This Minnesota-based company is on a mission to get rid of plastic in the bathroom

Nora Schaper has the classic start-up story: She started a company, HiBAR, from her basement in Minnesota. Now, she’s in more than 10,000 stores across America, selling salon-quality plastic-free shampoos, plus a few new additions: a plastic-free face wash and deodorant. She is determined to eliminate plastic bottles from our bathrooms.

Along with her husband Jay and two friends-turned-co-founders, Dion Hughes and Ward Johnson, Schaper ventured into the world of shampoo bars in an effort to reduce plastic packaging in the personal care category. She and her husband were already making soaps in a studio they built in their basement and selling them to natural grocers in Minnesota. It was this understanding of saponification, she says, that her husband brought to the table that became essential to creating better shampoo, and now facial cleanser.

While there were a few plastic-free shampoos on the market in 2015, when they first started experimenting with the idea, none were ideal: either they used controversial ingredients or they didn’t give you the finish and shine. experience you want in a shampoo. , she says. “There was nothing like what you would get from a liquid shampoo. So when we started the project, we didn’t tell our friends much about it. We just asked them to send pictures of their shower essentials.

And those shower shelves were lined with plastic bottles, they found. “However, we had played around with the product and used our own soaps, so we had a wrap-free shower. That’s when we knew we had to take on the challenge.

In 2018 they officially launched, focusing on direct to consumer with their website, and manufacturing the bars in-house, which they still do in St. Paul. “We scoured the United States and overseas to find a manufacturer. They all told us, ‘It’s going to clog up all the machines.’ So we ended up making it ourselves.

Beyond manufacturing, they also encountered a bump in the road with distribution. Initially, the plan was to go through the salons, says Schaper. But it was so hard to find an organized or centralized distribution model that salons worked in; Additionally, each salon has individual hairdressers who own their station. While HiBAR is in select salons today, they have turned to direct consumer, focusing on online marketing, especially after COVID caused many salons to close.

“We were also told to target only men, not women. But I knew that we also had to involve women. It had to work for everyone,” adds Schaper.

Although their focus was DTC, their big break came when a shopper from Whole Foods called to carry HiBAR to stores in the Midwest. Shortly after, Schaper was asked to showcase the shampoos at an event hosted by outdoor retailer REI. Through this summit, she was able to connect with the Whole Foods buyer in the Pacific Northwest. After securing two regional markets in one year, HiBAR was then invited to have a presence in Whole Foods stores across the country. This national exposure has helped them attract more and more businesses beyond Whole Foods, expanding their reach to more than 10,000 stores.

“I think retailers took notice of us because we started going to natural stores in the Midwest and were quickly picked up there. So national retailers are watching these regional retailers to see what works,” she explains.

But it didn’t stop there: HiBAR started getting calls from independent stores, zero-waste stores, and others beyond the grocery world. With a total team of 25 people today, Schaper tries to juggle a multitude of distribution channels, each with their own unique needs and processes.

Still, she’s undeterred: “We’d love to enter more beauty-focused boutiques and salons again, because our products actually contain premium ingredients, and we want to be where people are.” talk about hair and beauty!

Their latest product, Face Wash, she says, builds on this: “It’s a one-of-a-kind face wash made with luxurious ingredients that make you feel like you’re in a spa. It’s not soap. And we have to educate retailers and consumers, so it’s a little more difficult.

For all its success, starting a business has meant being scrappy, cutting pay for periods of time, dealing with layoffs and changing the narrative around a category that has been entrenched in water-based models shipped in plastic bottles.

It is estimated that Americans throw away about 550 million plastic shampoo bottles every year. It’s just a country and a personal care product.

“However, change is happening. It makes sense not to ship water,” she says. “One of the other things that’s sometimes hard to convey is that our products are really concentrated, because we’ve taken out the water. So they last a long time, and with shampoos, we’ve heard people say they don’t need to wash as often either. It’s just going to take time for everyone to get on board with this approach.

“We want to be where people go to buy a plastic bottle and eliminate that plastic purchase. Everyone goes to the grocery store and many people buy their personal care products there. So that’s a good start, but eventually we’d like to have a full collection of products that showcase the zero waste lifestyle without compromising on quality.

That’s what Schaper and his team are working on. A lotion is in preparation. And she says “it will be better than other solid lotions you’ve tried.”

So, could this Minnesota brand transform personal care for Americans with its national approach? Let’s hope so.

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