Q&A with Ashley Feinberg

Geren Ashley

Kavella was founded by Ashley Feinberg, a licensed cosmetologist and animal rights enthusiast. She was motivated to create nontoxic and vegan-friendly products that worked as well as the traditional options in salons, so she started making products at home using plant-based alternatives. Four years later, Kavella is a growing brand that can be found in salons throughout the United States.

Can you tell our readers about your background?

I was born and raised in Las Vegas and came out to California when I was 16. I’ve worked in various fields such selling car insurance, then managed an office for a seminar company, and finally, I worked at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney where I became a financial planning associate.

What inspired you to start your business?

I’ve always loved hair. When I was a teenager, I was often seen wearing a bright green mohawk or something along those lines. After being in the corporate world, I knew I wanted to own my own business in the creative field. This inspired me to go to cosmetology school with the intention of opening my own salon, but instead, I fell in love with the chemistry behind the hair products. I started creating products in my kitchen that were safer and more effective than the products I was using at school, and it just kept growing from there.

Where is your business based?

Our office and warehouse are in Woodland Hills, CA.

How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?

After I had been handmaking products for a while, I started selling them at a friend’s salon, called Liberated in Atwater Village, Los Angeles. I kept changing the formulas based on the stylists’ suggestions until they were perfected, and then I would come out with something new. After 3 years with Instagram as my main introduction to new salons, Kavella is now carried at 9 salons throughout the United States, and I’ve scaled up 9 of my 23 products to be small batch manufactured at a local lab.

What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?

I’ve done two trade shows, one of which was just last weekend, and simply interacting with salons and stylists via Instagram/Facebook. I also network with two other woman-owned, like-minded brands, Freedom Deodorant and C2 Skincare, to reach each other’s’ fan base.

What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

Some of the biggest challenges are sourcing great ingredients in small quantities. I do a lot of research and try out many versions of a new product on myself before I release it to my key stylists to try out. I’ve basically been teaching myself cosmetic chemistry for 4 years with no chemistry background, so I’ve learned everything in a hands-on way.

How do you stay focused?

Feedback and requests from stylists are big drivers for me. I try to have a personal connection with all of my salons, even if we have never met in person. I care about their needs and requests, and in turn, they are emotionally invested in the brand. Those relationships make it easy to stay focused. But most importantly, I want to grow the company so that I can make an impact on animal rights and welfare. Kavella donates to organizations such as Best Friends Animal Society and Mercy for Animals, but we want to get involved in more ways.

How do you differentiate your business from the competition?

Kavella strives to have the cleanest formulas possible while also being vegan and gluten-free so that everyone can use our products. Our stylists and their clients can feel the difference right away because we use such high-quality ingredients and don’t compromise. We also currently distribute our products directly to our salons, which keeps the cost down compared to other high-quality brands on the market.

What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?

Hiring a social media management firm was great for Kavella. Although I enjoy being a part of the dialogue that takes place through comments and direct messages, having a firm handle all the imagery and influencer outreach through our social media pages is key. We promote that we offer free salon sample packs because getting our products in the hands of stylists is the most effective way to sell through. Funding our sample sizes was a big stretch for our small company, but it is definitely worth it.

What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?

Your business doesn’t need to blow up overnight. Kavella has grown slowly and organically so far, and that has helped us build high-quality products and high-quality relationships. Also, you don’t need to be an expert at everything. Hire people who know more than you when needed. I tried to build my own website and manage my own social media, but in the end, hiring experts was a much better move.

What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?

App: Instagram, of course! I love looking at all the beautiful haircuts, colors, and styles that our talented community creates. Blog: When I was first experimenting with making products, I often turned to the blog of Susan Barclay-Nichols who is also a self-taught cosmetic chemist. (http://swiftcraftymonkey.blogspot.com) I learned so much reading through her posts and trying her formula experiments for myself. Thank you, Susan! Book: The E Myth by Michael E Gerber. It was my first introduction to entrepreneurship long before I ever started a business.

What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?

Google. If I don’t know how to do something, I can either learn how to do it myself, or I can find someone who knows how. Like myself, many entrepreneurs now are not college graduates; we are just resourceful. 

Who is your business role model? Why?

My husband, Sam. He is the smartest person I know and has turned many of his own hobbies into businesses.

What do you have planned for the next six months?

We are planning to start working with our stylists to do editorial shoots and educational videos, and we are going to step up our game in influencer outreach.

How can our readers connect with you?

Kavella can be found at www.kavella.com, on Instagram at @kavellahaircare or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kavellahaircare.