Hair color is great while it lasts… except it doesn’t. Enter Liora Dudar and Maegan Scarlett and a line of color maintenance products they cooked up in a kitchen. By Mari Herreras. Cover photo courtesy of oVertone.co
The images Liora K Dudar produces generate healthy double takes and national praise, earning the Tucson photographer – widely known as Liora K – a reputation of being feminist fierce.
Which could make Liora’s latest endeavor surprising to some. That is unless, of course, you ever noticed the touch of color that often tops her brunette tresses. Today the color is red, a flame of red hair that beautifully frames Liora’s face.
Sitting beside her inside Café Passe on Tucson’s Fourth Avenue is Maegan Scarlett – a friend that shares Liora’s feminist ideals and values. What’s equally obvious is that Maegan shares her love of color too. Her hair is a gorgeous shade of orange in all-over color down to her shoulders.
Together, the friends recently launched oVertone, a line of color-depositing conditioners that can be used weekly and daily in different color intensities to keep those fantasy colors from fading as fast, and leaving hair well-conditioned at the same time.
What’s referred to as “fantasy color” are colors like pink and other pastels, as well as more intense shades of blue, green, red and purple. On the café table sit some of the offerings: tubs of weekly deep conditioner in purple, red and a teal green. They’re creamy and have a light, natural-smelling fragrance – nothing like the usual ammonia smell of many hair coloring products.
Liora says they came up with the business idea over their mutual love for fantasy color – something she suggests people choose in an effort to be their more authentic selves. When Liora first met Maegan they recognized they shared many values and interests, and over coffee they’d lament that their color faded too fast, forcing them to go back to their hair stylists a little more than they desired – every two weeks rather than every six weeks. With oVertone, application can be weekly or daily, depending on a person’s wants or needs. If someone has a blonded streak, according to Liora, it can take the salon out of the picture altogether.
Once the start-up idea hatched, the women ran with it. And it feels like they have no intention of stopping. “We’re the sort of people who jump head first into good ideas, I suppose,” says Maegan. “‘We’re going to do it and we’re ordering lab supplies right now’ is pretty much how it started.”
There was no market analysis nor 20-page business plan, just what Liora and Maegan describe as passion – the kind of passion that fuels projects with what sometimes seems like the energy of 20 women, not just two.
“A business plan is just not our style. From my personal experience, I find that people who are successful jump face first into things and don’t look back,” says Maegan. “If something comes up and we need a business plan, well then we’ll write it. But we don’t want to waste the time. I’d rather focus on marketing and creating a brand and great product.”
Liora says when they agreed on the business idea, she had to go to a friend’s wedding the next day. She found herself looking at her phone, going over 20 different emails from Maegan, who in a short time set up a website URL, did research on Shopify to set up online sales, and began identifying ingredients and bottle vendors.
The line they’ve created – 54 different products, to be exact – formally kicked off online on June 21 at oVertone.co. They’ve also been busy researching retail and wholesale markets, and they have interest in Australia. So part of their challenge now is making sure they have the labels legally required for the down-under market.
Why the interest? Liora and Maegan say it’s because their research shows there are no other products like theirs out on the market – no coloring conditioner specifically for fantasy colors. Theirs allows freedom, they say – the ability for consumers to take hot showers and do heat styling without having to worry about damaging their color. “We’re still looking for who else does what we do and we can’t find it,” says Liora.
If they do find anything similar on the market, what may set oVertone apart from the rest is a specific set of values important to Liora and Maegan. For example, they are using as many organic ingredients and recyclable materials as possible. “These go-deep weekly treatments are 70 percent organic and the daily are 30 percent organic. What’s great is that we created these ourselves to make sure we know what’s in them,” says Maegan.
On their company blog and in all of their marketing they want to have as many different ethnicities, genders and body types represented as possible – not surprising, given Liora’s strong support of the body positive movement. They also created a give-back program that allows customers to round up the cost of their online purchase and designate that dollar or more to one of four non-profits: American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, Nurse Family Partnership and Best Friends Animal Society. “This gives our customers a voice,” says Liora, adding that over time the charities will change.
There’s also a trust factor they are counting on, the fact that they personally came up with the formula, mixing those early batches on tarps laid out in Maegan’s Los Angeles kitchen and dining room. With the lab supplies purchased, Liora took the Amtrak train from Tucson to L.A. and once she arrived they started experimenting. Liora says some of Maegan’s college bio-chemistry knowledge was a help, as well as their own experience with fantasy color.
Says Liora: “We knew a decent amount about hair color and how it works and how pigments are structured. We took a lot of time researching and navigating the Internet to find the basic raw materials of what hair dye is made of, took that and reformulated it for our hair conditioner. It was sometimes a steep learning curve with the pigments.” She adds that those early mixing days included a few phone calls to Tucson friend, stylist and colorist Amber Zabaleta of Imagen Salon.
“We’d give her call and say, ‘Why are these not working?,’ and we’d figure out if it was x, y or z. So we had some guidance. But Maegan’s background in chemistry helped and I think both of us think similarly on a business level,” Liora explains.
So together that day in Maegan’s L.A. home they figured out the building blocks of hair dye. It helped, says Maegan, that there was a cupcake bakery and wine store down the street from her house. They also put the final touches to their business venture: the website, setting up social media, and researching the vendors who sold the ingredients. Plus, they were all able to successfully answer the first question women asked when they called: “Are your products cruelty free?”
Literally home-grown, the business still operates largely from Maegan’s living room, where the pair recently mixed 180 ounces of conditioners for pre-orders. They are looking into contracting out the mixing, but first they need orders.
Maegan says the work involved in creating oVertone appealed to her Jane-of-all-trades attitude. While living in Tucson she worked for a health care IT firm while going to college, and continues to work in that field from her home in L.A. The fantasy color business is a creative outlet that she needs, she says, a home for her passion to create something and be part of something she loves. And while it would seem Liora gets enough creative expression through her commercial and personal photography projects, she says the facets of business development allow her to use her creativity in different ways that are equally rewarding.
While the partnership between Liora and Maegan is very collaborative, each brings their individual skills, which reflects the titles on their business cards: Chief Operating Officer for Maegan and Chief Design Officer for Liora. And while both say their friendship bonds over their individual entrepreneurial spirit, Maegan is the one with some specific start-up experiences that have provided her with a few lessons one might not expect.
“I’ve been trying to start a business since I’ve exited the womb,” quips Maegan. “Early on I sold candy to my peers behind my teachers’ backs in grade school.” At 19 she was working several jobs to pay for college. She became a certified personal trainer and brought other trainers together to create an online consulting business, along with a fitness and women’s empowerment blog. But it proved difficult to monetize and she moved on.
“There have been other tries here and there and other industries, and every time you fail you learn a lot,” says Maegan. “But the favorite advice someone shared with me along the way is if you wait to start until you’re ready you’ll probably never start. If you’re comfortable when you do start, you may have waited too long.”
What’s evident to those lucky enough to observe Liora’s projects – her collaboration with body acceptance activist and blogger Jes ‘The Militant’ Baker, for example – is the partnerships she creates. “It’s a good way to live and very empowering,” says Liora, agreeing. “Every partnership, I’ve always known was going to work out.”
Maegan looks back at the beginning of oVertone and the intense energy each of them initially brought to the table. “Those first 48 hours we had done so much because we’re really excited about it. I’ve been involved in a number of start-ups and I’m involved with the executive team in my day job – but I find that when the passion is lacking, it drains you.
“With this, we can stay up at all hours of the night and work for days. That’s what keeps you pumped. That’s what still keeps us inspired.”
* To find out more about oVertone and to place an order, visit the website.