An abridged conversation between HiBAR co-founder Nora Schaper and QUILL Editor-in-Chief Tess Aurore.
Tess: Nora, how are you doing? Thanks so much for being here.
Nora: Well, thank you for the invitation. How fun.
I think we can just jump right in and start with: tell me the story. I mean, you had all of these people come together with the same idea. How did that come to be?
We were all parents at the same school. Having kids, you really realize you want to make the world a better place for everybody, but especially for your children. My husband, Jay, and I had a previous business; we were making bath bombs and soaps. And while we were doing that, we were realizing we could formulate so many products and we wouldn’t need a package, or we could use a paper package. We could really make a big difference.
So you and Jay were the first co-founders. How did you rope the other two in?
I cornered Ward [Johnson] in the school parking lot to consult with Jay and I. He came by our house a few days later. The first thing he asked is: “what’s your why? Why are you doing this?” And we said, well, we think we can eliminate plastic. His face changed. And he said, “that is such an incredible mission and I need to be part of that.” So the three of us started working together.
And Dion [Hughes]?
Jay and I went to a housewarming party for another friend from school, and Dion was there, and he’d just come back from a trip to Mexico where he was on a remote beach. He said that they’d go out in the morning and rake the property line, and at the end of the property line, it was just plastic everywhere. He looked at all the plastic bottles in his shower, and he thought, “I’m part of the problem.”
So when we ran into him at the house warming party and he asked what we were doing, we said, we’re working with Ward, and we’re trying to eliminate plastic. He said, “oh my gosh, I need to be a part of that.”
Meant to be.
Yeah. The four of us banded together and we started talking about how we were going to do this. And we landed on haircare as being our first place to start, since shampoo and conditioner bottles are the main thing that are in everybody’s showers.
You started this trend, this conversion from plastic to solid bars.
We’re really different from what’s on the market right now. And there’s been a lot more entry into the market, but we created the category. And now more and more people are entering the category, which is fantastic, because that’s really how we’re going to eliminate the most plastic.
I mean, the biggest part is having a great product. But you’ve also made it accessible.
It’s funny: when we said we were going on a grocery shelf at $12 or $12.95, people said that’s way over-priced, $10 is max for a grocery shelf. And we thought, well, honestly, we’re a premium product. Our ingredient deck is like a $30 bottle of shampoo, but it doesn’t have the water. Plus, our bars last as long as three bottles of shampoo. So it’s an amazing value.
And on top of that, your scents are gender-neutral – that was one of the first things I noticed. It makes it universal. Was that a conscious choice, so there was a broader reach?
It really was. People were telling us, “women are not going to use this product, you should just focus on men’s bars that they can use all over their body and on their hair.” But we really knew that to eliminate the most plastic, everybody needs to be able to use this bar. And specifically, we have to make sure that women will use the bar, because women are still 90% of the people, I want to say, who purchase our product, whether it’s just women using it or not.
Another thing I noticed is that you actually have a fragrance-free set. Every Saturday, QUILL writes about gender-neutral, fragrance free, and/or unisex products, and we’ve actually featured HiBAR for your fragrance free options. I was just wondering what led to including that, because in my research, not many places offer a fragrance free product.
[Our products weren’t] really highly-scented to begin with. And we thought, “our best channel is in the natural market, and there are so many people that have sensitivity to fragrances, and there’s a lot of bad stuff hidden in fragrances. If we really want to be inclusive again, we should offer something that is fragrance free.” So we decided to just roll it out in our Moisturize formula.
Your new Face Wash bars are also fragrance-free. Speaking of which, you said you never solely intended for HiBAR to be a haircare-only brand. Was the Face Wash in the works for a while?
It was. We took a walk down the aisle in the grocery store and we thought, “everything that’s in plastic is on target for us to reformulate.” We looked at what had the biggest set, because that amounted to the most plastic, plus other products that we thought we could formulate. Face wash was next up on our list.
Was it a big jump, going from hair bars to the face bars?
When we set out for the hair bars, we were talking to manufacturers all across the US, thinking that we would just have somebody else make our product and then we would be educating and selling our product. So, like with our haircare, we thought we’d be able to just find a manufacturer. And then we learned, okay, well nobody’s doing it the way we’re doing it. So we’re having to invent a way to make something in which the ingredients are effective, but not released into water.
It’s completely crazy how we’re learning how to make these products. And they do take a long time, but we have been formulating and working and looking at face washes for probably over a year now.
You’ve put so much time, energy, effort, all of yourselves into these bars, yes. But I’m assuming it’s not just in the bars? Zero-waste is ambitious, there has to be plenty of behind-the-scenes work you don’t talk about.
Yeah, another aspect of our business that really doesn’t get enough limelight to me is that we have the nation’s only water-activated box taper. So we’re modifying our regular fulfillment equipment to work with our mission. We modified our box taper to accommodate water-activated tape, and they had to insert a water-activation piece in there.
And then we also have a pallet wrapper that we modified to have biodegradable pallet wrap, which is a different length than other pallet wraps.
Actually, Urban Outfitters approached us; they wanted us to sell our product to them, but they said it had to be shipped in poly bags. So we said no. And they made a change for our business to be able to put it in a box. I think that’s part of what HiBAR stands for: really inspiring people to think about how they’re doing things and to try something different.
It really sounds like you have found your why, and you’re chasing it, chasing it, chasing it.
If you stand by your mission, people will – if they want to be part of that – make accommodations to make it work. We just need to inspire people to make small changes a little bit at a time. And if enough people are doing that, then that’s where change will happen.
I love that. And again, I’m so honored that you would take the time to talk with me, Nora. You all are making a change.
Thanks for the great questions, Tess, I really appreciate it. We’re on our way!