look forward to growing this and meeting new education colleagues throughout the world.

Our program consists of in-salon classes and larger-scale regional workshops. We had to pivot to a digital format in the wake of COVID. Oftentimes, we can only see the challenges that change brings, but in this case, we have a new format in which to reimagine our education. Portability, accessibility, broader audiences and non-diluted messaging are all pieces of the puzzle that our educators are currently working through. We see this as an opportunity, which is exciting and will provide more for all.”

What is it that you love about the salon industry?

“Those in the salon industry share a real passion and love for what they do. I’m always inspired with the artisan’s perspective, those in our society who make and create things with their hands, heart and mind. To me, it’s an extraordinary gift to be one of those creators, and I so admire it. My career has been defined by so many of the wonderful relationships that I’ve experienced through my journey. The community fuels me as a creative and there’s no better feeling than being aligned with like minded leaders.

Oribe Canales absolutely loved being a hairdresser, and I remember him always referring to himself as an artist. He was perfectly matched to his career… and how amazing is that? When people can get closer to what they love, closer to what their passions are, then they take flight, they just unfold in the most beautiful way.”

What role does mentorship play in your approach?

“It’s our responsibility as leaders to help develop the people that we work with. The act of mentoring and coaching has become my chosen form of leadership. We as mentors are responsible for guiding our team members along their journeys. It’s the difference between a good career and finding something that you love and that you are good at. One of my mentors, Doug Cole (Cole’s Salon in Minnesota), taught me the impact that a coach could have on the individuals within an organisation. And the results are exponential to an individual’s career. All of our team members are encouraged to coach their colleagues and to help them be more confident and successful within their careers with a direct correlation to the self. This helps to fuel self-acceptance and self-confidence, which is a wonderful outcome. To help an individual to better understand how they can evolve and how they can be less fearful is a powerful leadership tool that honours both the teacher and the student. When you’re in an environment that cares about people and their personal development, there’s a different mindset within the organisation. As we age, we often think about our legacies… how great a journey could it be if it is spent championing the people we serve.”

What are your favourite Oribe products?

“We’ve worked together with the team for so many years to make products that we’re all proud of and that consumers can enjoy using. Creating products is an iterative process full of stops and starts. One of the products I am most proud of is not a hair care product but incense. Oribe is known for its signature fragrance: It’s a beautiful mix of bergamot, cedarwood and Cuba’s national flower, la mariposa blanca (white butterfly jasmine), and we were able to capture the fragrance in the form of incense, which adds to our signature fragrance; it’s beautiful. We worked with legendary incense makers on the Awaji islands off the coast of Japan. It’s a simple meditation, I love burning it throughout the day… it incites a subtle pause or change of focus.

Lately my hair is quite short, and one of the original products that we launched was the Rough Luxury Soft Molding Paste. I love its memory and matte finish, it does a lot with a little.

I always use the shampoo for Beautiful Colour, even though I don’t colour my hair. I buy the liter size because I love the way the ruby bottle looks in my shower and I love the smell and how it performs on my hair; it’s very gentle on my scalp… It’s the only way to start the day. If you haven’t tried our triple-milled bar soap, it’s so dense and rich, it’s like lathering with body cream.”

What COVID emergency initiatives have impressed you the most about this industry?

“The current situation has brought our community closer together, and we’ve witnessed broad-based support throughout our industry. Many manufacturers were generous and thoughtful with support that came in many forms. We over-communicated throughout the pandemic, sharing information from the lead markets as they began to open, which was very helpful… because none of us knew what to expect. We were delighted with the consumer response wanting to support their local salons by participating in curb-side retail programs. In addition, many of our most distinguished salon owners and managers participated in national podcasts to share insights, resources and best practices. I’ve always experienced tremendous generosity within our salon community. I’m proud of our Kao Professional Division and am grateful to the spirited leaders that led us through this troubled period… we truly are stronger together.”

How can the aftermath of the lockdown be seen as an opportunity to make changes and evolve?

“I’ve had many conversations with owners throughout the pandemic, and as we prepared to reopen, many reassessed their practices and found opportunities. Their main objective was to ensure the safety of their teams and customers… to rebuild their confidence. I think that’s going to be their focus moving forward: to gradually enhance the customer experience while maintaining a safe environment.”