9 December 2022

Visualizing a Brilliant Future: Estetica Exclusive with Cory Couts & Daniel Kaner on Oribe sale to Kao

Oribe has grown from a prestige hair care brand into a global beauty authority that has hair care, skincare, body care, makeup, tools and accessories and is undergoing some changes in ownership that make way for new and exciting opportunities for everyone who loves the signature-scented brand!

Kao Corporation, a leading manufacturer of top beauty brands recognized around the world, announced that it has signed an agreement to acquire Oribe Hair Care from its owners, Luxury Brand Partners who specialize in the creation of artist‐driven brands. Oribe will join the Kao Salon Division portfolio of professional brands, including Goldwell and KMS.

Daniel Kaner, co‐founder and now sole President of Oribe Hair Care sat down with Global President of Kao Salon Division, Cory Couts, to talk to Estetica about the vision and future of Oribe. Oribe holds a strong presence in the top‐tier professional salon segment as well as in leading specialty retailers around the world, and luxe-obsessed consumers are loyal as can be. So, it is essential for the brand to speak to its hairdressers and touch upon future plans for their salons, hairdressers and consumers alike!

Tell us, in a few words, what you see for the future of Oribe within Kao?
Daniel:There are multiple areas to consider. Our product development team now has access to Kao’s deep research and innovation. I met with some of Kao’s research scientists, which was more than impressive. I’ve never seen anything like it. We already make great products that our consumers love, and their research will add to the process. Also, internationally, we’re small—we are in 40 countries—but Kao is an expert. They will guide us as we build our business. We are like-minded organizations, and they’ve got very talented individuals. Together, we’re stronger. Consumers and hairstylists all want something more today. Cory has many interesting long-term ideas that will positively affect the professional division and will inform our activities.

Wonderful. Cory, how about you?
Cory:I would say the most important thing I see for the future, and I think this is really important to Oribe salons, is that we’re not going to change the brand. We’ve acquired a beautiful brand that has incredible momentum, incredible love within the industry. I think it’s very important for the people to know, when they’re asking , “What are Kao’s plans?” that our plans are to do more of the same, but to do it in a broader and deeper way so that we maintain the exclusivity of the brand, we maintain the positioning, and we maintain the type of salons that partner with the brand. Oribe will remain the same. I know that’s a big question when a larger company buys a smaller company, or a multinational company buys a favorite brand of a salon. Some companies haven’t done a great job in that. We have our own experiences as well. All of the management team for both companies have seen that. We plan to do it right. That’s the biggest thing to talk about with our plan. We will try to do it right, and to honor the brand, and to honor the founders.

In terms of education, how will you be fusing the color and styling world, since you are now part of the same team? I know that a lot of the education in Oribe is what makes it so hairdresser-friendly.
Cory:  “When you talk about fusing education, it’s important to talk about the alliance that we already have. We’ve had an alliance, mostly education-oriented, for the past few years, since 2015. In that, we do highlight Goldwell color when Oribe is having an event. Our colorists and our executives attend the event. We represent ourselves to Oribe customers. Oribe stylists have the opportunity to see our color on stage and how it seamlessly works with Oribe products. That already exists.
Again, with that, it would probably be more of the same. Or, it might be a little bit deeper and a little bit broader. I think we have a really good formula on how to complement each other, both with our artists and the products. I think in that respect, it will be pretty much the same. The one thing that Oribe will have access to now that it didn’t have before is our 30-plus academies around the world. Oribe definitely has a home in many cities around the world now in order to visit and showcase what makes them great, makes us great.
Daniel:Thirty academies is a powerful industry commitment. I would add that color is a major part of the stylists’ vocabulary and important to the consumer as well. We teach cutting, styling and finishing within our ‘Journey to Mastery’ program and maintain a robust educational program for our salon network. This collaboration we’ve experienced the last three years has been beneficial for both cultures. In the future we will explore more color technique courses because we can really dream big as partners.

Last year, we were in Barcelona for the Global Zoom event. We saw not only Goldwell was present, but also KMS. Do you expect that Oribe is going to have a big part in the next event in Toronto this year?
Cory:Well, that is to be decided. As Daniel said, we all have to get into a room here very soon. We would love for Oribe customers to attend and meet our other brands and be with other people that are in love with our brands. If we can find a way to do that that maintains exclusivity of Oribe and fits with the Oribe ethos, then that’s something we can explore. We need to find out if that’s possible first.

What is going to happen with the future of Oribe with educators like Kien Hoang, James Pecis at Fashion Week and more fashion-centric international events?
Daniel:We will be very involved in the fashion world. We have our ‘Journey to Mastery’ program, which is the program that all of our educators put themselves through to test their abilities, speed and accuracy—whether it be braiding, hair sewing or creating a chignon. To be able to put our program to work at Fashion Weeks around the world is proof of the program’s content. Kien, Oribe Director of Training & Content, keyed 13 shows last year. We will continue to do it because it’s so much a part of the ethos of the brand and a rite of passage for the stylists. James is an extraordinary teacher. He brings his team with him to Europe where he’ll do 20 to 30 shows a season. It’s fulfilling to see younger stylists that have not participated in the program get a chance to do so.

Cory, tell me a little bit about how your background as a salon manager has influenced your leadership in Kao.
Cory:I think it’s influenced me in a lot of ways. The number one way is when we’re in the boardroom talking about where we want to go in the future or what we want to bring to the market. I immediately take on the salon owner’s viewpoint. What I like to say is we have a salon manager at the table every single time. Just as with John Moroney, our Creative Director, we have a hairdresser at the table. Every time we’re making a big decision, the salon manager has a representative there. I think of myself still as a salon manager who happens to be the president of the salon division, not the president of the salon division that used to be a salon manager. It informs everything we do and every decision that we make, really.

This is for the readers of the Estetica Magazine. One of the mantras in Goldwell is “We think stylist.” Talking about the hairdressers who are already a part of Kao’s family, how will the introduction of Oribe affect them directly?
Cory:The overall Kao mission is to enrich the lives of stylists, salon owners and their clients. I think in enriching their lives, it’s about giving them more experiences that they didn’t have before. They’re going to be able to experience things they didn’t experience before now that we have Oribe. I think also enriching means having a stronger business and offering stronger artistry in order to grow your business. We like partnering with people that are artistic-minded and business-minded. They’re going to have opportunities they never had before to enrich themselves, and their stylists, and their clients. That’s what we’re really here for. That’s our own mission. They’re going to see things they’ve never seen before. It’s going to make them better hairdressers and better salon owners.

We understand that you’ve been collaborating for three years, Oribe and Goldwell. If you have to pick one thing, the both of you, that you like the most about each other, what will it be?
Daniel:Yes, it’s been three years. We started speaking in 2011 and worked up to this point. I enjoy the strong leadership team within the Kao organization, and the educators are extraordinary. They’re very passionate about what they do, just like our team. It’s been a complete pleasure creating and working together.
Cory:Actually, my answer’s very similar. I think it’s the fact that we have a shared vision for the industry and a shared vision for our brands. What I like about working within the teams is we never really have to explain things to each other, because we’re so like-minded. Everyone understands what we’re talking about when we’re talking exclusivity, or we’re talking about being hairdresser-first, or when we’re talking about making sure that the salon owner wins in every instance. There’s never a debate or explanation that needs to be had, because we all are on the same page already. Many times, an alliance can be difficult, or there’s a lot of explaining that has to be done about this position or that position. We just don’t have to engage in those conversations, because we’re coming from the same space already.

I have a wonderful story. You’ve been romancing for a long time, but do you recall the precise moment when you decided, “Okay, let’s buy a risk?”
Cory:Well, I decided it long before Kao or Oribe decided it, or Luxury Brand Products. I’ve been in love with the brand for a very long time. Daniel will be able to tell you that I’ve been talking about it since 2011. That was before anyone else was ready to talk about it. I’ve had it in my mind, and I’ve visualized this transaction for quite some time. The moment that we knew for sure it was going to happen was at some point in the last year. There are so many milestones hit that then, you really realize that it’s real. We’ve gotten everybody to the same point, whether it be our colleagues in Tokyo, Luxury Brand Partners, the team at Oribe. There’s a point when it all gels and comes together, but I first decided in my heart quite some time ago. When I knew it was going to happen was probably just in the last few months. It’s just like the Luxury Brand Partners people say, the brand wasn’t necessarily for sale. It takes some conversation, and someone has to raise their hand first and say, ‘Let’s talk.’

What final message would you like to share about the immediate future of Oribe?
Cory:The main thing I want to say is that Oribe will remain the same. I think the more we say that, the better it will be for the industry. We want people to know that we love this brand, and there’s no reason to fix something that isn’t broken.
Daniel:I will add, that I’ve been asked to continue on in my role as co-founder and president. Oribe will have the same team and the same direct sales force we’ve had. The team is excited about this next leg of our journey. We remain Oribe obsessed.


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