\We sat down with Nora Schaper, the founder of Hello HiBAR. HiBAR has become an absolute sensation in the shampoo bar space. It's in Whole Foods, Sprouts, REI, Target, and Salvos.
We chatted with Nora about her journey as an eco-entrepreneur. What makes HiBAR so sustainable? How was HiBAR able to stand out in a fiercely competitive, sustainable beauty industry, and her vision for HiBAR's future.
The whole interview was done on our Planet A Podcast and the conversation below has been shortened for brevity.
How did you build one of the fastest-growing sustainability brands in America?
A lot of it has to do with growing up with an entrepreneurial father, an artistic mother, my husband, who is also my business partner, and two other great partners.
My dad ran a business, and it was in the environmental space. He was an environmental engineer that had automated water treatment and clean water. The love of nature was always a big issue in my household and with my mother being an artist, so was creative thinking.
These influences helped me and my husband start a bath bomb company called BodyLish. At that time, we were selling at farmer's markets and started putting our products in compostable bags. It got us thinking, 'gosh, all these containers and waste, there's got to be a way to make a simple product with great ingredients without all this packaging waste.'
The focus to reduce packaging led us to one of our co-founders of HiBAR, Ward, who is currently our CEO. Ward had a natural pet food company that he'd built for 20 years and then sold. I saw him in a parking lot, and I cornered him, and I'm like,
"Ward, will you consult with us on BodyLish?" Because he was really successful at growing and manufacturing and really at business itself, I knew he would be a great asset. He came over and met with my husband and me, and we were talking about our big idea -- eliminating packaging specifically with bathroom products.
He was like, "that is a fantastic idea, and I really want to be part of that!"
We were super psyched, and we were going to start doing it through BodyLish. But the fourth co-founder Dion, who we ran into at a housewarming party, asked my husband, what are you guys up to?
My husband explained that we're reformulating things to eliminate the need for packaging." Dion got this face of Oh My Gosh." and it turns out that he had that exact same idea! We told them we're working with Ward, who he also knew. He was like, "Oh, we need to band together!
Once Dion expressed interest, we decided we're going to start a new company. It was just too complicated to try to shift BodyLish. My husband and I ended up selling BodyLish, and HiBAR has become our primary focus.
What motivated you to create HiBAR? Is it fair to say it was the plastic waste problem?
Definitely! Even before I was aware of the plastic issue, I had a deep love of nature. I'd go out in nature, and you'd see a plastic bag, or you'd go to the beach, and it's covered with plastic.
It was very upsetting.
I've spent many family vacations walking along the ocean, picking up all the plastic fishing trash. Even through BodyLish, we were giving back to clean water because who wants to take a bath in dirty, gross water. We really need to do something so that we can enjoy the nature around us.
We were definitely motivated by the plastic problem.
When you're starting something new, there are always so many forces working against you: the industry incumbents, you're lacking capital, you often are doing other things. Your time is constrained. What was the internal motivation that you could build a brand in such a competitive industry?
Luckily, we had an experience with BodyLish to approach stores for sales. We knew that the natural grocery channel from that experience.
Then our team.
Dion has a marketing background. He's a fantastic marketing person. He handles our marketing; Ward is an excellent CEO and is really aware of the many pitfalls around the business. It's really nice to have the experience of growing a product business so that you know how to do it. Then Jay, my husband being our formulator, knows how to do so much from being a farmer and an MBA and entrepreneur.
We have a really well-balanced, strong team with a real passion around the plastic problem.
The passion for sure makes you believe you can succeed.
We all four of us believed that the plastic problem will reach a tipping point where single-use plastic is as abnormal and shunned as smoking in public.
This is coming, and we need to wake up and take care of it. We all believe that, and we thought we could be a part of the solution.
How long did it take to develop HiBAR?
It took a long time. It took at least two years. The chemists that we met basically told us it was not possible to formulate a solid product to be for a hair type.
Honestly, those words are some of the most motivating words you can say to my husband. We literally spent years, and we got so many different versions out for testing. We also planned from the beginning that it couldn't look like a bar of soap because it's not a bar of soap.
A lot of the shampoo bars out there honestly are soap that are marketed as shampoo. Soap and shampoo are chemically different.
We knew it had to look different. We knew that people weren't going to give up a plastic bottle unless it was as effective as the salon-quality they had in their bathroom. We really want it to inspire people.
It needed to be easy and fun, and beauitful to look at and to use.
Honestly, the shape really took a long time to decide on what would be the best. For a long time, we had an egg shape, but I knew that wasn't quite right.
We just kept working at it until we found the one that we knew was right and ultimately developed a beveled edge so it can be easily applied to people's scalps.
How did you come up with the name HiBAR?
We did boards and boards of names, and this took us weeks, and coming up with a name was a lot harder than you'd expect.
We finally settle on one, and then we'd go to the internet and see if it was trademarked or taken, and we would discover it was taken.
Then one day, I went out for a walk with a friend, and I was telling her about what we were doing and how we were having a challenge coming up with a name.
My friend was like, "what about HiBAR?"
I was like, "what?"
"HiBAR, it's like setting a higher bar for shampoo. It's a bar, and the word 'hi' is friendly."
I brought it back to the team, and all of us were like, "Oh my gosh, that's it!" We looked it up, and the Hello HiBAR was available as a URL, and we're like, lock it in, let's go.
How did you get your first customers?
We were asking people to make a lot of changes in the way they use shampoo. We knew it would be a little challenging to get people to try it, especially women. We had advisers who were saying, maybe just focus on men. However, we wanted to get to mass distribution and get out there, and the only way to do that was to get the female consumer.
We started by doing a lot and sending out a lot of tests. We initially focused on salons because we wanted to say the product was salon quality and get confirmation from salons that that was indeed the case.
When we had started the idea, and when we were developing the shape, we sent an email to friends and family asking for a picture of their shower and not explaining why. We were trying to get an idea of what kind of plastic they had, how they were storing their toiletries, and what their showers looked like.
We had many friends and family between the four of us who were curious as to what we were up to.
Once we launched, we emailed them back and said, "Hey, this is what we're doing. We have a shampoo bar. It's not in a plastic bottle and what do you think?" We'd love to hear your thoughts.
People don't realize plastic is made from fossil fuels, but the same fossil fuel companies that put the oil in our cars also have a plastic business on the side. I was shocked to learn that a few years ago, I had no idea. I just assumed plastic was fine.
Part of the insidious piece of plastic to me is that it can only be recycled once. People think, Oh, I'm doing a good thing, and I'm recycling it once, and then it's there forever. Plastic has excellent uses, but single-use is not one of them.
What is your long-term vision for HiBAR? What do you see HiBAR being in the future?
We really want to inspire people to make changes. Right now, we have shampoos and conditioners, but we do want to expand and reformulate other products in the bathroom.
We want to inspire change. We want mass shampoo makers to follow us. We want them to say, "Oh my gosh, there are people out there that don't want their shampoo in a bottle anymore, and let's start making it in a solid way."
We want everybody to get on board with the plastic-free shampoo. It really does not need to be in a bottle. Shampoo is 80% water, which means we are shipping shampoo bottles – which are primarily water -- across the country to your shower that already has water.
Eliminating the water makes it lighter to ship, and the product lasts longer. It's just more effective and practical.
It just makes sense, and we're hoping that big brands and big companies follow suit.