Dion Hughes

Co-Founder, HiBAR

Co-Founder Dion Hughes noticed that the one place in his life where he had yet to eliminate single-use plastic was in the shower. After trying multiple solid shampoos, he could not find one that was both effective and made with clean ingredients. Thus began the two-year development process of making HiBAR with the mission to recreate popular liquid formulas into solid bars, free from plastic bottles. Currently, HiBAR has four formulations: moisturize, volumize, maintain, and soothe. —Annabel Schulz

What was your original inspiration when starting HiBAR?

I was on vacation with my family in Mexico. The beach in front of the property was beautiful and clean, but as far as the eye could see in every direction, the beach was covered in plastic. I’d read about plastic beaches, but I was blown away seeing it in person. After I got back to Minneapolis, I was standing in my shower and looking at all the bottles that my wife and I had between us. I thought there must be a plastic-free shampoo. We’d already gotten rid of a bunch of plastic in our house, but the shower was one place we had yet to touch. I ordered a solid shampoo bar and hated it. It was hard to use and did not have clean ingredients. I couldn’t find a product I thought had everything necessary to get people to switch out from plastic, so I started to network around and found others who were able to help me develop the idea. We started to formulate and it took us about two years to get a product we thought was better than anything else we tried. And then we developed the brand itself.

What has been the most important business lesson you’ve learned so far?

When we were starting out, people told us the world was not ready to transition to solid hair care. It was very discouraging, but we felt strongly about the idea and knew we could make it work. We decided to ignore the experts and kept formulating our product. The business lesson I learned was that while it’s important to listen to the opinions of others, it’s also important to balance that with listening to yourself and staying true to your mission.

How do you source your ingredients?

We source all of our ingredients from a variety of suppliers and we’re very careful with who we source from. From the beginning, it was important to make sure we used the best possible ingredients and we’re proud to say we recently got our Leaping Bunny certification.

Other than environmental impact, what are the benefits of using all natural hair care?

The ingredient integrity of our products means keeping toxic stuff out of your life and off of your body. When natural, clean products become more popular, that drives demand for research and development of these products. Building out businesses and supply chains of cleaner products is an indirect environmental impact that is kinder and less extractive to the planet. One of the skepticisms we received from people in the hair care industry was that it would be impossible to create a high performance product in solid form. When we were formulating, we had to be creative in finding non-liquid replacements for ingredients used in all liquid shampoos. Once the demand is there, more companies will commit to developing high performing solid products.

Can you discuss the process of designing the formulas and overall feel of the products?

We humbly started with getting recipes off of Reddit and other hobbyist websites. Once we felt that our first shampoo bar was performing better than any other solid shampoo we had tried, we gave samples to all of our friends to try. Then we brought an Aveda Intelligent Nutrients chemist on board to add functionality to our other formulas, like volume. We didn’t want to totally reinvent the wheel in terms of what shampoo does. We simply wanted to provide a plastic-free version of popular formulas. We created a moisturizing, hydrating shampoo without the plastic. The same goes for our volumizing and everyday maintenance formulas. 

What was the inspiration behind the unique shapes of your products?

We often go up to the north shore of Lake Superior. There are a couple of rivers that flow down into the northern part that have beautiful river rocks. When we were looking for inspiration for the shape of HiBAR products, we wanted something that was connected to water because the products themselves don’t contain any water. We thought of these river rocks, and how it feels when you pick up a river rock that is exactly the right shape, size, and weight to hold in your hand. The shape is natural and functional, but you can tell there is also a human touch in the deliberate design of our products.

Do you plan to make more products, such as body wash?

We first want to eliminate plastic from hair care in the shower. After that, we will start looking at other parts of the shower that use single-use plastic, as well as other products in the bathroom that don’t yet have plastic-free alternatives.

It’s a little difficult to break the shampoo bar down to get a lather. Is this a common response?

We have all grown up using too much liquid in our hair. Especially when we’re little kids, our hair gets insanely foamy. But we don’t need to use that much product to wash our hair. I apply the solid shampoo under running water when my hair is wet to get the lather, but it also depends on water hardness. With liquid shampoo, you always feel the lather because the product itself has liquid. For HiBAR, you need to apply the product to really wet hair to get that same lather effect. 

Where do you see HiBAR in 5 years? 

In five years, I hope that HiBAR will have played a role in popularizing the idea of plastic-free products and I hope we’re one of hundreds of brands that will redesign commonly used products to get rid of single-use plastic, whether that’s in beauty, body care or food. We’ve helped demonstrate the path for companies that want to emulate us in different product categories. If we can pave the way for others, we’re a successful business and I’ll be happy with that.