Lindsay Holden doesn’t think haircare is genderless – she knows it. And she wants you to know it, too.
I am speaking with Lindsay Holden, co-founder of Odele, at 12 pm PST today. A few minutes pass, when I receive an email asking if Holden has made a mistake with the time.
I am horrified.
Nothing goes our way. I call Holden, who sends over a Zoom link. Doesn’t work. She sends over another. That works! I join the call, but she has to record because she’s the host.
This could not be off to a worse start.
But Holden simply laughs. “Some days, I feel like I’m getting worse instead of better. It’s our own way of rejecting the nature in which everyone has had to live in the last few years.”
I’ll spoil it here: our interview, the equivalent of speed dating, goes smoothly. And Holden is officially one of the most laidback, go-with-the-flow co-founders I know. (Thank god.)
Recently, I wrote a piece on the BEST-SELLING SHAMPOOS ON THE MARKET.
We tagged Odele in our post, and their social media manager, Gina, opened the lines of communication when she reached out to thank us for including them. And here I am, speaking with co-founder Holden about the brand.
Odele – the phonetic spelling of the Norwegian verb å dele, pronounced uh-dell-ee, meaning “to share” (I call this brilliant twice, and beautiful twice) – was born when Holden and her two co-founders, Britta Chatterjee and Shannon Kearney, couldn’t find hair products they were satisfied with.
“I could not understand why I was paying $40 a bottle for my salon grade shampoo[.] [I]t was very expensive; I was not willing to share it with my kids or my partner,” says Holden.
I relate with my own experiences with partners, joking about leaving them to their 20-in-1 products as I hoard my own haircare stash. Holden nods in response. “Literally, there are partners out there, trained to ask permission: ‘Can I use this?’”
It’s the perfect segue into a deeper discussion about gender-inclusive haircare. I ask Holden what she knows about QUILL, not assuming anything. Turns out, the mom-founder-busy-woman-in-general has taken time to look at QUILL and see what we’re doing, and she has her own thoughts right out the gate.
Noting QUILL’s non-gender-specific focus she adds, “Whether it is an advertising or whether it is how you even shop for things in brick and mortar, there is a men’s section. There is a women’s section,” she acknowledges.
I tell her that I found Odele while researching the best-smelling shampoos on the market. It was only after the piece had been published that I looked into the company, finding that they described themselves as genderless.
“We base all of our products on benefit. What should be determining how you shop for our products is your hair type and texture and the benefits that you seek to achieve with your product. It should not be determined by your age, by your gender, by your race.”
This also determined the founders’ ideas on fragrance. “We’ve never been drawn to these overly gendered fragrances anyway,” she says.
Instead of synthetic fragrances, Odele uses 100% natural essential oils and extracts. Their signature scent, Marine, is a combination of cucumber, oakmoss, and ylang-ylang, neither masculine nor feminine.
“[Fragrance] is such a fluid thing. When you think about sharing our product, we wanted it to be most widely, attractive to anyone, even kids.” Gender doesn’t come into the equation anywhere on the site, nor does it come into the equation when Holden thinks about formulating new products (we’ll get there in a second). Because it comes down to one thing: “Good hair knows no gender.”
In the beauty industry, this simple statement constitutes a bold stance. Holden doesn’t blink when she says it.
If you don’t like fragrance, Odele has a solution.
It’s one QUILL loves: entirely fragrance-free products. They’re marketed for ultra-sensitive and dry scalps, and all hair types and textures are capable of using it with healthy results. In fact, it has an Eczema Certification, something they actively pursued.
This dedication to providing those with extra-sensitive skin with products they can use extends to Odele’s body wash, released in July of 2021. When released, most outlets referred to it as “gender-neutral,” though Odele did not actively reference it as genderless in their announcement. But don’t be mistaken: “Every product we make is made to be shared, so we often credit our fragrance to being gender neutral.”
This purposeful approach, though subtle in Odele’s marketing – “we are less overt about it [being genderless] at times,” acknowledges Holden – has given them an edge in the market. “We get a lot of credit in terms of … gender – [our products] being universal, for all genders to be drawn to.”
I note that their product containers and packaging are aesthetically-pleasing without being blatantly gendered. Holden and her founders thought about this as well.
“We are like design junkies,” she smiles. “You care so much about your environment. We wanted this to fit into that environment. As opposed to screaming at you from the shelf all the reasons why to buy it.”
It comes back to the key focus on whether a product works, not if it looks good on a grocery store shelf. “You should know why you are choosing this one. When you look back at the his, hers, mine, ours, theirs, it is just too much,” she says, bringing it back to gender (making me giddy). “We do our best to try to make it easy to understand like, oh yeah, this one’s for me based on those benefits and hair types and textures.” Again: benefits and the best results, not gender.
It’s for this reason that, while remaining compliant with all standards for clean beauty in both the US and the EU, they do not market themselves as one of the cleanest brands out there – even though their documented compliance gives them the right to. “We are out there to be the best in terms of performance and efficacy. That is what we did when it came to defining clean,” Holden explains.
But the founders aren’t ignorant of the ever-evolving health standards: “We are always monitoring as new information comes out. This is now bad; it was once good. We evaluate those, always putting the consumer first.”
Let me repeat: Odele pays attention to every detail, from looks to fragrance to formula. “We always say try us, you will like us.” They know you won’t be a repeat customer if they don’t prioritize quality and efficacy. “A lot of it goes back to just not over complicating things,” she says.
As someone who overcomplicates, well, everything, I can’t do anything but admire that mindset.
Odele is no longer just a haircare brand; they continue to diversify and expand.
“We did just release a new product, a moisture mask at Target,” Holden says. It’s now available on their D2C site, too. The process was time-consuming; “[the masks] took a lot more [work] than we thought.” It unsurprisingly has tons of rave reviews.
She also shares her personal favorites of Odele’s products, including the Ultra-Sensitive and Moisture hair products. She explains that they also take seasonal needs into consideration when creating different products. For example: “Our Air Dry Styler is an awesome hero product,” she says. “It is my favorite when there is also a little humidity out, because then I can coax some texture from my hair.”
We’ve covered plenty of ground in our less than 17 minutes, something I was anxious about. And despite the mishaps and bumps in the road that initially stressed and embarrassed me, Holden has remained relaxed the entire time.
It’s unsurprising. After all, not only has Holden shared her story, favorite products, and feelings about gender neutrality in beauty, but also her state of calm. Says Holden: “At its core, Odele is our reminder of that: to share.”