These Friends Built a Beauty Brand to Help the World’s Water Crisis
There is no shortage of hair products on the market that claim to purify, detoxify, protect. And yet, in London, Kristina Velkova and Sara Douglas found that no shampoo could combat the effects of the city’s hard water and perpetual rain. So they tackled the problem at the source.
“We can’t change the weather, but we can change the water,” Kristina says. And, in 2017, the two women founded beauty brand Vitaclean and launched their first product: a showerhead. The aromatherapy fixture filters hard water and neutralizes damaging chlorine.
Vitaclean sprang from a common beauty problem, and its flagship product is, on the surface, an everyday bathroom fixture wrapped in sexy branding. But there’s more to it than meets the eye: the showerhead’s design uses less water per shower than conventional heads, and a portion of every sale benefits local charities and water projects.
Vitaclean's profits support organizations like Solyna, which helps victims of sex trafficking.
When Sara and Kristina founded the company, neither had experience with manufacturing, ecommerce, or consumer goods. And yet the two have had more than two years of impressive growth selling a bathroom fixture that appeals to young millennial women—not a typical target for home-improvement brands. Theirs is a product that’s simple to install and can travel between apartment rentals. More importantly, they know how to speak to their customers because they are their customers.
Kristina’s family immigrated to the U.S. from Bulgaria when she was 9, motivated by access to better education. She attended FIT on a scholarship, and it was that opportunity that sparked her path toward entrepreneurship. “It made me be a leader,” she says.
Halfway across the world, Sydney-born Sara was making her name in the tech space, launching and advising on social media and dating apps. The two converged in London, where they both landed work with a fashion media company. They became fast friends and identified a compatibility in their working relationship too. “Sarah has a great ability to oversee situations,” Kristina says. “She’s really good at looking long-term, while I am detail-oriented and pay attention to the small things.”
Sara Douglas (left) and Kristina Velkova plan to add new products, like their Coffee Shimmer scrub.
The women upgraded their friendship to a partnership and developed the Vitaclean brand. The filtered-showerhead technology existed—it just needed a makeover. The two women, who had traveled extensively, realized that their beauty concerns weren’t unique to London, and they felt that there was a market for their product beyond the U.K.’s borders. “There’s a common ground that people want to feel good and look good in a quick and easy way,” Kristina says.
They found a manufacturer in South Korea and rebranded it to bring it to a global beauty customer. In spring 2017, they launched their products on an online store and secured a local family-run warehouse partner. They’ve been lucky, Kristina says, to have funding and early success—and she doesn’t take it for granted. “We’re still in our mid-20s, so we’ve got a lot more to learn.”
The water problem
One early lesson learned during their global push was that access to clean water (hardness aside) was truly a privilege. The showerhead, a beauty lifestyle product touted as a spa experience at home, can help the world’s water shortage one shower at a time. The high-pressure design uses up to 25 percent less water than conventional showerheads. The feature was one of the reasons they chose their particular manufacturer in South Korea, Kristina says. Since the average person in the U.K. uses 40 gallons of water per day, and an average shower accounts for about a third of that, the impact over time is significant.
A self-proclaimed environmentalist, Kristina also wanted to team up with charities that align with the company ethos and with the causes that mattered to her. One pound (roughly $1.40USD) from each sale benefits DROP4DROP, a U.K. charity funding long-term water solutions in India and Africa. Later, they added a coffee scrub to the catalog, with a portion of sales benefiting Solyna, a nonprofit helping victims of sex trafficking in Asia.
The women have not only committed to supporting these organizations monetarily. They also leverage their influence to bring awareness to those causes. Celebrity-attended events hosted by the brand have helped drive traffic and social audiences for the organizations.
For a young company, Vitaclean has made a big splash, raising tens of thousands of pounds for charity partners through sales and events. To make an even bigger impact, though, they need to sell more showerheads and grow their catalog. In 2017, they landed Lane Crawford Hong Kong as their first wholesale customer, and more recently signed on with Selfridges, a department store chain in England, and Mup, a beauty store based in the Philippines, as well as Urban Outfitters in the U.S.
While they have plans for more partnerships, Kristina says, they’re doing it strategically. “We’re very picky about who we’re going to work with,” she says. “We want to be sold [by] retailers that are aligned with our branding.”
These days, the women have their sights set on hotel and fitness chains, and are deep in product development. They also plan to target markets outside the U.K. with shower experiences and pop-ups. “I want Vitaclean to be the next Tide,” Kristina says, “something that everyone’s going to have in their house.”
Photographs courtesy of Vitaclean