In 2001, Markham founded PureOlogy Serious Color Care, which developed sulfate-free formulas. Within three years, the company surpassed $25 million in sales and by 2007, PureOlogy had been acquired by L’Oréal for $280 million. For many entrepreneurs, such a blockbuster deal would be the pinnacle of a successful career, but not for Markham. Within five years he came out of retirement to launch ColorProof Color Care Authority, a luxury color care brand focused on clean products that are said to be safe for the planet.
Markham spoke with Happi about the trajectory of his career, the launch of ColorProof, the constantly changing landscape of the industry and his recent collaboration with Quentin Tarantino and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”
Happi: How did you get into the hair care industry?
Markham: I got my start in the beauty industry very early on as a stylist as a way to support my family. I quickly learned that I had talent for hairdressing, so I started entering haircutting competitions and won all that I entered. Soon after, I aligned with celebrity stylist Jay Sebring and began cutting and styling stars, including Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Johnny Carson, and Frank Sinatra, to name a few. My celebrity clients demanded the very best—results that could only be delivered with the best products paired with the best technique. If a product didn’t exist that I felt was needed, I would set out to create it. That is where my love for product development was born and the beginning of a long journey within this industry.
Happi: When did you start ColorProof and why?
Markham: ColorProof is the fourth company I have founded and the fifth company I developed. Each of my companies answered a specific need in the market for their time. We launched ColorProof in 2012 following the sale of PureOlogy Serious Color Care – a brand that started with a phone call. (My wife and co-founder) Cheryl’s best friend, Carrie, was fighting cancer and could not find beauty products she could safely use. I set to work developing formulas for Carrie that inevitably became the industry’s first-ever sulfate-free formulas. They were not only safe to use but miraculous at preserving color. Following the sale of PureOlogy, I planned to retire, but stayed involved with industry trends and innovation. I quickly realized that color care had not evolved much in the 12 years since I developed PureOlogy. I knew that new ingredient technology was available, but no one was taking advantage of it. The idea for ColorProof was born. With ColorProof, we aimed to create the highest performing products available using the newest, cleanest and best ingredients on the market for superior color protection.
Happi: How has it grown?
Markham: ColorProof has grown leaps and bounds. Since launching in 2012, e-commerce and digital marketing have taken off, providing additional distribution channels and effective ways to create brand awareness and continually connect with our customers. Our stylist community continues to grow exponentially, and our product offerings continue to evolve. What is revolutionary today, however, won’t be in another 10 years, so it is imperative that we anticipate, continue to evolve, and seek out the next generation in ingredient technology to stay at the forefront of the industry.
Happi: How has the industry changed since you began your career?
Markham: The industry has dramatically changed since I began my career in the late 1960s. Where to begin?! It seems each passing year, you can bet on new cutting, coloring, and styling methods to emerge. Color is booming like never before, and salon services, including extensions, treatments, and blow dry and braid bars, are providing customers options they never thought possible.
The rise of digital platforms has altered the landscape entirely with the internet and social media giving more exposure to trends, self-consciousness, and the rise of celebrities and influencers. Digital education for both professionals and consumers now allows for on-demand tips, tricks and hacks with the click of a finger. Both women and men are more proactive in maintaining their hair health and incorporating preventative measures into their routines to keep hair in optimum condition. Women no longer dominate the hair industry. We’ve seen a huge increase in men as salon customers, beauty consumers, stylists, colorists and even the re-emergence of the barber community. Men’s cutting trends have transformed 10-fold over the years and have come full circle—back to cuts reminiscent of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Today’s man is looking for a modernized-Steve McQueen cut that allows hair to be left longer on the sides and shorter on the top to best frame the face with a natural neckline. ColorProof offers a course in men’s cutting on how to achieve this look. With so many changes, however, some things remain consistent: customers still desire exceptional salon service and demand the very best performance from their products.
Happi: How has the consumer changed?
Markham: Today’s consumer is more informed. With the rise of social media and the internet, information is so readily available that consumers can make more informed purchasing decisions than ever before possible. Consumers today are typically mindful, socially conscious and health conscious. They demand performance but also are taking a more natural approach to beauty and wellness.
Happi: How have the formulations changed?
Markham: Like with all technology, ingredient technology changes at rapid rates. New ingredients are constantly being discovered and/or developed to deliver better performance and a multitude of benefits that can quickly make once-popular formulas irrelevant. In addition, as scientific research emerges and regulations get stricter, we are seeing a move industry-wide toward cleaner formulations. Since day one, it has been our priority to formulate “with all of the good and none of the bad”—a position we stand behind and continue to evolve. We recently had a breakthrough in clean formulas with the launch of our SuperSheer Clean Shampoo and Conditioner, the first and only hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, silicone-free professional products. Those claims are in addition to our already extensive “free-of” list standard in all ColorProof products.
Happi: What can suppliers, formulators and hairstylists do better to improve the customer experience?
Markham: I believe the customer experience can be improved by taking the initiative to innovate, and to do so sustainably. By continually striving for excellence in the way we develop, manufacture, recommend, package and distribute our products, we will improve the end-user experience. As citizens of the world, we need to need to take every opportunity to reduce, reuse and recycle. ColorProof is in the process of moving toward 100% post-consumer recycled plastics for all of our bottles. It is essential we provide our customers with eco-conscious choices and we believe every bit helps. As my friend Paul Newman used to say, “we need to be like the farmer and plant more seeds than we take out.”
Happi: Finally, what was your experience working on the set of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood?”
Markham: It was incredibly exciting. What began as a few telephone conversations with Tarantino’s set decorating team, eventually led to a meeting at my home. The set decorators came over and spent a whole day going through my archives. They took pictures of everything. I gave them a client book of the celebrities Jay Sebring and I had (in ’69 we had approximately 500 of the top celebrities in the world). They reproduced our salon for the film, making it look exactly the way it did back then. I was able to provide them with some of the original Sebring products, sheers, brushes similar to those used during that era and Sebring branded materials such as matchbooks and pens. Hopefully, I was able to fill in some of the holes to make the film look as authentic as possible. All in all, it was an honor to be able to share my firsthand accounts of the Hollywood scene and professional styling during that iconic era.