The Scottish-born hairstylist has learned a lot about the challenges of setting up a new business. In beauty circles, McKnight has achieved a level of success approaching royalty and has been known as the mononym of magazine editors since he was the late Princess Diana’s personal hairstylist. This did not translate into automatic success when he launched his brand. Funding, logistics and opening a court with a new group of clients who were less familiar with its accolades all posed challenges.
“At first we were very close to getting funding from an institutional investor, and at the last minute it fell through. Then our manufacturer went bankrupt during the pandemic,” McKnight recalls. “I couldn’t keep funding everything myself, which was the only source of investment we had to start, but the returns on the products were so good that I was determined to keep going.”
The Hair by Sam McKnight brand offers styling products from £17 up to £75 at retailers including Selfridges, Cult Beauty and Liberty as well as in salons and via the brand’s website. He employs a team of just six people at Hair by Sam McKnight, which operates out of McKnight’s studio in west London. McKnight was able to secure investment from friends and family in the industry to keep the company afloat. Makeup artist and brand founder Charlotte Tilbury is an investor, as is Olivier Rousteing, creative director of French fashion house Balmain. Demetra Pinsent, CEO of Charlotte Tilbury Beauty, is also a director of the company.
Today, celebrities are producing beauty products at a rapid pace. A famous founder, especially if they have professional expertise, is often seen as a silver bullet when building a brand. Being able to use the founder’s fans as an embedded audience and leverage their skills to build authority and trustworthiness are obvious strengths, but in today’s market, even industry giants can be overtaken by savvy digital brands. .
However, demand is strong – Edmondson says the brand regularly responds to requests from customers in Asia and the United States who want to be able to buy their products. New retailers could be on the cards in the future to help scale the brand globally: “We want to work with partners where there’s a deep, deep relationship of trust,” says Edmondson.