Singers, philanthropists, and sisters Tish & Snooky Bellomo are the co-founders of Manic Panic. Established in 1977, their groundbreaking company introduced creative hair color to the US, and wrote the book on rainbow-colored hair for generations to come. Manic Panic was years ahead of the curve. They created products that were vegan and cruelty-free long before it was fashionable, “color conditioners” before they became mainstream, and doing good has always been part of their DNA. After 40 years in business, Manic Panic remains as relevant as it was when they launched, which is no small achievement. Learn how they did it.
What was the opportunity you saw in the marketplace that compelled you to launch a brand?
What any of our Dye Hards will tell you is that before it was a brand, Manic Panic was our store in the East Village. The first Punk Rock boutique in America, we catered to a marginalized group of friends, fans, and others, that soon exploded when it became the destination de rigeur for the elite of Manhattan. We attracted everyone from the Ramones to Caroline Kennedy! While the store fulfilled wardrobe, makeup, and hair color needs for the Punk Rock community, eventually our famous High Voltage Hair Color became our star product. The impetus to strike out on our own like this was simple—absolutely nobody else at the time was marketing this type of product to our market segment.
What is the formulation philosophy behind your product?
Your hair color should feel as good as it looks, and you should feel just as good about the company you purchase it from. Long before it was fashionable, our products were vegan and cruelty-free simply because we loved animals far too much to even consider otherwise! Who knew we’d be setting a standard that would only become adopted by the mass market decades later. In an industry now teeming with “color conditioners,” that’s what our product has been all along—deeply pigmented color plus conditioning agents including Aloe Vera and Coconut Extract. As an added bonus, our customers are always thrilled to learn that we donate 15% of our annual net profits to various charities, from the World Wildlife Fund to BCRF. We call this initiative Dye For Peace and it’s really at the heart of what we do.
Did you develop your brand and product with a particular distribution channel in mind?
While Manic Panic obviously caters to a DIY type of customer, we’ve also recently developed Manic Panic Professional so you can get the Manic look at your favorite salon. In terms of retail distribution, we simply don’t discriminate: you can find us in prestige retailers including Ulta and Riley Rose as easily as you can find us at beauty supply chains including Sally Beauty, and on the mass market at Target online and through our newest retail partner, Walmart. We don’t “profile” our customers. We’re out to color the world one head at a time, wherever hair color is sold!
What would your ideal investor look like?
Our ideal investor would be someone who believes in our vision of a Manic Panic colored, cruelty-free world as much as we do!
What advice would you give to someone thinking about launching a beauty brand?
Innovate, don’t replicate. We’ve seen look-alike brands emerge in every decade and their success is always short-lived, simply because you can’t remake the magic that made Manic Panic. If you really want to be successful, do what we did—find a gap in the market and fill it. Redundant brands and products just confuse the consumer, who will usually revert back to their go-to brand. If you can create something that’s one-of-a-kind, you will have the market cornered, and build a loyal following while doing so.
What’s your vision for the future of the brand?
It’s always been our dream to be the first hair color brand on the moon! Or Mars, we’re not picky. But our short-term dreams are no less far-reaching. What we’ve seen and experienced since 1977 is absolutely incredible. We like to say that with Manic Panic, what was once extreme is now mainstream. With the global acceptance of hair color in shades that were once considered outside the norm, we intend to remain the industry leader in our category. As has been the case since the beginning, celebrities, influencers, and stylists have been spreading our gospel, so what was once relegated to Punk Rock mohawks, is now every prom princess’s vision for her pastel tresses. We frankly couldn’t be happier to see this look “come out of the closet” and for our part in it, we will continue to introduce new colors and formulas that remain firmly ahead of the trend.
What excites you about the future of the beauty/wellness industry?
It’s truly fantastic to see how many hair and beauty companies have followed our lead and now market cruelty-free and vegan products. Whatever their impetus was, whether it was genuine or simply to capture this still-emerging market, the end result is products that are better for animals, people, and the planet. Similarly, it’s exciting to see beauty companies following our lead regarding safe ingredients: while we’ve been PPD, ammonia, phthalate and silicone free since inception, we’re glad to see even corporate giants phasing out their use. While imitation may not always be the sincerest form of flattery, we’re glad to see others take a note from us—it reinforces that we truly remain the leaders of the pack. In an industry now teeming with “color conditioners,” that’s what our product has been all along.
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