Career Diaries: Kailey Bradt, Founder of OWA Haircare, on the Benefits of Waterless Beauty

May 06, 2020
Genesis Rivas
By: Genesis Rivas | by L'Oréal

After getting tired of trying to fit her hair-care products into a tiny Ziploc bag while traveling, Kailey Bradt decided to take her background in chemical engineering and passion for sustainability to create a first-of-its-kind water-activated powder shampoo: Moondust Hair Wash. Here, we’re chatting t with Bradt, founder of OWA Haircare, about the inspiration behind the formula and why she thinks waterless beauty is the future of the industry. 

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I’ve always been interested in sustainability and cosmetics, which was part of the reason I chose to study chemical engineering as an undergraduate. Through my experience formulating everything (seriously everything from battery cathodes to functional inks), I became fascinated with the art of formulation and transforming simple powders and liquids into finished products. My interest in cosmetics remained and the idea for OWA came to me almost effortlessly when packing for a trip one day. It was like it was meant to happen. 

What inspired you to start OWA Haircare?

When I learned liquid shampoo was 80% water on average, I had to do something. It was a perfect opportunity for me to combine my interests of clean beauty and sustainability with my background in chemical engineering. After three years from concept to launch, OWA released its first-of-a-kind, water-activated powder shampoo. 

The name OWA stands for “Out of this World Amazing.” The name really comes from the concept that we are bringing something entirely new to this planet. It’s something no one has ever seen, felt or experienced before. We want our community to share in this sense of discovery with us when using OWA products for the first time.

What are the benefits of using a waterless shampoo?

Waterless beauty products have a smaller environmental footprint across the entire supply chain. In one bottle of Hair Wash you get eight times the washes you would get from a bottle of liquid shampoo the same size. That’s four bottles of an eight-ounce liquid shampoo or about 60 washes on average. Our water-free formula is also only 11 ingredients (10 for our fragrance-free version). Leaving out water means we can leave out other ingredients that are included to stabilize liquid-format shampoos. Since we don’t need to develop a liquid, shelf-stable format, we can deliver only the ingredients you need in a concentrated format, not one that’s diluted with water. The absence of water from a formula can also increase shelf stability if stored properly because moisture acts as a breeding ground for mold, yeast, and bacteria.

Can you tell us about your efforts to be sustainable and why that was important to you?

I’ve always seen opportunity in the beauty space to address sustainability. Traditionally, sustainability within the cosmetic industry has always been focused on packaging and other elements that are tangible to the consumer. The reality is, there are so many more opportunities to make sustainable choices across the entire supply chain beyond what the consumer sees. Supply chain transparency is becoming more common in fashion, and I fully expect we will see attention on this grow in beauty, as well. This is what we are addressing with OWA.

When developing a product here at OWA, we consider the entire product lifecycle: from where the ingredients are sourced, how they are manufactured and delivered through to what happens after they go down the drain. We aren’t just focused on a single element, like water footprint, although that’s important. It’s a holistic view of the product development process. With a waterless formula, the picture is bigger than just the water we are keeping out of the bottle. We are also saving energy and other materials in distribution. Less weight and volume means less fuel and packaging, too.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

I love being creative, but not in the traditional sense. I can’t paint, draw or design a garment. My creativity lies in the ability to reengineer something in a way that’s different from anything others have already thought of. I have so many product ideas for OWA that don’t yet exist and cannot wait to introduce all of them over the next few years. I love every aspect of developing a new product, from brainstorming to the technical detail all the way through to marketing for launch.

What’s next for OWA Haircare?

From the very beginning, our concept was to create one hero product to introduce to the market. I wanted it to be a product that’s performance blew consumers away, while being a clean, sustainable formula. I started with shampoo because it is an essential in most people’s hair-care routine. This is where I saw an opportunity to make the biggest impact with OWA. Conditioner was always in the vision and there is one in the works. OWA will be a full hair-care line.

What do you want the world to know about waterless hair care?

Waterless beauty is the future, not just a passing trend. Consumers want high quality products that are sustainable, without compromising their routines. With waterless beauty, you get concentrated, effective products that last longer than those that are water-based.  

Beauty means …

To me, it’s an all encompassing view of someone. It’s not about appearance. It’s about how that person treats other people, it’s about how that person respects people and the planet alike. It’s about character.

Photo Courtesy Of: Kailey Bradt