Remember the TopsyTail(TM)? How could you forget? The best-selling hair accessory in history had a ubiquitous infomercial in the 1990’s that set the standard for other fashion accessory products to follow. TopsyTail(TM) sold over $100 million in a short period of time. Meanwhile, other successful products Hairdini(TM), Whirl-a-Style(TM) and FanTail(TM) have enjoyed longer market longevity, and evolving product lines. All products were invented by women, who got into the business for different reasons in unique ways.
FanTail(TM)- consistently a best seller at Ulta stores for over five years.
For Sandra Lunde, the inventor of the FanTail(TM) (which inserts in the hair to make a spiky ponytail), an actual dream about inventing something for the hair was the epiphany she needed to get into the business. “The dream was so real that I knew I just had to invent something and make it come true”, Sandra recalls. She always enjoyed doing hair as a child, and even did her mother’s hair, while dreaming of a future as a hairstylist. She notes that she would have gone into another creative field, such as graphic or interior design, had she not done this. She was quite the fashionista as well, reading beauty magazines and shopping for the latest trends in clothing. She has long, straight hair that, while plain when worn down, works well with her FanTail(TM) product, especially during the summers.
She attributes “perseverance, a positive attitude and wanting to succeed” as personal traits that led to her success. She invested her own money in the product, and while she got frustrated at times, “kept going” no matter what. The inspiration for the product’s circular pronged shape came during a night of ordering in- “We got a pizza to go and there was a plastic thing inside the box, it was to hold the box from sticking to the pizza…and from that I got a basic shape for my product. Kind of weird I know!” Had she done anything differently, she would have tried to get a licensing agreement with an outside company for her first product, Clip-N-Lift, and collect royalties, instead of making and marketing the product herself. With the FanTail(TM) she got it right, and decided to go with a licensing agreement through Accessory Brainstorms. She tells future inventors to “believe that you can do anything and never give up!”
TopsyTail(TM) – dominated the marketplace from 1991-93, selling over $100 million.
Tomima Edmark, the inventor of TopsyTail(TM) (which turns a ponytail inside out to make interesting hairdos), simply put, wanted to be her own boss. She had climbed as high as she could and reached the glass ceiling at IBM, but tired of working for other people. She was interested in hair out of necessity; she had always had long hair and “was always looking for quick solutions”. Fashion was always in her mind growing up, and she “always wanted to be a fashion designer or do something artsy-creative. I designed a hanger to hold clothing matched with accessories that came with instructions on how to make four or five outfits out of the things held by the hanger. With my surge machine I made matching placemats and napkins for football, soccer and baseball teams”. While she didn’t consider herself a fashionista in the traditional sense, she remembers “I certainly had my own strange sense of fashion. While other kids were wearing sloppy, grungy clothes in Seattle, I made my own clothes, many of them in batik, macramé, crocheted or knitted. And I had 20 different hats!” She’s still not a heavy shopper, but prefers spicing up classics with accessories- “they make your clothing trendy”, she notes She funded and reinvested in TopsyTail(TM) herself.
The inspiration for the product design came from a circular knitting needle, which she one day discovered she could create hairstyles with. She gave it an ergonomic handle shaped like a toothbrush, and chose the color red because “you will always see it in a drawer”. She still uses her TopsyTail(TM) daily to create dozens of different hairdos. Life after TopsyTail(TM) wasn’t perfect- “hair jewelry for the TopsyTail(TM), the Bowrette and the Halo Hat all broke even but were essentially failures”, she laments. She reminds inventors that “95% of the game is showing up! I research and test carefully, then I go for it. Most people give up. I suggest not to over think, when you believe in it, stick with it. Assume that you will have to be responsible for everything yourself”. The only thing she would have done differently with TopsyTail(TM) is being more on guard about “knock-offs” and suing the retailers who carried them as opposed to the manufacturers, because retailers would have removed the copies from the stores fast. Ever the entrepreneur, had she not developed TopsyTail(TM), she would have done exactly what she’s doing now- developing and running an online business, in this case, herroom.com, one of the first sites for women’s intimate apparel. She selected intimate apparel because it is something everyone needs, creates a lot of reorders and can’t become obsolete.
Whirl-a-Style(TM)- 1994 to present. By 1997 selling 20,000 units a month to Claire’s Boutiques.
Lois Sonstegard, inventor of the Whirl-a-Bun(TM)/Whirl-a-Style(TM)(makes buns and up-dos by wrapping hair with a snap-lock feature) had a PhD in hospital finance and management, and was content working in the healthcare business- until her son was born with a severe disability that would require her to have more time at home to help him. She moved into the bed and bath business, designing for major department stores. She never had intentions of getting into the hair business- “the idea I developed just happened to work for hair”. Randomly, she was leaving a factory with too much stuff to carry (scraps that her environmental consciousness would not allow her to throw away), and was handed a plastic handle, when the revelation came- “creating handles to carry the bags of stuff was no different than managing hair and organizing it in a fashionable way. With that thought, I was off and running”. Although she wanted to be a nurse as a kid, she “understood fashion early, out of necessity. By age 12 I was over 6 feet tall and had outgrown ready to wear clothing, so I began sewing my own clothes. That led me to making my own fashion and designs. From that I think there grows an interest in how you put yourself together and hair becomes a natural part of that.” She thinks her “strength is in finding unusual solutions to problems”.
On success- and failure, she comments that “starting a business from the beginning keeps me forever humble because it never exactly does what I think it should do or what others think it should do. I have had my ups and downs with developing markets—that means I get often stretched beyond my liking. Marketing is an area I have had to teach myself”. Tenacity has been the key to her success. “I think working with my son taught me that if one approach didn’t work, I just needed to go down another street and look some more. There was no giving up with him and I have brought that same persistent energy to this business”. She used her own money to launch the product, lamenting that “an untried idea is not interesting to investors”. She came close to giving up on the product many, many times, but “then something would happen I would realize there was an untried path and I would go check it out.” Strokes of luck and good timing didn’t hurt either. She credits meeting the owner of Accessory Brainstorms at a trade show in Las Vegas (an important business relationship for her) with her being able to get the product into Claire’s stores, with their assistance. She tells future inventors to “get some one who will mentor you. Everyone needs help and good advice.”
Hairdini(TM)- 1992 to present. By 1994 grossing over $1 million a year.
Denie Schach, the inventor of Hairdini(TM) (a peanut-shaped, bendable hair tool that creates dozens of up-do styles), was always into hair. Since the age of 15, she did the hair of everyone from her mother to prom attendees. She even received a scholarship to go to beauty school. She loved recreating what she saw in fashion magazines and on TV. She had thought about becoming an actress, dancer or fashion designer. As far as being a fashionista, she says “I did get into magazines and love fashion, however money was very tight and I was an immigrant child at a catholic school – my dad a janitor. I had to be very creative to stay fashionable. This led to sewing my own cloths which was the key to my latter development in designing the Hairdini(TM).
The road to success was not perfectly paved- she recalls making misjudgments in people’s character in both her personal and business life. Certain products failed, yet they lead the way for better products to be developed, and so she doesn’t see them as failures. She credits persistence, moving forward and believing in the products for her success. Also not losing sight of her goal of becoming that artist/inventor she had always wanted to be. I felt an obligation to the consumer which led to me pioneering the instructional videotape in products. I worked on it daily if only for an hour- it all added up to the finished result. Listening to the experience of other people that had more knowledge than I did and seeking advice. I also have a good disposition and seldom get down. Being a healthy person is the real key.” She launched the company with angel investors. The company was under-invested, which led to some major business mistakes. She came so close to giving up at times that she ” threw the product in the garbage because it would not sew properly. Manufacturing seemed hopeless. I took a break from the idea for about six months”. Denie feels timing was critical for her product, as infomercial marketing was just taking off at the time, and the product probably wouldn’t have had sold as much without one. Had she done things differently, she would have gotten more launch money and worked with people with more experience and integrity than she did. Denie advises future inventors to make sure their “products are things the majority of people would find useful and to price it accordingly. Do not buy inventory until you know you have a market. Have a marketing plan. Do not let it monopolize your life. Persist, persevere. Be open to change”.
In conclusion, there are valuable lessons to be learned from these diverse women of hair accessory fame. Persistence seems to be the name of the game, but following your dreams is only so good as your business plan and the people you choose to work with. Childhoods full of creative pursuits gave these women a platform on which to build their visions. Product designs spawned out of simple everyday items- a knitting needle, a pizza holder, a curler, a handle, went on to be the answer for millions of women to that age old question- “what do I do with my hair today?!”