In 1999, Risa Barash noticed a common plague among the kids coming into her family’s salon: head lice.
For just such problems, her then-fiance’s cousin, a salon stylist by trade, had developed a shampoo infused with rosemary, lavender, peppermint and tea tree oil. Barash was impressed and after brainstorming with her fiancé (now husband) Rob, contracted with a company in the Midwest to manufacture the product in bulk.
“We knew the best way to grow the product was in salons,” she recalled.
While her evenings were spent onstage as a stand-up comedian, her days were free. So Barash walked around New York, placing Fairy Tales shampoo in salons. She stocked the salons for free with the promise that if nothing sold, she’d take back the unsold product.
“I was doing this for months, and it was a little crazy,” Barash said. “But no one ever called me to pick it up, not once. They all paid me.”
As more salons sold out, more product was made and the brand grew significantly with minimal advertising.
“We had moms who, when they became aware of and fell in love with our products, they’d call and ask if they could distribute brochures for us,” Barash said. “Moms and school nurses — they’d call and say, ‘Hey, what is this? Can we have some info?’”
In 2002, Barash began selling Fairy Tales online after she and her family moved to Montclair. Sales took off that year, and Fairy Tales has continued to mark double-digit sales growth year over year.
The company now has 16 employees and several product lines: Rosemary Repel, to clean hair and prevent lice; Lice Goodbye, to break down the glue that allows lice eggs to stick to hair; Sun & Swim, to remove sea salt and minerals that make hair dry and crunchy after a beach trip; Curly Q, for curly hair; and Tangle Tamers, for knotty hair.
In June, it’s launching a line for kids ages 8-14, inspired by the couple’s teenage kids.
“The tween-age range, there’s not a lot of products out there for that age group,” Barash said. “They’re stealing their expensive products from their mothers. There’s not a lot for the 13-year-old whose hair and face has started to get oily.”
Fairy Tales today is a multimillion-dollar hair care company, with the No. 2 lice preventative on the market next to Suave Kids.
“I know I’m creating something that parents need, not just want,” Barash said. “So many of these companies want to grow so fast and scale up. We are enjoying the ride. [Fairy Tales] has been a project of love, not a money project.”
The company’s products are stocked in Walmart, Target and other large retail outlets.
“I was just in Arizona, and when I saw an Albertsons, I went over two lanes of traffic to pull into the parking lot,” said Barash. “I still get so excited anytime I see my product in places.”