It’s always exciting to meet women who are carving out their own destiny. Celebrity hairstylist Sarah Potempa and her lawyer sister Erin Potempa are just such women and are different in many ways (see above pic) which is exactly what they needed to embark on their journey. The sisters put it all on the line to bring us a product called Beachwaver. The Beachwaver is a super special curling iron that gives you loose, sexy, beachy waves. It’s that effortless, no big deal, I’m-too-sexy-for-my-shirt look that we all first saw Gisele rock both on and off the clock. It’s a finished look without being over-styled, sexy without trying too hard.
I sit down with the sisters Potempa, and find out how they turned an idea into a reality. Sarah explains she’s been passionate about hair and beauty from the beginning. She styles the hair of the elite today but has certainly paid her dues. Sarah began working in the beauty industry at the tender age of 15, starting at a small hair salon in Chicago. That’s when she began dreaming up beauty solutions. She was always thinking about how the tools she used everyday could work better, faster, and more effectively. Today, the “beachy-wave” is the look her celebrity clients (Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, Emmy Rossum, and Lea Michele to name a few) request the most.
Sarah says: “Beauty editors and clients were constantly asking me for tips on how they could get this look at home. I found myself saying, ‘You need to hold the curling iron upside down and backwards, upside down and backwards.’” Wrapping the hair in the correct direction is the key to getting the look uniform on both sides.
She explains, “As a hairstylist, I’m standing above the client looking down, so it’s easy.” She explains. “But doing it on you can be awkward. The feedback I got was that my ‘upside down and backwards’ explanation wasn’t really working. Then I thought – what if you didn’t have to hold it upside down and backwards. What if there was a iron that would work in an upright position.”
That’s where lawyer sister Erin comes in. Erin was miserable working in corporate law. She and Sarah were kicking back at their childhood home, expressing their desires for change and growth. When Sarah approached her sister with the idea of creating their own product, Erin was ‘bout it, ‘bout it. “I was drawn to the possibility of making something completely new,” she says. “When you work in corporate law, you put in a tremendous amount of energy in but don’t get a whole lot out.”
After just a few conversations, Erin hopped on board. She picked up, moved to New York and has been pushing forward for the last two years, barely taking a breath.
Once these two sisters from the Midwest decided to jump into an industry dominated by old giants, they actually had to produce a product. The sisters pooled a little bit of savings together and Sarah sketched out her idea. A friend of theirs owned a product design firm. They proudly marched their sketch over to the firm. What they quickly learned was that it costs a BOATLOAD of money to make a prototype. It was, without question, completely out of their budget.
The owner of the firm offered a plan of action suggesting how they could go from sketch to product. The girls decided to hire engineers they could pay by the hour. They found themselves a mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, a designer and an assembly guy. They gathered these people in a room and hashed out a plan. The first step was to come up with a CAD (computer animated design). From there the engineers could create a prototype. Having worked in the industry for so long, Sarah knew what she wanted: “I needed it to be a 1-inch barrel. I needed it to be quite a bit longer than the industry standard. I knew how the handle should feel. I knew exactly the type of product I would want to work with day in and day out.”
While all that was happening, Sarah had a gig styling designer and celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe’s hair at QVC. Over the last few years, Zoe has turned her styling skills into a brand and has been killing it. It was on set where Sarah met a marketing man who got the ball rolling. Quality, Value and Convenience was interested but they needed to see an actual prototype. They were interested but they needed to see an actual prototype. This kicked the sisters into high gear. They needed to source factories.
From Sarah’s experience the best products have always come from Korea. Sarah had just had a baby boy and there was no way she could take a three-month-old to Asia. So Erin hot-stepped it with her little cat-eye glasses to Korea. A friend of a friend got them a translator and Erin was off and running. The Koreans weren’t quite prepared to see a woman show up. At one factory, a sign that greeted Erin read: “Welcome, Mr. Aaron Potempa.”
The sisters hooked up with a different factory, one that was family run and shared their values. Putting this curling iron together was no jokes. It has three computer boards and a motor. It has a ceramic rod and is infused with gold powder to keep the heat uniform. Because the iron is longer than usual they had to customize the heater that went inside. Having everything customized challenged the electrical testing laboratories standards. It’s been a heck of an undertaking getting this product off the ground, to say the least.
I asked if the sisters experienced challenges working with each other. Sarah responds, “Initially it was hard because we really had to define our roles. People were in our ears telling us that this was going to be impossible to pull off. I literally had someone pull me aside and say lawyers make the worst business partners and family make the worst business partners. So, at the start, I had that banging around in my head.” She smiles. “Erin has literally put everything on the line to do this. I still have my job styling hair but she went all in. Her faith in my idea, and me, actually made this possible.”
Erin reflects, “It’s been amazing to see how similar our work ethic is. Our focus has been on research and development. We are very mindful of our ethics and our core values are completely in line. We really want a company we can be proud of and have it reflect our beliefs. It’s hard to step back and look at how far we’ve come because so much still has to be accomplished!”
They could check one giant thing off of their to-do list: QVC gave them an on-air date to debut their product and they met it…Beachwaver in tow.
The sisters have trusted their instincts every step of the way. They are infectiously passionate and emotional about their journey. Every time one would get frustrated or start to doubt something, the other would rally around with a “Hang in there!” and “We can do this!” and “At some point, there will be a party and we will drink champagne!”
If this product blows up, which I believe it will (check me out all beach-waved below), the sisters will have no one to blame but themselves. They have done everything on their own. I mean…Sarah…oh I don’t know, learned Photoshop and Illustrator and designed all the packaging, including the instruction manual herself. And they also decided to save the $800 it would cost to get a shipment of product over to QVC by renting a truck and schlepping the product from JFK (NY) to QVC (PA)
I think their story is a totally girl power, sisters getting it done, ladies doing it for themselves and girls rock the hardest kind of journey. In an industry of giants, these sisters are looking to have their waves make a splash.
Photo Credit: Richard Malary