Skip to main content

Plant-based hair care without compromise.

Tanya Perkins is the founder of The Refig. The Refig is a plant-based hair care company without compromise. After finding out about an auto-immune condition, she needed hair care that didn’t have certain chemicals. She ended up making her own formula after being unable to find any. Once her roommate found out, she discovered there was a huge demand for her innovative hair care.

“It really does come out of a need. I've been making my own hair care for about 8 years now. About a decade ago, I found out I had an auto-immune condition and I got really careful about everything I put in and on my body.” - Tanya

Tanya PerkinsFounder of The Refig


 Welcome to Building While Flying. My guest today is Tanya Perkins. Tanya is the founder of The Refig, a plant-based hair care company.


Tanya, thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you. It’s so great to be here. Really my understanding of  the company is that it came out of a place of need for you. So let’s talk about the birth of this idea the seed that became the company. Yeah. First of all, thank you for asking.


And yes, it really does come out of a need. I’ve been making my own haircare for about eight years now. About a decade ago I found out I had an autoimmune condition and I got really careful about everything I put. In and on my body. And that became really easy because I was at Whole Foods, right?


I could go and I could eat all those great foods and I could even go to the store and get some really great makeup. But when it came to my hair, especially for haircare or hair textures like mine, finding clean haircare that didn’t have the chem, the certain chemicals, or didn’t have the dyes and the perfumes that were irritating me was just really hard.


So I started making my own. And that was just really like a hobby, right? I would like, test things out come back to my apartment. But then one day one of my college roommates comes over and she sees I’m making a batch. And I, she asked what that is and I tell her it’s haircare and she’s like oh my God.


You are godparent to my kids and you’ve been holding out on me. So she grabs some, goes home, tries it and then next thing I know, she’s messaging our entire group of friends from undergrad, like telling them what I’m up to. And they start like, Messaging me and placing orders. And I was like, guys, I’m not open for business.


Of course they didn’t hear any of that. And so I just started sending them some product and then I found myself sharing with friends and family and it got unwieldy actually. And at one point I got a text message with a picture of the cutest little kid asking for more of Tanya’s hair conditioner, and I was going, okay.


This is really cool. I have a side market. Then I thought, oh my gosh, I have no idea who this kid is. I don’t know who their parent is. You need to do something about this. So I like shut it all down and I was convinced that I needed to go to market. And do it in a safe way. And so I started to engage with different formulators and manufacturers.


I went through several of them, quite honestly. Because for many of them, they wanted to push me in the same direction that everybody else was going in. And it would be using the same base formulas, it would be using the same like a lot of the same chemicals that I was trying to avoid.


And One, I figured out how to formulate instead of just being like one table soon and everything. I really figured out like that whole formulation process. And then additionally, I decided to take the water out because by taking the water out of the product It really allowed me to stay away from certain preservatives that I didn’t wanna use.


It allowed me to embrace more natural ingredients and it really allowed me to stick with my mantra anyway, of not only being like ingredients I could feel good about, but also quick and easy to use. I am a super busy person, so if I am put something in my hair from day one, I was trying to figure out how to have a wash and go and get outta the shower within 10 minutes.


that’s basically the story of how we started. So let’s clarify for our audience. Are you a chemist on the side? No, I’m not. Okay. So I will say that I did go to one of those like magnet schools where it was. Focused on science and technology. Much to my mother chagrin. I did not end up going and becoming an engineer.


I was an economics major. I probably haven’t taken what most chemists would consider like a real science class since freshman year college. But I’m really thankful that I’ve got all of those skills. I’m also really thankful for like the YouTube community and especially the soap making community, right?


You can learn. So much. You can also meet like societies, like New York Society of Chemists and formulators. They’ve got great resources online where you can pop in, learn what’s up, and then figure out what to do. But a lot of this is really just a little bit of. Curiosity. Yeah. And a whole bunch of stubbornness.


I love it. really, like educating oneself has been such a consistent theme in the conversations that I’ve been able to have on Building, While, Flying, What I would say is a recurring quality I’ve seen in the entrepreneurs I’ve had a conversation with is that stubbornness, that curiosity, that willingness to carve out the time to learn, right?


 and also being comfortable with the uncomfortable, like acknowledging that like you don’t know it all. And so there’s some legwork that needs to be done to catch up. But I also love what you’re saying about waiting until you found. A partner for formulation that worked for you, being willing to say no, that’s not what I’m building towards and I’m not willing to compromise that.


And so maybe you’re not the right partner. And I’ll continue to look because that also requires patience, right? Because you can be motivated by a desire to get the product into market as fast as possible, but what you may be sacrificing is. Feeling the right fit with the partner you’re looking to work with?


Oh my gosh. Everything You said one, like not 100%. A thousand percent with you. Yeah. And I just to add to that, I would have to say one of the beauties of  not being a chemist or not being an insider, and then finding an insider. Who will work with you towards your vision is you get to explore those little things that are like different.


Like for instance even in the way that we’re formulated, someone said, why the product works is because you flipped the direction of which two Ingredients are usually in formulas, right? And people usually double down on this other ingredient ’cause it’s so cheap and it’s so functional.


But by you flipping it, there’s nothing wrong with that. But it just has a completely different result. And for other folks out there considering oh, should I do it if I’m an outsider? In fact, you should do it because you’re an outsider. You are. Thinking about it in a way that no one else who’s trained from the ground up, will really approach these things.


And that’s where a lot of the innovation will come from. yeah, let’s keep going down that thread. I would say your average person when they think about hair care does think about liquid format. And you’ve said to us like, we decided to remove the water. We decided to remove the water because it meant we didn’t have to compromise on the ingredients.


So let’s talk about that because you’re really also shifting behavior, The vast majority of people are accustomed to that hair care, like process routine, being like, so What has it been like to encourage that change in behavior?


  1. exciting and yet 100%, a thousand, 2000 per a million percent harder than I had anticipated. You’re right. A lot of people really do think about it in a liquid format, and so there’s. Just about everything along the way that’s different for them. Like for instance here’s one of our bars, right?


This is it’s on a ribbon. And it is, this is the equivalent of three to four bottles of like liquid shampoo depending, or liquid conditioner just depending on the size you buy, right? But when a lot of people first get this, they’ll go, oh, that’s so small. And it’s like this. This movement back of why is this this price or Right.


This is nothing here. Or even my cousin, she’s a hairstylist and we were doing, her daughter’s hair. She tried to use like a third of this bar on her child’s hair. Oh my gosh. We, and I like did three strokes and she’s still sitting there and I was like, Just trust me. So we actually did a little bake off or a hair off.


I was like, I’ll do this half my way. You would do it your way and then we’ll see. And she was flabbergasted. Yeah. She’s she’s been doing hair for 30 years. 20. Actually she’ll kill me if I tell her that many years, a long time, she’s been doing hair for decades. And she just didn’t believe me.


There’s things like that. And then there’s also just like the the tools that you need. Originally our bars were just bars. They weren’t on this ribbon. And so for folks, they needed a soap dish to put it on, right? Something And I send people dishes. And I, one of my friends writes back and she says, I see this block of wood you sent me.


My best friend and I are debating what is it for? And I write, I text messaged her back and was like, it’s a sub, it’s a sub tray. Put your thing on there. And she goes, oh, I had my money on it being a massage bar, but I couldn’t understand where I would use the massage on my hair, on my body. but here’s someone who is in their forties and legit, just hadn’t seen a soaked dish probably since they were in grade school.


Amazing. So I know that was a long-winded answer, but figured I’d give you all the little tidbits there. Yeah, no, I think, look, you touched on, your intentions with it. And look, people aren’t in our heads, right? We have our thoughts of how folks will use a product, right? Like the behavior.


But there’s so much education involved, especially when you’re trying to transform a market. And because you’re so counter to what the behavior typically is in your vertical, your marketing has to also be educational in terms of teaching that behavior. Like even just thinking about the size right, and the yield of your product versus the yield of the traditional product.


There’s so much involved in terms of opening people’s eyes to how they use it, how long it should last, why it costs, what it costs, et cetera. Yeah. Yeah. But, super excited because it’s yielded like the strife has yielded something that I just think is so freaking cute. and I know we can talk about it more later, but these are coming out this month.


This is our shampoo and our conditioner, and we have made this foolproof or so I hope it reads shampoo. Ah, and it reads conditioner so that you know which product it is, even with you’ve got stuff in your eyes. And then the each of the ribbons is long enough so that it can fit over a standard shower head or just hang on your faucet.


You don’t need anything else. If you buy our product, like it’s ready to go straight out of the jar. And then our packaging is as such where this is an aluminum tin. And again, infinitely recyclable, but if you need to take it somewhere with you or You really just don’t want your spouse or a roommate using your product.


You could put it in the tin and take it out of the shower. Every company, regardless of where they are in their stage of maturity is always Building, While, Flying is our belief, right? Because we just have to be like changing and adapting you’ve already highlighted a major change, which was adding the ribbons to the products, right?


And Really meaning that folks didn’t have to use the soap dish and you no longer had to explain that the block of wood was the soap dish. But what other changes and or innovations have been are part of the journey or are you in the midst of right now? There was so much that went on with the bars.


our gel is actually something that. I think is one of those just love hate relationships, right?  by the way, our gel is made with plant-based powder. And if you wet your hand, you sprinkle a little bit in and you rub it together, ta-da, you have gel. It originally was in a bar form.


I loved it. But everyone I know, including my mother, just kept leaving it in a, like a wet little puddle which doesn’t really work out. One day out of frustration just to be like, oh fine, I’m just gonna show my mother how to use this. I grounded up. And then Toda, people loved it.


It was one of those like aha moments. There’s definitely things where I am. I did a little bit of reformulation after we got some feedback from clients about like how it could be even better. And so now actually the new formula that’s coming out, it, It’ll, uh, it’ll turn into gel even faster.


The funniest thing about it is one of those it’s maybe not quite answering your question about building walk Flying, but it was one of those things I had gotten to such a point of frustration. I was like, I’m just gonna take it completely off the shelf. I’m gonna reintroduce it as something else.


I’m gonna bring back the bar. Everyone kept telling me no. And then out of the blue beauty independent calls, and it’s you’ve been nominated for an innovation award. And I was like, oh, okay. People see this? Yeah. I know Urban Outfitters loved it and that’s why they brought it on to their online store, but, It was just one of those things of it’s so hard to get outta your head sometimes and you’re trying to make this thing perfect and be that best.


And sometimes it’s just really while you’re doing that, you’re almost dismantling the car. And I was like, I almost just took away one of our like biggest calling cards. Your award-winning, one of your award-winning products. E exactly. So it’s one of those things I’m like, if I put that out to people, be like, Slow down sometimes.


Yes, listen to the critics, but then also listen to the people who are praising you because yeah they know what they’re talking about. And I know my, one of my advisors is laughing now because she’s I told you so well, and I think you, you did very much answer the question of Building, While, Flying, right?


Because part of the reason we should always be changing is because consumer demands change. And so if we are listening, then we should be reacting, right? Like we should be learning from what we’re hearing from people and adapting accordingly. And that’s what you did to get to a product that has now won you an innovation award.


Or well nominated, but I like how you’re speaking this. We’re gonna manifest it. We’re gonna manifest, manifest it. We’re gonna put out into the universe. And when you win, you can come back and say that I predicted it.  I’m loving the synergy. Talk to us about, How you make time for this, because I’ve looked at like your LinkedIn profile and your other involvements.


You are highly involved on a lot of other fronts. So talk to us about like, where this lives on the, like dashboard of all of the things you’re juggling. I love that you asked this question because, In consulting or just even, friends having a friend who’s like, oh, I, you know, I always get this question of like, my friend A, B, C wants to start a business, they don’t know where to start.


Or they can’t find the time. And I’ll talk to someone and we always find the time, right? They’re like, you have tons of time throughout your schedule. I’m not saying go out and do a billion things, but you do have the time. And I sat down maybe about, oh, at this point, Ooh. It’s five years ago I found an amazing, amazing, um, executive coach.


She doesn’t, she’s not quite an executive coach. She’s not quite a life coach. She’s a coach. Her name is Heather. And one of the first things that we did is we sat down and I talked about all my dreams and what I thought I had to bring to the universe. And she said, you know what you’re doing, you’re empire building.


And so you do have room for all of these dreams. We’ll be smart about how we implement them and how you spend your time, but it’s a lot about thinking about what you do well and then partner with those people who can augment you and and then being smart about your time. So for something like this I’m so glad I had other things because this is a lot about patients, right?


This is a lot about testing formulas. And then like literally, I like make a formula and go into the shower and test it. There’s only so many showers a day that you can take and times you can wash your hair to see if the product works right. And then additionally, you have to work with manufacturers.


Things take a long time to shift. And to an extent, a lot of this innovation process still would’ve taken as long. So thank goodness I had other things to work on. But then there’s also just treating it as my release. I’m a really curious person and as soon as I start to noodle, I’m like, oh, and there’s this, and then there’s, and then there’s this.


And so it’s my hobby in so many ways that transformed into a business. And even when it became a business and getting really serious about formulation. It’s still very much of a hobby, and I will go ahead, work in my tech startup during the day be completely mired in questions about APIs and all that great stuff.


And then it hits seven o’clock I turn on Real Housewives and I’m over like in my kitchen stirring stuff and making stuff in my studio. That is a amazing, and it’s fun. So like I get, I. Bravo, like nobody’s business. But I also get this like physical and creative release and know that it’s headed towards something.


And so I juggle it and yet it’s it all fits so well. It’s, and it’s a testament to the love you have for what you’re doing. And also not being so myopic about the end goal. Because one of the things that I haven’t heard you say at all in the midst of this conversation was to talk about a revenue objective.


But what you have spent most of the time talking about is the products you’re looking to introduce. To the world, right? And the need that you’re looking to solve for, and that being the primary objective. And of course, if you do that if you do that successfully, the byproduct will be, a company that is, that reaps financial rewards.


But the purpose that you’ve stated and that you’ve, shared and has been visible in everything you talked about today is like the goal and the impact that you want the product and the company to have. Yes. Thank you for recognizing that. And I know you’ll get to this, but a humble brag is, which I don’t actually think there is one, so complete brag is that it’s one of the reasons that I attracted a great marketer.


I have, had a lot of great people along the way who have consulted with the team and, can definitely list them all. But someone who has decided to come on and really join the refi is Ashley. Ashley used to be a brand manager at I believe first. It was either Abercrombie and Fish or Holster.


I know it’s, she’s gonna, she’s gonna hurt me. But she also was at Diva Curl, like early days Diva Curl. I know her from college. And it was like one of our mutual friends was like, you gotta try this product. I know you use a lot of products, but you’ve gotta try this. This really works.


And it was the same usual. I’m ordering your products Tanya. Prove me prove me wrong, and to get from her the, oh my God, I don’t know why this works, and this is so wacky and so cool, but I don’t know why this works, but it really works and I’m really happy and I’m using it on kids and I’m telling everybody in my family about it.


And just, we spent six months really getting to know each other and talking about what I was doing. Yeah. And her just being so in it that she’s you know what? I just believe in this, like this wacky little thing from the the wacky co-ed I knew in college.


Yeah let’s do this. I’ve never actually had a partnership like this with someone who’s just I just, I believe more than you do about this product. She literally does. I was just on the phone with her earlier day. I was like you really believe, don’t you?


I was like, I know it works, but like you are, you’re an evangelical like about this. Sure. Let’s do it. And and so I’m just gonna share for those that don’t get it, I am a curly hair girl, and so I want people who don’t. Who don’t get it, who are not curly hair people to understand that it is very difficult to find products that work for your hair.


Not all curls are created equal. And when you find something that works, you become an evangelist of it because you want, because you know that you are part of a community that is constantly searching for better. And so it, it really does speak volume since she was just like, I believe in this and I’m gonna come on board and I’m gonna help you preach the gospel of the re fake.


So Tanya, oh, I need to get you some Maribel after this. Send me your address. If you can get you some full size can, you can send me a link and I will buy my product. Because we support small business here, we don’t look for freebies. So I will go and I will make my purchase and I will.


I will become an evangelist myself. Tanya, this was so awesome. So great to meet you and be able to have this conversation. I wish you all the best. Congratulations on the nomination, and we will, we’ll definitely touch base if and when you win. We are rooting for you. Thank you for spending your time with us today.

Thank you so much. This was great.

Welcome to Building While Flying!

This weekly podcast is brought to you by Sasha Group. We’re the consultancy meets agency arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding media and marketing.

In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild;  building the plane while flying.

Our pilots, Katie Hankinson, Mickey Cloud, Maribel Lara, and Joe Quattrone will be talking to a diverse range of business leaders and founders. They’ll explore how these guests tackle various challenges while staying resilient and committed to growth. Through these real-life examples of strategies put into practice, we hope to inspire you to experiment and develop your own strategies as we all navigate these uncertain times together.

Plant-based hair care out of necessity.

Tanya Perkins is the founder of The Refig. The Refig is a plant-based hair care company without compromise. After finding out about an auto-immune condition, she needed hair care that didn’t have certain chemicals. She ended up making her own formula after being unable to find any. Once her roommate found out, she discovered there was a huge demand for her innovative hair care.

In this episode of the Building While Flying podcast, Tanya joins Maribel Lara to talk about her journey to creating this company. She gives insight into its birth, finding the right partners, and encouraging change in behavior.

In-flight topics:

  • Birth of the company
  • Creating accompany off a need
  • Waiting for the right partner formulation
  • Changes that were part of her journey
  • How she makes time for this with all her other endeavors
  • …and more!
Connect with Tanya:

Tanya’s LinkedIn:

The Refig Website:

The Refig Instagram:

New York, NY
Chattanooga, TN
Los Angeles, CA