Olivia Garden celebrates 50 years in 2017. Daughter of the founders, Anne Maza, spoke with MODERN SALON to share a timeline of innovation and talk about what it took to be successful for half a century.
“Everything that we do, we do it for the hairdresser,” Maza says. “Our passion is to make sure they have the best, most innovative tools possible.”
MS: Please share some background on the brand.
AM: Olivia Garden was started in 1967 by my parents, Jean and Micheline Rennette, in Belgium. My father was a school teacher and my mom was an esthetician and hairdresser. The wig and the hairpiece industry was very big at the time and they thought they could find something better than what was currently being offered. So my father went off to Hong Kong, with no prior experience in manufacturing, where he set up a factory to make wigs and hairpieces and then started selling them in Belgium as a fashion accessory. He would go to the salons in Belgium with wigs that my mother had colored and styled, hairdressers and their clients would see them and place orders. This is how they built their business.
And then, as with all trends, eventually the wig business died in the 70s. Still, they had created all these connections to the stylists and in 1974, they transitioned into liquid products and we introduced Clairol in Belgium. In 1976, they launched the first non-aerosol hair spray.
My father invented and patented the first silent blow dryer in 1979 called Silence HP. I still use it myself to this day. When perms were big in the 1980s, we invented a system of interlocking curlers without rubber bands that avoided the band mark across the hair. We were very successful with these and we started exporting our products to all of Europe, Japan, U.S., and Canada.
Once in the U.S, we came out with our first brush in 1998. The unique thing was that it had a lifetime warranty against manufacturer’s defects. We were the first to have a ceramic and ionic brush, combining both technology into the same brush. We also pioneered the concept of retailing the brushes and we got into apparel, shears, brush cleaners, and more.
MS: Why and when did you decide to make the move to the U.S.?
AM: To really get a foothold in the U.S. market. It was 1985, I was 12 and my brother was 14. It’s a big mistake for companies to think, that since they're successful in Europe, they'll take the exact same thing and be successful in America. The markets are completely different. You really have to know your customer base from all aspects. So we wanted to do it right by being here.
My father managed his company remotely from the U.S., flying back to Europe every three months. My mother was answering the calls here and shipping all the orders. Every day after school, I would type my father's notes on the typewriter. And my brother would do the accounting. At that time, we first started advertising our products to hairdressers. Distributors didn't really know us, so we needed to build that demand in the U.S. for the product, little by little. I would say that that took a good five years to get there.
MS: How did you become distributors?
AM: My father met a lot of American companies who wanted to be in Europe and didn't know how to get into it. It was especially difficult before the European Union. But my father was in 13 countries, with13 languages, 13 currencies, 13 customs to clear and he understood what was needed. If you sold to my father in Belgium, he would distribute, and he would translate all the literature into 13 languages for all the products. He became a massive distributor for several U.S. companies. It was an opportunity that we hadn't planned on but that just happened because we happened to be here and we had a network over there.
MS: How about some recent milestones?
AM: In 2012, we reached over 10 million brushes sold. Also, we are the first and only, still to this day, to have a brush App that you download and then learn what brush is right for each type of hair.
In 2013, we did our first Look Book to focus on the end result, not just show pretty pictures of product. We showed about eight different styles and we listed which brushes were used for those different styles.
In 2014, we launched Heat Pro, the first brush that would heat up to 550°. We also started doing Fashion Week sponsorships that year. We have photography to back up our participation backstage and front of the house and we do amazing videos. At New York Fashion Week, my brushes have just as much to do with the way the hair looks as the hairspray used.
In 2015 we surpassed 100 countries in which our products are available and in 2016, we revamped all of our booths.
MS: What is a big focus for you now and in the future?
AM: The big thing is our education. We’re doing classes at all the major shows this year. We’ll be teaching cutting and styling technique along with product knowledge and we’ll teach the same class until we get it perfect. At ISSE, stylist Ricardo Santiago was teaching our class and he was showing how to finish a style with brushes instead of a hot tool, which can be so damaging to the hair over time. After we've done this class many times, we're going to distributors to offer it for their customers.