As part of our ongoing series to celebrate Canadian talent in the industry, we chatted with Ilan Cohen, the president of Oligo Professionnel, to discuss the rich history behind the Montreal-based brand, what sets their products apart and what’s new for the family-owned business in terms of education, new launches and more.
Can you tell us about Oligo’s history?
The business is 36 years old and was founded by my parents, Moty and Liliane Cohen. They were developing formulas for other companies and were known for developing complex products, such as lighteners and colour, with and without ammonia. They developed an expertise in developing products and then wanted to focus on their brand: Oligo Professionnel. When the newer generation—three brothers—entered the business, it was time to grow it. Back then, the traditional way to develop a brand was through hair shows, but we didn’t have the resources to do all the hair shows so we decided to take a more digital-marketing approach and grow the brand on social media.
Luckily, the brand quickly took off and started getting more and more popular. Distributors started calling us to represent the brand. Six years later, we are primarily a hair colour brand and to this day, we are still the fastest growing colour brand in North America. We have retail that we do well with but that’s not the focus of the organization. We have been able to build up credibility and a solid reputation, even though we haven’t been around for as long as some of our competitors.
What sets your products apart from other professional hair products?
Our business model relies on three important pillars—product development, education and distribution. What sets us apart is the quality and performance of our products. Most retail, like shampoo, hairspray or treatments, are oftentimes driven by marketing, branding, fragrance, celebrity endorsement or influencer endorsement. On the service side, colour, lightener, smoothing products and so on are really driven by performance; people want products that perform.
Our proprietary technology has a modern approach to formulation and a healthier philosophy. For example, our permanent hair colour is ammonia-free, but it still performs at a very high level. We have unique technology specific to us that translates into product performance and is exactly what stylists are seeking.
What makes your brand unique and a go-to for so many hairstylists? Why should hairstylists recommend your products to their clients?
Number one would be performance—we believe our products perform at a very high level. Number two would be that we believe our products are safer and healthier. On the chemical side, there are a lot of common unhealthy ingredients—ammonia, dye, etc.—that are not found in Oligo products. On the retail side, we have vegan products and a much healthier philosophy than average when it comes to formulating products. There is no need to compromise performance if you want to achieve a vegan shampoo, for example. We formulate with both in mind—performance as well as a focus on healthier and safer products.
What are some of your best-selling products and why do you think they’re so popular?
We launched our Blacklight segment which does extremely well. Blacklight is a blonding system that really took off for us a couple years ago, and it incorporates a lightening system. We have top performers within the category, like the Extra Blonde lightener that performs at a very high level.
We were also the first company to innovate the launch of blue shampoo, when there were only violet shampoos on the market, and it’s a product that is still doing extremely well for us.
Lastly, our Calura Gloss, which launched just over a year ago, is very popular. It’s a demi-permanent liquid hair colour with a very unique hybrid technology; the product doesn’t lift but also lasts longer than most demis. Our technology and our emphasis on performance is what drives the growth of our retail side.
Why is it important for salons and hairstylists to know that your company is Canadian?
Some people care and some people don’t as much, but we care and that’s why we started three years ago to invest in the Canadian market: Becoming a gold sponsor at the Contessas, various activities we do throughout the year, our “buy local” policies. This trend has definitely amplified and accelerated during COVID and it’s something we mention on our different platforms. Our head office is in Montreal and we manufacture in Montreal, as well. It’s definitely something we’re proud of.
You manufacture in Montreal? That’s great to hear. Is everything at Oligo made in Canada?
Every single product is made in Montreal. Not all of the packaging is Canadian, but the majority of it is.
In light of COVID, why is it more important now than ever to support local companies?
I think this whole pandemic has brought on many challenges, but at the same time we feel that buying local is more in people’s minds over the last few months. Stylists are definitely more receptive to local products, as long as it performs as well, if not better, than others. We as a company are trying our best to buy more local supplies.
Is there anything new that you’re doing that you want to share?
We’re launching a digital platform for education. The project was created before COVID—it was not a reaction to COVID—similarly to our approach to buying local. The importance of digital education was amplified because of COVID. The program is geared toward Oligo users and potential new users to educate stylists digitally. Ultimately, within the platform we want to offer a multi-layer education approach, including product knowledge, cut and colour classes by the Oligo Professionnel creative team and independent education that is more technique/trend-driven.
Technology today does allow us to offer hands-on digital education, and a pillar of our brand has always been education. We are looking to deliver an elevated and relevant education message, taking that content and utilizing the same people and applying it with a digital platform.
We think there are more ups and downs when going virtual, but there are more advantages than disadvantages because we can offer it to anybody in the world, and hands-on education is limited in certain areas so because this is digital, it will be more accessible, which is a huge plus.
What has it been like to see Oligo’s success, especially in recent years as you’ve expanded into more salons and on social media?
It’s a function of the people who work for the brand and are so passionate about the brand and the industry as a whole. One cannot achieve the success we’ve achieved in such a short time without a collective of people who are amazing and so passionate. Being an independent, family-owned brand, everyone is contributing to that success and takes ownership in that success. It’s been both humbling and amazing.