Danielle Fishel Talks Topanga, Motherhood and Founding Be Free by Danielle Fishel

March 26, 2020
Samantha Holender
By: Samantha Holender | Makeup.com by L'Oréal

It’s a fact: Topanga, from the 90s sitcom Boy Meets World, has always had a really freakin’ great head of hair. Her level of volume and shine is wild, you guys. That’s why when we heard that Danielle Fishel (aka Topanga Lawrence IRL) was creating a natural hair-care line, we knew the products would be the real deal and the formulas would be free of nasties like sulfates, parabens, phthalates, fragrances and more. Read on because Fishel is dishing on everything from what inspired her to found Be Free by Danielle Fishel to why she prioritizes self-care. 

Your background isn’t in beauty. Can you tell us a bit about your career?

I started my career in entertainment as an actor when I was 10 years old. I had wanted to act for about a year. This was mostly just because there was a girl at my school who had started doing it and I wanted to be like her. My parents tried to talk me out of it, but after a year of me begging, they relented and decided to get me an agent.Within two years, I had booked Boy Meets World and I was on the show playing Topanga Lawrence from 1993 to 2000. I continued to act for a little while, got into hosting and I reprised the role of Topanga in Girl Meets Worldfrom 2014 to 2017. It was during that show that I got the opportunity to direct, which is what my primary career is now. I am a director for Disney Channel. I've directed episodes of Sydney to the Max, Coop & Cami Ask the World, Just Roll With It and Raven’s Home. I think after working with the kids on Girl Meets World, I realized how important and impactful a good director is, especially in children's TV. When I look back over the years that I was on Boy Meets World,There were a lot of adults that were very influential in my life, but some of the most influential were the directors we worked with. They were the people who taught me the basics of what it means to have good timing, blocking, how to find my camera. Kind of like the 101 of acting. All of a sudden I felt like I could be that good role model and the first foundation for kids who are just starting out in the entertainment industry. I just wanted to be a leader for them. 

Your on-screen characters have always been known for having great hair, but what inspired you to go ahead and create your own hair-care line?  

I never had been involved in the beauty space. I wasn't educated in it, and I'm not a die-hard beauty fan. I'm not one of those people who always knows what new products are out or can't stop buying beauty products. I'm pretty low-maintenance. I had never entered the space because it just wasn't authentic for me. Then when we (Fishel and her husband, Jensen Karp) found out we were pregnant, and at the very first OBGYN appointment, I got to hear my baby's heartbeat. I was not prepared at all, I just didn't know what to expect. I walked out of there shocked. It just made everything so real, and it made me just take a step back and think about what was in my beauty products. Before being pregnant, I didn't care what was in my products, I just wanted to like what I used. When I walked out of that doctor's appointment, I knew it was time for me to start thinking about everything I was using — and I started in my shower.

I started going through the products that I was using on my hair. I scanned them on the Think Dirty App, where it gives you a rating out of ten of how bad the products are for you. All of mine we’re like an eight. And I was like, Oh, okay, perhaps I need to think about this. I still didn’t want to create a line, I just wanted to take the easy way out. I texted my best friend, which is what we always do. You just ask people. I was expecting for a bunch of people to have things for me. But everyone I asked either said, I'll tell you what I'm using, but I do not like it, so I'm not recommending it to you. Or they would say, To be honest, I'm still using the stuff that's bad for me because it's the only thing that I’ve found that I like and that works. So then I went to Google. Google told me Here are the eight best natural hair products. I ordered all eight of them and thought I would find something I loved. Well, let’s just say I had issues with all of them. Either they didn't work at all ... or I'd scan them thinking they were going to be pure and natural and they were still at an eight on the Think Dirty App. That's what made me decide, Okay, if I have this need, other people have this need, too, and I'll try to fill the gap.

Walk me through the development process for Be Free by Danielle Fishel. 

I knew that if I hadn’t loved any of the products that I'd used that were totally natural and organic, that it was probably because it's very hard to have a 100% natural and organic product that works well. I knew I probably wasn’t going to go that route, but I also wasn’t willing to have my products be an eight. I created in my head what I call The Crunchy Scale. I was like, Where do I fall on this crunchy scale?Zero being the most crunchy, 100% natural, organic products, and the other end being a 10. I knew that I was somewhere in the middle of The Crunchy Scale, leaning slightly more toward crunchy. Once I had that in my head, it was pretty easy for me to figure out the things I was trying to achieve with the line.  

I wanted lather.  It was really important to me to not sacrifice my shampoo lathering. I know that you do not need lather in order to get your hair clean, but it's something I personally am used to and it's something I personally like in my hair-washing experience. But, I also didn't want to have sulfates. That's one of the things I went back and forth with the lab many times. There are derivatives of things made from coconut and some are still better than others. Even though they're made from coconut, it doesn't necessarily mean that they’re okay for you. So I would research the ingredients myself, try the product myself, and say, This one lathers but I'm not comfortable with this ingredient. Let's do something else.Another thing I was absolutely not willing to budge was fragrance. I've discovered through creating the line that fragrance is one of those things that is considered to be trade secret. It's protected from you needing to disclose what ingredients go into that fragrance. So all you need to put on the back of a shampoo, conditioner or any product is that word “fragrance.” You don’t need to specify what that is per se. Sometimes fragrance can hide really harmful chemicals. It was very important to me that the company be authentic and transparent. That’s why  our bottles are clear. I wanted it to be made in the United States. And in a perfect world, I wanted it to still smell good. I wanted it to be cruelty-free and vegan. That’s what I started with. Then, once we started the development process with the lab, it just got more and more fine-tuned as we continued to do trials. I was the tester for it all. They would send me stuff, I would wash my hair with it, I would test it out, I would blow-dry. I'd see the way it made my hair feel. I recruited my husband to be my tester as well, and over the course of ten months we created the products. 

How did you decide on the name of the brand? 

It came from feeling like I wanted to be free from harsh chemicals. I wanted to be free from having to do a ton of research just to find a shampoo and conditioner to find a hair-care line that I could use and feel good about. I wanted to be free to look my best. The words “be free”  just kept coming to me. I was like, Why don't I just call it Be Free? The funny thing about it is there was never even another option. It was what came to me. I said to my husband, Do you think I should call it Be Free? He was like, I really like it. And then I pitched it to a few other people, and they were like, It's really good. So I said, Great, then let’s go with that. 

What’s next for Be Free by Danielle Fishel? 

This is going to be a big year for us! We've got five products currently that we are developing and hoping to roll out over the course of the next year. I'm in the testing phase. Again, I'm the Be Free by Danielle Fishel official tester. Everything has to go through me a million times before I would be willing to even give it to anyone to try. We're hoping to do a detangler and a heat protectant, among a few other things. We're also hoping to have different sizes of our products available. We've had some people ask for larger sizes and for travel sizes. Another amazing goal that I would love to see happen is for us to be in a retail store. The great thing is that our customers have been very vocal about everything. They give their thoughts on the products, what they like, what they don't like, and it's very important to me that we take that into consideration. I created the product originally because I knew I had a need. But if it was just me with the need, this would have been a really expensive way to fix my need! But, other people have this problem, too, and so I want to listen to our customers. That's what made me pick the next products.

Fill in the blanks. 

I would tell my 20-year-old self: Despite what you think, you are a late bloomer, and you are not as mature and wise as you think you are. So don't be cocky with your decision making. 

My three desert island products are: SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion SPF 50, Cherry Chapstick (it’s my favorite thing ever; I have one in every single pocket and drawer) and Vaseline. 

One beauty trend I regret trying is: Thin eyebrows. I look back at pictures and just think Why did I do that to myself? By the way, we’re not even talking ’90s. I’m talking 2015! 

My first memory of beauty is: My mom putting on her mascara. She used to separate her eyelashes so that there were no clumps. But to do it she would use an enormous safety pin!  

To me, beauty means: Beauty means whatever helps me feel comfortable in my own skin. I don't want to adhere any longer to trends or what other people's definition of beauty is. I just want to look in the mirror and be proud of what is staring back at me. And that means both internally and externally. And there have been so many times over my life where I have been extremely critical of myself based on my weight or some other ideal beauty standard. I think what a waste of all that time. Now when I'm unhappy with something, I am unhappy with it because I haven't tried as hard to be healthy as I would like to be. I haven't made myself enough of a priority to make exercise important, to make sleep important, to make drinking enough water important. I'm not valuing myself enough. So now, my definition of beauty is whether I;n valuing myself enough to take care of me.