TechWatch editor Emily McDaid talks to entrepreneur Yolanda Cooper about turning a Mary Poppins-style bag of haircare tools into a business.
Yolanda Cooper may not be an engineer, but she has invented something truly unique – and has a patent behind her to prove it.
Belfast-based We Are Paradoxx’s three-in-one, cordless hair tool is said to be the first of its kind in the world. The tool combines hair straighteners with two other functions, all of which will be revealed when the tool is officially launched this summer.
For the uninitiated, it’s worth noting the cult-like nature of hair straightening. The brand Ghd has amassed a deeply loyal following, even with its luxury price tag. That’s thanks to its cool design and the fact that the products perform extremely well. I know several people who wouldn’t be caught dead travelling anywhere without their Ghd straighteners.
And don’t be fooled into thinking it’s only women who spend on hair products.
Cooper explains the moment the idea was conceived. “You know when you’re travelling and your bag is overweight slightly, and they’re willing to overlook it? I was with my family at Dublin Airport one time and they were not overlooking the seven kilos I was over. As I unpacked my bag in front of everyone, I pulled out a number of different hair tools. My mother said my bag was like Mary Poppins. That’s when the idea came to me.”
Cooper says that she had been inventing things since the age of 25. She got into the final audition rounds of The Apprentice with Alan Sugar on the back of a portable clothes steamer she’d invented.
“However, this time I didn’t think I’d come up with anything new,” she says. “I was so certain another brand would have the patent.” But a patent attorney confirmed to Cooper that, in fact, no similar patent existed.
Cooper is committed to making We Are Paradoxx an Irish brand, with the tool manufactured in Belfast. “We have three sets of mechanical, electrical and production engineers on board,” she says.
As she wrote the business plan for the hair tool, she expanded into wet hair products – shampoo and so on.
This lent an opportunity for Cooper to break other ground: to go completely plastic-free, except for the pump in the bottles. This is notoriously hard to do with shower products, because glass bottles can break against a tile floor. We Are Paradoxx has become the first brand with all-aluminium bottles in the entire beauty industry, Cooper says.
“Aluminium is cleaner all around than plastic,” she notes. “It’s lighter, which means a lower carbon footprint to transport, and it takes less energy to produce. It can be recycled on an infinite loop back into a bottle again, whereas a plastic bottle degrades every time it is recycled and eventually ends up as fibres or other by-products.”
“We’re the first to go aluminium, but I don’t want to be the last,” Cooper says.
The products combine Irish botanicals, all of which are sourced here, such as lavender, Irish hops, Celtic sea salt and white nettle. They’re up to 97pc natural.
The returns of a beauty brand can be profound. With just a team of six currently, We Are Paradoxx is already pushing 100,000 units annually. Its retail partners include Harvey Nichols, Next, Amazon Luxury, Asos.com and Saks Fifth Avenue.
How fast can a business like this scale? “The wet goods side of the business is built for volume,” she says. “So that’s not going to be a problem. The hair tool can scale to 5,000 units a month currently. There are lots of manufacturing companies here in Belfast, which helps greatly.”
Following its recent graduation from the Springboard programme, We Are Paradoxx is now open to raising an additional £450,000 to add to the £800,000 it has received to date, primarily from investors within the tech industry.
I ask Cooper, how did you come up with the design? “You have to go with your gut; don’t overanalyse. The brand says that what was traditionally exclusive – luxury beauty – is now inclusive. This is a movement, and you can be part of it.’”
By Emily McDaid, editor, TechWatch
A version of this article originally appeared on TechWatch