Jonathan Van Ness is giving his hair care brand, JVN Hair, the “Queer Eye” treatment.
The business is getting a makeover under new ownership after being sold by previous parent company Amyris during its bankruptcy proceedings, and is under new management.
“I never had any equity in JVN Hair previously, and I’ve learned so much as a founder and a business owner,” Van Ness said. “There was so much of the business we didn’t have oversight with, such as operational control.”
Windsong Global acquired the brand at auction for $1.25 million, with Van Ness taking an equity stake as well. (Windsong also acquired Amyris-owned Pipette.)
Around the time of the bankruptcy, JVN’s revenues for the preceding 12 months was around $28 million, sources said. Executives didn’t comment on sales, but did say the brand was headed in the right direction.
“We will be profitable now, basically,” Van Ness said. “For the first time, I have equity in our company, I have a seat at the table when it comes to incredibly important back-end business decisions that I never had visibility on. We have an ability to direct our growth and our future in a way that we’ve never had.”
The brand’s new chapter comes after last year’s steep learning curve. “EBITDA, P&L – I’ve learned all the acronyms,” Van Ness continued. “I never could’ve predicted how much I’d learn about growing a business.”
“The ink is dry, and we’re going through the transition,” said brand president Teresa Lo of the deal. “There’s a lot of unsexy back-end stuff in terms of system integrations and moving inventory, but Windsong specializes in consumer businesses. Outside of being investors, they are very skilled operators, and that’s one of the key things that we’re the most excited about.”
The first order of business has been maintaining the quality of the formulas, in addition to keeping as much of the brand’s team intact as possible. “When consumers hear about a sale, they want to know if the formulas are changing, is the packaging changing, is it going to be less cute?” said Van Ness. “I wanted to make sure that our formulas stay with all of our integrity, because we’ve worked so hard on them.”
At the time of JVN’s August 2021 launch, it had four collections, which included treatment and styling products, as well as three ranges of shampoos and conditioners. They rely on hemisqualane, a squalane derivative that both benefits hair and scalp while substituting the glossy cosmetic effects of silicones. At the time, Amyris owned hemisqualane, but has since sold it to Givaudan.
“When I did hair, even if a product was radioactive but would make someone’s hair look the way my client wanted, I would sacrifice that,” Van Ness said. “When clients have a goal, they really want their hair to look like that, and they usually don’t care what’s in it. But my goal was to do formulas that are gorgeous and fundamentally good-for-you, but that work,” Van Ness said.
Moving forward, some products are getting a bit of a reboot, though. “I’m so proud of our formulas, but for example, we launched a shampoo and conditioner with packaging in a pretty purple color. Then after, we realized people would think it was a purple shampoo for blond hair,” Van Ness said. “I didn’t know as much about packaging, and when I saw all the products together, I thought they might actually clash.”
The Undamage range is among Van Ness’ favorites, but it’s also being rethought. “It doesn’t sell the way our shampoos and conditioners do, which isn’t a quality issue, I think it’s a positioning issue,” Van Ness said. “We have some new launches coming, too.”
Lo will handle most of the operational duties, while Van Ness will focus on more creative ones. “I’m so passionate about social, marketing, product development, formula. She’s also the packaging queen, fragrance queen and selling queen, in addition to distribution,” Van Ness said.
In spite of the challenges bankruptcy posed, Lo said the brand still garnered consumer interest and trust. “Going through the bankruptcy, we didn’t have the cash to do very much or [anything] at all,” she said. “If you still looked at the organic traffic coming to our website, and the conversion rate we were seeing — even Windsong was shocked. That speaks volumes to the quality of the products, and what we stand for.”
JVN remains exclusive to Sephora, which Lo said wasn’t likely to change. “They have been excellent partners with us and we have every plan to stay exclusive with Sephora. For a brand that is growing and that has personality like we do, Sephora is the right partner to be in.”
JVN Hair is currently in a few salons, which Van Ness said was critical given his background as a hair stylist.
“Salons gave me a path, a community, and friends. Salons are so important to me,” Van Ness said. “We want to give our salons a great experience and make sure that they’re ready to grow, but we need to make sure we’re able to fill their needs correctly.”
Added Lo, “We want to be able to deliver on our promises. Right now, we’re in the salons, and we don’t have plans to expand exponentially yet there, but it’s on the horizon.”
Van Ness joins the ranks of other Amyris founders who have regained control of their brands. Francisco Costa recently announced the relaunch of Costa Brazil after buying it back and Onda Beauty’s Larissa Thomson won that company’s IP, Tribeca store lease and inventory in an auction.