The evolution of the male grooming industry – acceptance, YouTube and celebrity endorsements

Adee Phelan

Celebrity hairdresser and founder of SKNHEAD, Adee Phelan

Male grooming products have seen a large boom in recent years, with it recently overtaking Google searches in comparison to female products. With a slow evolution over the last 30 years, men are now more embracing towards the industry and are seeking the best advice and products available.

Business Leader Magazine recently spoke with celebrity hairdresser and founder of SKNHEAD, Adee Phelan about the growth and acceptance within the industry as well as his infamous David Beckham haircut for the 2002 Fifa World Cup.

Brief overview of your career and the businesses you have been involved in?

It might surprise you to know that before I was a hairdresser I had no idea, no education and few prospects. I was essentially homeless, earning a bit of money working on a pig farm. Luckily, I was given the opportunity to learn hairdressing and found I had a real flair for it. Two years later I was being awarded British Hairdresser of the Year. Since then, I’ve opened salons, been on TV, sponsored a range with Babyliss, called Adee&Paul, including thermo-ceramic straighteners and curling tongs. Recently I’ve developed a range of skin and haircare products for men and launched it on equity crowdfunding site Seedrs. We hit our target well ahead of schedule, so expect to see SKNHEAD products soon.

Can you tell me about SKN:HEAD?

Back when I had hair, I began experimenting with using cocoa butter to style my hair. It worked surprisingly well and left my hair feeling incredibly soft. I was also one of the many men who prefers their hair the day after washing when natural oils had a chance to return. I began developing a product that took the best parts of both – mixing a small amount of cleanser with some cocoa moisturiser. That became my first SKNHEAD product.

That was nearly ten years ago, but the male grooming market wasn’t really ready for a technical product yet. It took the hipster revolution as well as an army of YouTubers before men realised what they wanted from a haircare range. That’s why we’re only just releasing the range now.

What was the toughest part of setting up SKN:HEAD?

Being patent enough to wait for the right moment. It would have been so easy to launch the range immediately, ploughing all that excitement and enthusiasm into the launch. But it wouldn’t have been the right time and would have fallen flat.

Proudest moment with SKN:HEAD?

While I was pretty confident that the market had matured enough for the range to be successful, you never really know until you actually launch. By going through Seedrs I could both get the startup capital necessary for a hard launch as well as test the market appetite.

So, my proudest moment was probably when we hit 100% funding with over month left of our campaign!

Why is there such a boom in male grooming market?

I think the male grooming market has been maturing rapidly for nearly 30 years now, but it’s only recently that it’s reached a tipping point. Boybands from the ‘90s, footballers from the ‘00s, YouTubers in the 2010s – they all helped break taboos, shift perceptions, and give men some guidance on how to achieve a unique style. In 2015 Google announced that that searches for men’s haircare tutorials had overtaken searches for women’s hair tips for the first time! I think that was the real tipping point. Since then the market has grown exponentially.

Adee Phelan and David Haye

Adee Phelan and David Haye

Role of YouTube and celebrities in fuelling the rise in male grooming?

For men, style is something that you develop on your own. It’s almost like asking others for tips is a sign of weakness. It betrays a lack of confidence which undermines the power of a unique style. Fortunately, men began taking to YouTube to offer their grooming tips and tricks. This meant that men could find out what exactly a pomade is without looking stupid in front of his mates. With more knowledge and a strong desire to be individual, men began exploring entirely new types of cosmetic products. Brands reacted by creating a more diverse range of male products. Then YouTubers review these products, encouraging more men to try them. And so on. So, I think YouTubers and celebrities have had a massive impact on shifting perceptions on male grooming.

What are the differences in male and female cosmetics markets?

Ultimately, I think they come down to the same thing. Both men and women want to feel attractive, confident, desirable and sexy. Men just want to feel pampered in a manly way.

This leads to a few subtler differences in the markets. Men tend to skip passed ‘feminine-looking’ products, which means packaging needs to look distinctly ‘male’. With SKNHEAD, for example, we made the bottles a dusky blue-green with sharp lines and corners.

Men have also grown cynical of the over-exaggerated claims on women’s shampoo adverts. Claiming that your revolutionary formula will make them look like a supermodel overnight is more likely to turn men off than to make them buy.

What is the future of the industry?

A key driver of the male grooming market has been YouTube videos and tutorials and I think video tutorials will soon dominate advertising and marketing spend.

But not only will these YouTubers share tips, they’ll be the ones actually creating trends. Inevitably these trends will have an impact on product development. Brands will engage these influencers for help with R&D, as well as promotion, and their subscribers will provide a useful litmus test for developing and marketing new products.

Looking further ahead, I think that traditional ideas of masculine and feminine will continue to blur. The idea that only women wear dresses and makeup and that men leave their body hair to grow wild is already changing. Expect men with meticulously threaded eyebrows and fake tan showing off their hairless legs in a dazzling dress.

What would be your business advice to anyone entering the market?

Listen to what your market wants. Sounds obvious, but I think a lot of brands are simply applying past thinking to new products. Men want innovative products that address their specific grooming needs, not a rehash of an old product with a shiny new label. Social media can be really useful for this research.

I also think there is a lot to be said for developing a strong USP tailored around what the market desires. Once your brand is associated with doing one thing well, they’ll trust you when you expand your range later on.

Adee Phelan with female model

Adee Phelan with female model

Best piece of business advice you have received?

Listen to your customers. This is key to creating successful products and key to sustaining success and not getting ‘left behind’.

The David Beckham experience

David heard about my salon in Essex from one of his celebrity mates, a few used to pop in around then. He kind of just trusted me to go crazy and come up with something a bit different. I’m still not sure where the idea of a mohawk came from, but he loved it! I can honestly say I didn’t expect it to be quite as controversial as it proved to be, but I couldn’t complain as it catapulted my career to celebrity status. It all seems a bit surreal looking back on it. One minute I’m shovelling pig ****, literally, the next I’m going to parties with Kate Moss.