Influence Peddler: When Target Called, Kristin Ess Answered

Last year when Target wanted a celebrity hairstylist to launch its first media influencer hair-care brand, the company was introduced to Kristin Ess. Despite hers not being a household name, the brand has been so successful that industry sources estimate it has blown past original estimates of $10 million in sales to at least double that mark.Just recently, Target extended the original 15 items with 11 more. The retailer’s Christina Hennington, senior vice president of beauty and essentials, said shoppers have “fallen in love with the collection,” prompting more items. Hitting the shelves now are formulas for tinting, cleansing, conditioning, styling and restoring hair. There is even a Purple Shampoo and Conditioner to help balance out unwanted brassiness for those with light or color-treated tresses that brings this salon trend to the masses. Another key item is Signature Hair Water, which is dispersed as a fine mist to add moisture, volume and remove creases.  instead?The first hair color product is in the new range in the form of a Rose Gold Temporary Tint. “I’m a colorist so hair color has always been high on my list,” Ess said. “I wanted to start out with something very noncommittal, that was easy to apply, and that felt good in the hair.”Ess got her social start with a tutorial site called, where she offered beauty and hair tips. She’s also known for her work on the red carpet with celebrities such as Lauren Conrad, Lucy Hale and Jenna Dewan. She now sports more than 500,000 followers across her social platforms.Despite her famed clients, Ess is a self-described Target fan. “I’ve always had this focus on Target — since I was 19,” she said. “Target is part of my world. It is exciting for me to do an affordable product line and do it with Target.”  Ess is one of only a handful of influencers singled out for a hair-care brand.Here, Ess discusses her path to getting noticed on social media and how she thinks her brand stands up to the industry behemoths like Procter & Gamble and Unilever.WWD: How long have you been a hairstylist?Kristin Ess: Hairstyling was my first and, to this day, my only job. I’ve been doing hair for 22 years now and have immersed myself in all aspects of hair; in-salon, education, platform artist, product development, freelance/editorial, runway, red carpet, television, beauty blogging and YouTube, and now building my own hair-care brand.WWD: How do you post differently for each social media platform? K.E.: If I’m being 100 percent honest, I only really “use” Instagram. I share things on Facebook because there are always going to be people who prefer keeping up on that platform, but my main hub is IG. I don’t have a social media person who posts or answers questions for me. I post, converse and answer questions myself so I try to keep that confined to one manageable space. I also work full-time doing hair so there’s no way I could cover all that ground myself and stay authentic. If you look at the amount of people on my IG versus any other platform, it’s very obvious that if you want to share a thought or have a question, that’s the place to come talk to me, and I love that.WWD: How did the collaboration with Target happen?K.E.: Maesa Group contacted me and they said we think you’re our right partner. I later found out that one of their beauty-obsessed, social media savvy employees, Kamila Golebiewska, was following me on IG and had suggested me for the partnership and that’s how it all began. I knew of Maesa previously and I knew the incredible things they were capable of and those were all of the things I’m not capable of, which to me is what makes a great partner. So by combining our expertise, we created this line from start to finish and then we presented to Target and they loved it, thank goodness.WWD: What was behind the latest launches?K.E.: We just launched our 2018 collection, which focuses on the art of “doing less” and cutting down the time you spend on your hair.WWD: Who do you think your customer is?K.E.: I actually don’t know if I can narrow it down for you. When I look at the people who send me photos of the product in their hands, in their hair or in their bathroom it’s never a specific type of person. The age range is vast, the vibes are very different, it’s culturally diverse and income levels are both high and low. Sometimes it’s a busy mother of three who needs to be in and out of their bathroom in 10 minutes in the morning, sometimes it’s a teenager just learning about leave-in conditioner, sometimes it’s someone’s grandma who just knows what’s up. I love that because one of my main goals was to make a universal hair-care line that could cover anyone’s needs from start to finish no matter their hair type or texture and that will always be the goal.WWD: How do you personally promote your line via social media?K.E.: On the days I’m not working with clients I am shooting hair photos or photo/video tutorials to post on my page to educate people on styling techniques and product usage. When this line came out, anyone who had followed my previous journey of launching and running knew this product line would come with built-in education and that my teaching style from that would overflow into this. I guess you could say I try to focus on using the product to teach vs using the products to promote, but I see how those go hand-in-hand.WWD: Do you fear sharing too much on social platforms?K.E.: Honestly, to each their own. I follow some over-sharers and I love them, but personally there’s a line for me. Everyone has different reasons for how much they share. My personal life doesn’t require validation, not saying their lives do, and I would never want the Internet to fuel my life that way. Also, my personal life is pretty uninteresting.WWD: How do you decide to share products that aren’t yours?K.E.: When I find something I love and I want people to know about it, I just post it. It’s very simple for me. Or if a friend launches something great, I support it.WWD: Do you think we’ll see changes in how the public reacts to influencers?K.E.: I think we already have. Influencers are the new experts when armed with education and facts. And it doesn’t matter if they’re big or small — in fact, sometimes the smaller the better. Microinfluencers are really changing the game right now because they’re available to give answers, have little ego about their social status and that is a sweet spot. I’m seeing more and more people with less than 10,000 followers who have more comments than I do. That’s where the conversations are. And they’re not doing it for the money, which I love. They’re having these conversations to learn and teach and increase their credibility. I think that’s pretty cool.WWD: What are your thoughts on paid versus organic product posts?K.E.: I’m going to tread lightly because I don’t want to insult anyone, that’s not my goal, but I will say I hope there never comes a day when I have to pay someone to post about my products. Maybe my head is in the clouds here, but I want people to want to share them because they’re great and they really work. That’s the reason I share products from other brands, not for money.WWD: Why do you think your products succeed without mega spending campaigns? K.E.: Because I’m a person just like the people buying the product. It almost feels like they’re my friends and they’re supporting my venture and they have my back. I don’t know how else to explain it, but I don’t know that big brands connect on that level and I always want it to be like this. You can hire all the spokespeople you want to try and humanize your brand, but unless your audience is really being heard and getting the support they need, I don’t know that you’ll ever see that kind of loyalty.  

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