As the product formulator behind one of the few genuine leaps forward in beauty in recent years—bond repair haircare—Eric Pressly long ago cemented his status as a big-picture guy who’s more than happy to buck industry norms. Now his nearly year-old, post-Olaplex second act, Epres—which both riffs on his own name and nods to the French word for “after”—is expanding internationally at an impressive rate.
“We’re off to a pretty good start,” Pressly says of the California-based brand, which launched in October 2022 with a mission of repairing disulfide bonds in an acid-free, fast, and biodegradable fashion. “And interestingly, internationally we’re off to an even better start.”
While Epres offers both a Professional Bond Repair treatment for salons and independent stylists and a Bond Repair Treatment Starter Kit and refills for consumers that it sells through its own site, Pressly and co-CEO Michael Sampson are primarily laser-focused on a “salon-first” distribution strategy. Although he claims not to know exactly how many salons Epres is in, Pressly does share that the brand is now distributed in 15 countries and is expected to add a few more by year-end.
“Then we’ll probably pause a little bit there because it’s about premium markets and controlling diversion,” Pressly notes. “We want to control diversion well, so we’re very picky about our distribution partners and really being selective and not going into small markets that could cause a headache.”
Right-size markets that make up the current distribution for Epres include the US and Canada in North America, UK, Spain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and substantial chunks of Scandinavia and Asia—namely Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
To get the word out about his latest venture, which he considers the next generation in bond repair, Pressly has embarked on a few international tours that include presentations to both local distributors and journalists. To circumvent any language barriers with attendees in non-English speaking countries, Pressly makes sure the events include hands-on demos.
“We’ve found that if we incorporate using the product during the presentations, then that English barrier gets broken down and they’re more comfortable,” he notes. “Their hair feels better, and they’re asking questions, like ‘What did you just put in my hair?’”
With a PhD in materials science and 100+ plus patents under his belt—including a new one for Epres for its unique one-step, liquid-molecule technology—Pressly can talk formulas all day long. And in his opinion, the key differentiators between what he considers “Gen 1” bond-builders and Epres essentially boils down to the fact that the former are acidic and the latter isn’t.
“When we talk about the knockoffs, all of what I call the Gen 1 bond-builders were acidic,” he says. “And that has a big side effect. If you add too much acid into your professional service, you lower the pH and then you slow that process down. So that’s kind of the negative side effect that we identified as really holding the category back in the professional sense, because time is really important in the salon.”
Conversely, the Epres products boast a new class of molecule crafted from a light, biodegradable oil that has no “ionizable groups” or pH attached to it. “That allows us to make a formula that’s acid-free,” with a far speedier processing time and more clients served.
Not that Pressly’s in the lab 24-7. In fact, he says he enjoys fully operating a brand for the first time, especially because he gets to share the responsibilities with Sampson, his first hire.
“He’s run a lot of brands before,” Pressly says of Sampson, who was CEO of Kate Somerville and previously served as brand manager for L’Oréal’s Prestige Professional Brands division. “Having Michael as the co-CEO, he can do a lot of the stuff that helps keep my mind free for creativity. I can focus on the higher-level stuff and let Michael get his hands dirty.”
For someone who basically stumbled into haircare as a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara, Pressly certainly sounds besotted with the sector. “I’m passionate about bringing this category to the next level,” he says. “People reach out and tell me I changed their lives, whether it’s a hairdresser who now has more business, or somebody who had really bad hair. That’s really rewarding.”
On track for what Pressly describes as double-digit growth for 2023, Epres is expected to add thousands of salons next year.
“The demand is there,” he says. “But we don’t want to make it too complicated.”
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