In the early ’80s, Aaron Tiram owned beauty supply stores in Miami–so he had plenty of experience working with products of all stripes when he moved north to start his own hairstyling products venture. “He saw all those products and thought, ‘I can make these myself,’ so he came to Chicago to start his own manufacturing company,” recounts Jonathan Tiram, Aaron’s son and vice president of Ecoco, an eco-friendly, unisex haircare brand. “He knows the business inside and out. He was a pioneer.”
From a two-person startup to mega manufacturer with 200-plus SKUs sold in 30-plus countries, Ecoco has evolved into a fast-growing player in beauty– while keeping its core ethics intact. But, true to its visionary roots, the company keeps on hustling to improve, expand and innovate with the fresh energy and enthusiasm of a second generation.
“We look for natural ingredients that will benefit the user, and we introduce them into their everyday life– before anyone
else is doing it.”
—Jonathan Tiram, vice president, Ecoco
STARTUP TO SUCCESS
Jonathan notes that Ecoco came from truly humble beginnings. His father hired a single chemist, and together they introduced Eco Style hair gel, which set the tone for the coming decades of innovation.
“Talk about being ahead of the curve– he’s been developing and manufacturing eco-friendly products since 1985,” Jonathan says. “His vision was combining beauty with nature, achieving the desired style without damaging your hair or the environment. He was the first to market alcohol-free styling gel, which set him apart, and he was the first to market styling gel without color added: a clear, natural product called Krystal, made for all hair types.”
Today, Ecoco has more than 100 employees, but it’s still a true family business. Jonathan joined in 2011 to run sales and marketing, and went on to introduce his own men’s line, El Patron, at the 2014 International Beauty Show. His younger brother, Andrey Court, runs Master Well Comb, which the company acquired in 2015. And patriarch Aaron continues to focus on Ecoco’s R&D behind the scenes.
While Jonathan and Andrey are young and exuberant, they are equally methodical, focused and steeped in knowledge of the beauty industry. They have a clear vision of what they want each brand to be. And after spending an afternoon shooting them for our cover, our staff had no doubt that they will take Ecoco to a newfound level of success.
“We specialize in manufacturing eco- friendly products for all hair types; we’re a brand that’s for everyone, and we’re currently in multiple categories,” Jonathan says. “Of course, having a successful business is still difficult, even after so many years. You can’t replace hard work. But we’re passionate about what we do, and our passion drives the business. We never substitute for formulas. We don’t take shortcuts or look for the cheapest alternative. We keep the quality high. That’s why we’ve had success as a trusted consumer brand. And we have affordable prices, so it’s a win-win for consumers and retailers.”
Of course, constant product innovation also has helped the company soar to such heights. Recognizing this ingenuity, Jinny Beauty Supply honored Ecoco with its Product Innovation of the Year Award in 2017 for the Eco Style Black Castor & Flaxseed Oil line. The five products (currently some of the company’s hottest sellers) include Leave-In Conditioner; Conditioning, Styling & Shining Gel; Maximum Hair Growth Formula; Deep Conditioning Therapy; and Beeswax. “The industry is always evolving, and this is a global business, so we’re able to source from around the world, finding what best helps hair and skin, then using it in our development,” Jonathan explains. “The Black Castor & Flaxseed Oil line is a great example of that. We look for natural ingredients that will benefit the user, and we introduce it into their everyday life—before anyone else is doing it.”
Consumers have responded resoundingly to that ahead-of-the-curve thinking. Eddie Jhin, president of Jinny Beauty Supply, has distributed Ecoco products for 33 years. He says that in the last several years, the company’s business has boomed, growing 25 percent in 2016 over 2015, and a whopping 82 percent in 2017 (the brand’s best year ever). “I think the reason for such increase was definitely due to the new products launched in 2017, and because the company has really stepped up and positioned themselves well,” Jhin explains. “Aaron worked so hard on building his company to where it is, and both Jonathan and Andrey have been instrumental in growing it further. In 2018 and beyond, Ecoco will continue to be different and excel in the marketplace.”
Innovation is easier thanks to the company spearheading its own manufacturing, Jonathan explains, fueled by a top-notch R&D department and labs with award-winning chemists. “That’s the core of our company, and it gives us so much more flexibility: We handle our own packaging, ingredients–the whole process from concept to marketing,” he says. “There aren’t many true manufacturers left, but we have our own manufacturing facility. That gives us the cutting edge and the best price points for retailers and wholesalers, which make us a more attractive company to work with.”
A GLOBAL COMMUNITY
Taking care of people is another major tenet of the Ecoco ethos, and that attention extends from its own employees and Chicago locals in need to its retail partners and far-flung sources of raw materials.
In fact, every employee has worked at Ecoco for at least five years–and many have logged more than 10 or 20, a result of the positive working environment that Jonathan stresses is so important for success. “We care about employees and the environment–if we’re going to have our own business, we want to do it our way,” he says. “People trust and respect us because we deliver great products and do the right thing. And we use technology in manufacturing to make a better working environment for our employees, while creating more and more jobs.”
Indeed, the company already maintains two manufacturing facilities, more than 100,000 square feet of space in Chicago. But as growth continues, a sleek new corporate headquarters is opening this spring: a three-story, 60,000-square-foot glass building in the hip Ukrainian Village neighborhood of the Windy City. The new campus alone will create more than 35 new jobs in the first quarter of 2018.
Then there’s Ecoco’s charitable focus, which includes hosting give-back events throughout the year–drumming up back- to-school supplies for students in need, giving haircuts to local youth, donating to food kitchens, funding scholarships for beauty education and supporting youth sports such as soccer and football. Meanwhile, Ecoco’s educational outreach helps improve the lives of professionals and consumers alike.
“We care about employees and the environment– if we’re going to have our own business, we want to do it our way.”
—Jonathan Tiram, vice president, Ecoco
“We offer live classes at all levels– providing product knowledge, instruction on how to use the products and information about our company–for businesses, professionals and consumers,” Jonathan notes. “B2B, B2C, we do it all; education is essentially weekly. That’s why I love beauty. You get to work with amazing people, inspire them and make them feel good. It’s a unique business that allows for so much creativity.”
Ecoco’s positive influence extends beyond North America, into its markets in Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa. But its real focus is business to business, supporting its retail partners. For example, the company provides a store locator on its website, urges retailers to register and collects data for all of its partner chains. “Instead of trying to make the sale ourselves, we promote customers going to their nearest retailer,” Jonathan explains. “Our business model is to support the people who support us: our retailers and distributors. We’re a manufacturer, not a marketing company. We work with our vendors and retailers to find out what they need and how they want it.”
Those conversations drive Ecoco’s product development and expand its options for retailers and consumers alike. In fact, the company even has made unique products for special markets. “Staying flexible in a moving environment like beauty is key–and selling in over 30 countries, you have so many needs with so many skin and hair types, so we have to know what each market is looking for,” Jonathan says. “We stay competitive by knowing our consumer, working with our businesses, developing the right products and staying ahead of the curve.”
Luckily, over the decades since Aaron started the company, consumers around the globe have taken more of an interest in natural and eco-friendly products, increasing both Ecoco’s success and goodwill exponentially. “I think every cure and solution exists in nature, and I think more people care about their health and longevity, and their skin and hair. They’re more aware,” Jonathan says. “Here, we can feel good about what we make–safe products, no animal testing, products that make people literally smile when they use them. That’s why I’m able to be so passionate, because I believe in what we do, and other people see that and get excited, too. Plus, because everything is sustainably sourced, we can make positive impacts in other communities.”
Jonathan proudly notes that Ecoco is a true category driver. “The styling gel category alone has had more than 20 percent category growth from 2016 to 2017, and we’re the No. 1 gel,” he explains. But staying on top of the ever-changing beauty game also requires diversification, and in the last few years, the Ecoco family has looked to expand its horizons.
“Ecoco has championed, and will continue to champion, creativity and self-expression, and we’re more committed than ever to releasing new products that revolutionize the
—Andrey Court, CEO, Master Well Comb
Those efforts kicked into high gear when Jonathan introduced El Patron in 2014. Whereas Ecoco is “kind of a hybrid,” Jonathan says, starting in salons and developing into a mass brand, El Patron is a professional brand. He even created a separate company, Talyoni, to launch the new line. Designed for modern men, with a focus on great performance, quality and marketing, El Patron has been embraced instantly–it’s currently the top-selling men’s brand in SalonCentric stores. Still, its founding principle mirrors Ecoco’s: “Innovation through and through,” Jonathan explains. “We were the first to market spray talc, which we had to patent, and the first to market sea salt spray for men. We also have semi-permanent hair color infused into styling gel, called Black Gel, which is super innovative and one of the top sellers for the line. It covers gray hair in three to four shampoos and is really easy to apply. But our No. 1 seller is Black Seed Beard Oil, which came out in 2014– you’ll see black seed oil as a trend now, but we’ve had it for years!”
In 2015, the family acquired Master Well Comb, a historic manufacturer of high- quality men’s toiletries (its slogan is “Trusted Since 1935”). Indeed, the heritage brand features a slew of respected barber products, and the Tirams retained all of its key original formulas. Meanwhile, new offerings and improvements to its styling gels have taken the old-time brand into the modern era.
“Master Well Comb is setting its sights on the next 80 years with trusted, classic products and formulations that are getting a clean, modern look for the modern man, with a graphic, expressive identity that celebrates individuality and creativity,” Andrey says. “Always clean and always classic, Master will continue to be a time-honored standard, but we’ll continue to develop cutting-edge products that change the way we view and use ingredients. We honor the past but never stop moving forward.”
Jonathan adds, “We were excited to add Master Well Comb to our portfolio of products. This brand is famous for its aftershave–there are literally more than 20 varieties of aftershave–and we’ve added some new innovations, too, like Black Gel for hair, Vanishing Menthol Shaving Cream, and Styling Gel and Wax; and we improved some of the styling formulas. Another key brand item is Krew Comb, an original formula since 1935 that’s a styling prep for hair and famous for being pink. The packaging, fragrances and formulas have that old-time feel, and those old-school looks are big again. The brand is sold through Urban Outfitters, for example–from Mad Men to hipsters, it’s still cool today.”
And, as the new launch and the acquisition have matured, Ecoco keeps breaking new ground. A full line of cannabidiol (CBD) oil-based products for hair and skin, featuring four formulas that provide heal- ing benefits from soothing eczema and psoriasis to counteracting the signs of aging, was released in March under the Ecoco brand. (The El Patron and Master Well Comb brands have also launched CBD oil-infused products.) “It’s definitely a big breakthrough for the industry, the first CBD line in the multicultural space,” Jonathan says. “Not many people can create a new category right now in beauty. Most people aren’t manufacturing, most people aren’t innovating. They’re [copycat] companies. But the stuff we do is for a reason. It’s just hard work and passion—passion for the consumer and delivering what they want, which is solutions for all hair and skin types. We make products that are really needed by consumers.”
Andrey adds that the company is seizing the zeitgeist, focusing on its mission of providing high-quality, budget-conscious products that allow customers to celebrate individuality and personal style. “We’re entering an era of love, inclusivity and pride,” he says. “We think it’s important for people to be their authentic selves, and we love helping people take pride in their appearance. Ecoco has championed, and will continue to champion, creativity and self-expression, and we’re more committed than ever to releasing new products that revolutionize the beauty industry.”
Similarly, Jonathan thinks retailers should work hard to elevate and diversify their own product offerings. The right mix of products and categories, he believes, can lure consumers away from online ordering and into stores. “Retailers are up against online, and online has every option, so the more options a store has, the more opportunities they have to sell to consumers,” he explains. “I think great service and strengthening the relationship with suppliers are also very important. Have those conversations, have that relationship–because by working with suppliers, you’ll have the right mix of products. Now, major retailers
are doing private labeling, but that’s not inventive. Instead, work with American manufacturers that are supporting you. It’s mutually beneficial!”
After more than 30 years of manufacturing, Ecoco has had a slew of memorable moments. Vice president Jonathan Tiram lists some of its standouts.
1985 - Aaron Tiram founds Ecoco and launches first-to-market alcohol-free styling gel.
2010 - Eco Style Krystal receives Best of the Best Award from TextureMedia.
2013 & 2014 - Eco Style Olive Oil receives Best of the Best Award from TextureMedia in back-to-back years.
2014 - Jonathan Tiram founds Talyoni and launches El Patron, a boutique professional men’s line.
2015 - Eco Cocktail receives Editor’s Choice Award from TextureMedia.
2015 - Ecoco acquires Master Well Comb, a heritage men’s grooming brand.
2017 - Ecoco receives Product Innovation of the Year Award from Jinny Beauty Supply for its original Black Castor & Flaxseed Oil product line.
2018 - A new corporate headquarters and third official Ecoco location opens in Chicago.