RPZL Proves That in New York, Disruption Extends Even to Hair Salons

Courtesy of RPZL

Women do just about everything to their hair: they cut it short, bleach it blonde, shave the sides, and then want it long and full again -- instantly. The hitch is that quickly changing your hair -- by putting in extensions -- can be very time-consuming. It can also cause damage. And, oh yeah, it can be insanely expensive.

It’s no surprise that a potential solution to all three of these issues -- RPZL, the first hair extension-dedicated salon -- would pop up in New York, a city where nobody ever has enough time or money, and everyone’s busy plotting the next big thing.

Typically, hair extensions cost anywhere between $2,000-5,000 (or, the price of two pretty decent used cars). First, you go to a salon where a professional determines what color extensions they need to track down for you. You then pay a deposit (before anything even happens), and wait until the extensions come in. Then you go back to the salon -- maybe a few days or weeks later -- and sit there for five or so hours before you walk out with the buoyancy of Beyoncé. It’s a process... usually.

Monica Thornton and Lisa Richards launched RPZL’s Gorgeous Bar (pronounced R-P-Z-L) in NYC’s Flatiron District in February 2015 with the goal of transforming the extension industry from root to tip. The two raised $1.5 million to start their company, which focuses on getting better quality extensions on demand (you can be in and out of RPZL in an hour with a brand new look) for a much lower price than the industry standard. Here’s how the innovative (and lucrative) business works.

It all starts with sourcing

Walk in to RPZL, and instead of dealing with a receptionist, you’re handed an iPad when you sit down in the salon chair. Here, you can check in, make appointments, etc., something Richards says has made the business seriously efficient.

That’s when your experience -- which lasts at most a couple of hours in total -- begins. Tell the stylist what you want and they’ll disappear into the magical back room full of 100 percent Remy hair extensions. “Remy is the highest quality human hair,” Richards explains, “and this means all the cuticles are cut in the same direction [creating a natural flow].” But whereas most shops rely on middlemen and distributors, RPZL produces their own Remy hair sourced from India. They’re thus able to replenish their offerings quickly and at a low cost.

That in turn allows RPZL to price their extensions at $1,000 max -- clip-ins cost $250-$350, tape-in extensions run $450-$700, and the highest-end product, keratin extensions, come in at just $650-$950 -- or around 50% less than the industry baseline.

The direct-sourced inventory is wildly diverse, with countless hues of brown, blonde, red, black, and more. “You hair’s not just one color,” Richards says. “You have highlights and lowlights.” And because RPZL has every color extension on-site, ready to go, Richards says, “we can just go in the back, pull from the packages, and seamlessly blend the extensions into your hair.”

Beyond natural colors (like “Bright Blonde,” and “Golden Goddess Brown”), RPZL offers others lines, like RPZL POP™, with extensions in shades like “Bold Blue,” “Sparkly Silver,” and “Rockstar Red” -- covering their customers’ needs whether they’re looking for striking-but-business-friendly, or “Sk8er Boi”-era Avril Lavigne.

The technique, quicker than anything out there on the market, is the reason RPZL is able to create new looks within just an hour.

And it all ends with tech

It’s not just about the hair, though; it’s also about the art and science of making it seem like you were born with it, or at least acquired it by magic. Here, RPZL uses a proprietary process. Ultrasound waves are sent out. They interact with a keratin protein bond that changes from solid to liquid and back to solid again in basically a second. No damaging heat, no five hours in the chair. The technique, quicker than anything out there on the market, is the reason RPZL is able to create new looks within just an hour.

The quick process also means faster turnover -- the salon sees over 100 customers a day, though some are there to blow out existing keratin extensions or more noncommittal clip-in or tape-in extensions. In any event, more clients = more profits, and more profits mean more reasons RPZL doesn’t need to charge what traditionally might have constituted your entire paycheck.

The keratin extensions last three-to-four months, which is longer than some celebrity marriages (Kim Kardashian was wed to basketball bro Kris Humphries 72 days; Carmen Electra to Dennis Rodman for just nine, a feat matched by Cher and Greg Allman). You can style your hair and wash it as per usual, and no one would ever know; though of course, like all the best scandals, they’ll know when you split up.

The future is long and lush

While there’s currently only one brick and mortar location, RPZL has plans to expand further into the e-commerce world. Tape-in extensions, which last around eight weeks, and clip-in extensions (or as Richards calls them, “the gateway into hair extensions”), are both available online, with thousands of them already sold worldwide annually.

The globalization isn’t just e-based though. “People fly in from Dubai, from Africa, from South America -- and they’ll plan their trips every three or four months just to come to RPZL,” Richards says. Considering the savings, they might still come out ahead.