L’Oréal’s Next Incubated Brand Personalizes the Hair-coloring Process

L'Oréal's latest incubated brand, Color & Co, wants to personalize the at-home hair coloring experience.
Color & Co makes customized hair kits that target people who color their own hair at home. Through a combination of a 10-minute, video-chat consultation with a professional stylist and an internally built algorithm, the business creates personalized color processes, including dye, developer, conditioner and directions, that are mailed to a consumer's home within three days.
The business, which is 100 percent owned by L'Oréal but run out of a headquarters two blocks from the beauty giant's Hudson Yards office, plans to launch its direct-to-consumer offering in the U.S. on May 8. Eventually, the business is expected to roll out globally.
"The idea was to put an end to unpredictable color results that a lot of users go through when they go and get box color on the shelf. They scarcely get what's on the box…if you're a brunette, you're a blonde, you won't get the same results," said Olivier Blayac, general manager of Color & Co.
To use Color & Co's service, which starts at $19.90, customers can video chat with screened color experts, who then prescribe the appropriate formulation. The products are then created in-house using L'Oréal technology and shipped to customers.
With that offering, Color & Co aims to take a bite out of the U.S. home hair coloring market, which is estimated to be $1.4 billion, per Nielsen figures, and $1.7 billion per Euromonitor. Industry sources estimated services like Color & Co. could potentially take one in four boxed color consumers, which could mean servicing a market of between $350 million to $425 million in sales.
In addition to upgrading the at-home color experience, Color & Co aims to provide colorists with added income. Blayac likened the platform to Uber, where once Color & Co-approved, colorists could sign on to provide consultations and earn a commission for sales.
"I always go to my frou frou salon because I'm a frou frou person, and my stylist always tells me, 'oh, I had two hours in the back waiting to see if someone comes in,'" said Guive Balooch, global vice president of L'Oréal's technology incubator. By signing up with Color & Co, those colorists could be earning extra income while they wait around, he and Blayac noted.
Balooch worked on the technical back-end of Color & Co, which was more than two years in development. He used learnings from other L'Oréal products, like Lancôme Le Teint Particulier personalized foundation shades and the La Roche Posay My Skin Track UV Sensor, to come up with the appropriate offering for hair color.
Over the course of his L'Oréal tech endeavors, he said he started to see "personalization and precision" emerge as strong themes.
"With LTP, Le Teint Particulier, the foundation, I didn't realize it's not like painting the wall. It's skin and it changes color and darker skin tones and lighter skin tones are really different to match. We spent a year doing that and learning not just how to write an algorithm, but understanding how to link that to the formula and to the person," Balooch said.
Hair color, though, was the "holy grail challenge in terms of tech," Balooch said. To execute it for Color & Co, he had to build a customized and connected machine that could create color products appropriate for various levels of hair thickness, grays, porosity and strength.
"We had to find a way to take all the elements of accuracy we had in the other algorithms we wrote in the past but with a questionnaire and a video conference with a hair expert. We had to translate that into an algorithm — it was a mix between color expertise and…the algorithm people — math," he said.
Color & Co is not the first to market with the custom color or d-to-c hair color concept — both eSalon and Madison Reed have been working to upgrade the home-coloring experience for years.
"We were never the first when it came to a lot of these personalization things," Balooch said. "Foundation, we were not the first — there were many people that came before, but one of the reasons for that is a convergence of consumer expectation and the trend, but also the technology to provide them the right service.
"When you do personalization, if you don't give them something better than what's typically on the shelf, it just becomes a trend and not a real value creation for people."
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