A new hair care line provocatively named Unwash is challenging consumers to embrace a bold look: natural hair. The paradox that natural is unconventional created packaging challenges the design team gladly took on. The resulting bottle conveys several opposing ideas—unwash/clean, soft/strong, simple/playful and natural/unconventional—by a thoughtful use of balancing contrasts.
Just don’t call it shampoo
Natural hair has become popular among consumers eager to stop taming their curls straight with tools and products. But many enthusiasts still use shampoos with harsh chemicals that strip oil and moisture from the hair, and then supplement with conditioners to add oil and moisture back. Unwash was created based on the premise that this cycle is unnatural and damaging. Because of this, Unwash does not sell “shampoos.” Its hair washing product is called Biocleansing Conditioner because it is designed to wash and condition simultaneously, a process called co-washing.
“Co-washing (conditioner washing) is not actually a new phenomenon,” says Sabrina Little, senior director of marketing and product development, Unwash. “Women with textured, coarse, curly hair have used the concept of cleansing with conditioning emulsifiers for many, many years as it is less drying to the hair and helps preserve the natural oils and preferred look of ‘second-day hair.’ These early adopters of the gentle way to cleanse often reached into their cupboards to grab coconut oil to clean and hydrate hair and apple cider vinegar to provide a deeper cleanse when needed. The void was in finding a true product range that brought this practice to life and then marketing it to a wider audience who could equally benefit from it.”
The concept for Unwash was born when Brandon Schwartz and Gil Dalva, both with backgrounds in the professional hair care industry, saw this void and pitched CEO and owner of Athena Cosmetics, Dr. Michael Brinkenhoff. A team of design experts, packaging engineers and marketers collaborated with Schwartz and Dalva on finalizing the formulas, developing the packaging and design and creating a marketing plan.
Shaping up the bottle
The team behind Unwash knew that if it wanted to disrupt the beauty industry, it had to start by shaking up the cosmetic shelves with its packaging. The first step was to create an unconventional bottle shape. Designers combed through a range of bottle shapes before creating the curved bottle.
“A simple stock bottle structure wouldn’t do the brand justice to convey this new, unconventional approach to hair care,” says Little. “The structures needed to be provocative on shelf and capable of communicating the juxtaposition of the brand name—Unwash—with the concept of cleanliness and effectiveness. On one hand, the shape is bold and strong, insinuating trust, strength and ownership of its premium positioning in the professional hair care marketplace. Yet on the other hand, the elegant curves invoke a subtle gentleness and femininity while alluding to full-bodied hair.”
Because of the creative name Unwash, it was important that the bottle design was fresh and simple to represent cleanliness. To accomplish this goal, the design team used mostly black and white, and then added colors for the product names. The logo, on the other hand, was designed to balance the simple colors and convey that hair care can be fun.
“The simplicity of the black and white bottles and font type expresses no-nonsense clean, yet the logo is playful, approachable and engaging in its iconic, ambigram nature,” says Little. “The pop of color for the product names and custom, debossed disk caps lend a fresh, urban vibe and help identify the products from one another on shelf.”
Artful approach delivers distinctive communications
Unwash enlisted Los Angeles-based artist Sean Norvet to create illustrations of flowing hair strands to soften and contrast the bold bottle shape. Norvet hand-drew the illustrations so that they would evoke feelings of naturally beautiful hair. He made a unique illustration for each different product in the Unwash line, which besides the Biocleansing Conditioner also includes the Anti-Residue Cleanse, Hydrating Masque and Dry Cleanser.
“His CV uses the words ‘elegant photo-realism’ to describe some of his work, which offers an excellent description of the finely detailed illustrations for Unwash as they are reminiscent of soft, flowing, beautiful waves of hair artfully hugging the natural curvature of the bottles,” says Little.
Collaboration elevates entire visual identity
Weaving together the different elements into a seamless package was a challenge.
“We worked so hard as a team and had to really push our partners to get the design to come to life,” says Little. “The bottle is such a unique shape, and the deco so complex with the layout (we actually use four screen prints per bottle to capture each of the design components perfectly) that it took a great deal of back and forth until we got it just right.”
Unwash partnered with Stephen Gould to help engineer, produce and decorate the packaging; and Elevate Design to position the layout. The resulting package captures the attention of both consumers and distributors.
“The package design is an immediate conversation starter, primarily due to the bottle shape and illustration,” says Little. “People want to hold it immediately and reach out and say “What is this?” During our debut at CosmoProf, we had distributors take one look and say ‘I want this!’ without even hearing the entire pitch. The packaging has such a strong shelf presence that professionals and consumers alike are drawn to its appeal.”