Green Genes: An Interview with Neuma Founder Jeff Orrell

Jeffery Orrell, the founder and President of Neuma Beauty, began his career in professional beauty in 1988 with Aveda. He joined ABBA Pure & Natural Hair Care, where he managed the company’s domestic distribution channels. He would go on to work with Jim Markham to launch Pureology, a pioneering sulfate-free line for color-treated hair. Other stops along his professional beauty path have included owning a distributorship, a consulting firm, and a full-service salon before launching Neuma in 2010. “One of the biggest compliments we get paid is that if Aveda and Pureology had a baby, it would be Neuma,” Orrell says.

During Neuma’s California Experience, an education and lifestyle event the brand hosted in Huntington Beach, CA in September 2017 for salon owners, stylists, distributors, and salon consultants, MODERN sat with Orrell to talk about the brand he created and why it was so important to him that it be sustainable, responsible, and transparent. 

MS: Your California Experience offered so much hands-on education, as well as fun in the sun. This is a big undertaking for a brand—why do you think it important to hold these kind-of events?

JO: Similar to my experiences with Aveda and the Aveda Congress, we wanted to provide a program that not only motivated professional hairstylists but also educated them. We believe in the power of hands-on and providing hairdressers with the skills they need to be successful. It is also very important to us that we’re able to give our Neuma stylists and salons an up-close look at who we are and how we operate.

Five years ago, we had less than twenty people who wanted to make the trek down to Southern California and to tour Neuma’s offices. But those twenty really had a desire to see where it all happens. We doubled that number each year and now, in our fifth year, we have over one hundred who join us. They come to our Neuma facility, see our corporate offices and our “mother ship,” Cosway Manufacturing. We have an incredibly close relationship with them, which is an important point of difference, because we have access to the lab where we can work directly with the chemists, those talented alchemists. It’s a rare thing for a company to be able to sit down like this and go over concept ideas, objectives and rationale, and work together to formulate from concept to creation. And we wanted to show our Neuma family how we do it.

MS: What is your process for bringing products to life?

JO: It really depends on the product because they all have a different timeline but it’s generally a good six months from the time we start and we do all the R&D testing to the time we are launching. We allow for enough time to get feedback and to tweak things based on what we’re hearing.  My strategy has always been that if I can get sixty percent of people to say, “Yes, this is working for me” then I know I’m there.

We’ve done some sampling programs that have provided us with, both, great feedback and awareness.  Birchbox sampled our Instant Fix, a leave-in conditioner, and we did a Glam Bag with Ipsy.

MS: How have you been getting the word out about Neuma?

JO: It used to be that you would race to become profitable, manufacturing as inexpensively as you could, which would allow you to create the most margin to have a budget for advertising. And it was a one-way conversation. Our industry is so market-driven that we became accustomed to the puffery. Today, life has changed, the way we communicate has changed, and with the advent of the internet and the smartphone, you can’t get away with saying whatever you want about a product. People will talk to each other and post honest reviews and testimonials about your products—good or bad—and anyone can look at their phone to get the answer on ingredient integrity. We want to tell the truth and to clearly show everything that is in and not in our products and it’s all written on the bottle. Years ago, clients and consumers would look at the price, first. Today, they look at the ingredients.

By being this transparent, we have empowered the hairdresser. They don’t have to stretch the truth, or remember the list of things that are (and aren’t) in the formulas. They can just hand over the bottle and say, “Read this.”

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