How She Got There: Kailey Bradt, Founder and CEO of OWA Haircare

Monday, November 19, 2018

By Maddie Hughes

Name: Kailey Bradt

Age: 25

Job Title and Description: Founder and CEO of OWA Haircare 

College and Major: BS in Chemical Engineering and MS in Product Development from Rochester Institute of Technology


Twitter Handle: @owahaircare

Instagram Handle: @owahaircare

Hair care is one of the most frustrating aspects of any college girl's life — it’s right up there with skincare. Hair can be greasy, dry, dead at the ends, bleached beyond repair, or all of the above. It can be hard to find the right solution for your hair when you can’t afford weekly Drybar visits or your regular shampoo/conditioner combo suddenly stops working for your hair. Kailey Bradt, founder and CEO of OWA Haircare, is seeking to change the future of hair care with her future product launches.

Bradt’s future Moondust line is redefining hair care as we know it. With the invention of powder shampoo, Bradt is throwing out the idea that shampoo has to be 80% water. Her hair care products are 0% water, free of harmful chemicals, and 100% will have you living your best life once they come out on the market. Bradt takes us through the dedication it takes to leave stability and pursue your actual dreams, all while being only a few years out of college.  

Her Campus: What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?

Kailey Bradt: My current job is doing whatever is needed that day and there is nothing close to a typical day that I can describe. In the very beginning, I had to do absolutely everything on my own. Sleeping 3 hours a night is not healthy and I cannot stress how important it is to start building a team.

Fast forward two years and still each day is different. I am responsible for managing the team I’ve put together and keeping them on track. I still produce our website content, our social media content and right now, my main focus is on getting the product to market. Although I developed the product a while ago, there is a lot that needs to be done around packaging and product testing that is currently being executed. I am constantly running around to a lot of meetings and taking calls getting everything finalized for our first manufacturing run.

Fundraising is also a huge time-consuming piece of my job lately. I’ve met with a lot of investors and investment groups, and have spent time applying to competitions for startups. I also attend a lot of conferences and networking events around NYC. I try to participate if I can! I actually just did an RIT Alumni event where I was on a panel “How I Got My Start,” which was a great experience. I make time every week to meet at least one new person. I think a lot of people get so tied up in work in front of their computer that they forget how important it is to keep networking. For me, that’s a priority. I also work out of The Wing, which is a great community of women doing amazing work, so I utilize that resource for events and networking as well.

HC: What is the best part of your job?

KB: I love to be creative, but not in the traditional sense. I cannot paint, draw, or design a garment. I find my creativity comes in the ability to re-engineer something in a new way that others have not thought of. I have so many product ideas for OWA that do not yet exist on the market! I cannot wait to introduce all of them over the next few years! I love every aspect of developing a new product from the brainstorming stage to the technical detail to working on marketing for launch.

HC: What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?

KB: Rochester Institute of Technology has a co-op program in which the students are required to complete some number of weeks set by the college of full-time, paid, internships before graduation. For the engineering college, we were required to complete 50 weeks total.  My first full-time position post-college was actually at the company where I had completed my final 20-week co-op, so I will talk about how I got that internship, which is a not-so-typical story.

I really wanted to work in cosmetics and at the age of 20, winters in Los Angeles sounded better than winters in New York City, so I picked Los Angeles to seek out a position in the industry. I had a couple of weeks between my previous co-op ending and starting back at school in the fall, so I flew to California to find my next internship for my upcoming block in January. I printed out resumes and drove my friend’s car all over the city knocking on doors of cosmetic companies and laboratories who had their addresses online to hand deliver my resume. Yes, I literally flew across the country to hand deliver resumes. I did not receive a single phone call or email from any of these companies.

While in Los Angeles, my friend’s roommate had just started working for a startup chemical company. I was intrigued, because I did not think a start-up chemical company existed, and I had always wanted the opportunity to work at a start-up as I hoped to have my own someday! I went in and met with the team. At the time, the company was less than five years old, so it was pretty small. The company was actually in a unique position bridging the gap between research and the lengthy traditional commercialization cycle, so I was actually a perfect fit for what they needed. With my previous experience, it was a natural career progression, so I gave it a go. Five years later, I still do contract work for them. I consider them a part of my LA family.

HC: What words of wisdom do you find most valuable?

KB: There isn’t any one piece of advice I keep going back to. For me, I know that I myself am constantly changing and growing, and in the cosmetic industry, in particular, there is a lot of change, so I follow women entrepreneurs who I respect and think are leading game-changing businesses in order to keep myself motivated. I think Emily Weiss has done an incredible job growing Glossier in such an organic manner. Lauren Singer started Trash is for Tossers, The Simply Co., and Package Free Shop, setting a phenomenal example of living a zero-waste lifestyle and showing you can still live sustainably without compromise. Leandra Medine Cohen of Man Repeller is just so herself, that it’s really inspiring to me that you can remain so grounded, yet build this awesome brand that people can relate to and stand out in fashion in a non-traditional way.

HC: What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?

KB:  When I started OWA, I did not have a realistic timeline to launch. Everything moves slower than planned, and it was a harsh reality for me as I got started. A year ago, I thought we would be able to launch in January 2018. It’s October 2018 and we still do not have our first product to market. The delays have mostly come from not having the right contacts in the industry.

Partnering with others, whether it be investors, consultants, etc. that already have relationships established with raw material suppliers, packaging suppliers, and manufacturers has made it significantly easier to get moving in the right direction.  If I had the contacts in the industry a year ago that I have today, we could have moved much more quickly. This is why I consistently make time to grow my network. I’ve also made it a point to help other entrepreneurs, so I take the networking opportunity to act as a mentor as well.

HC: What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?

KB: Oh goodness. I honestly can’t say because it’s technically confidential. What I will say is that being pre-revenue and having minimal press, but being recognized by industry leaders you respect can seem like a dream.

HC: What do you look for when considering hiring someone?

KB: In the beginning stages of a start-up, especially pre-revenue, a team has to have the passion to be resilient through the challenges they will face to get the product/service to market. There are so many different aspects working against a company in its beginning stages, that if the team’s vision is not the company’s vision, the company is likely to fail.  Each individual that becomes part of the team must want to make the company a success.

HC: What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?

KB: I had an idea. I was 23, about a year out of college, and living 3,000 miles away from family. I was just starting to get stable on my own. I knew that I had to either completely forget about this idea, or I had to give up everything I had worked for up to this point to run with this idea. And I couldn’t forget about it. I packed whatever I could into my car, sold or gave away everything else, and drove across the country back to the East Coast to start working on what is now OWA.

Everyone thought that I was crazy, and it definitely was a little crazy, but I had an opportunity to build a company that could change the way people thought about haircare. That wasn’t crazy. I really wanted to take that risk. It wasn’t easy to walk away from this life I had begun to build in Los Angeles, and it still isn’t easy today to be in a new city building a company from the ground up. I would not have done it if I did not think it was going to be worth it, but be prepared to give up everything you have and work harder than you ever have.

HC: What's the one thing that's stood out to you the most in a resume?

KB: I would have to say there are two things that are equally important in a resume. First, I notice if it is organized. It has to be easy-to-read with not too much text. I’ve seen a lot of creative resumes that incorporate color and graphs, which I love.

Secondly, once I start reading, I look for an “interests” section. It makes you unique and helps you stand out.  For example, at OWA, our Accountant is also a certified yoga instructor and that’s awesome. Our Communications Manager has traveled to over 20 countries. These facts tell me a lot more about you as a person, and that’s what gets me interested in meeting you!

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