Gabi Kumar first learned about keratin fibers from his long-time barber in central New Jersey. After Gabi complained about his thinning hair, the barber suggested he start using the product to fill it out. After this introduction, Gabi began to use it consistently. ‘It was 90% a perfect product, but there were certain aspects of it that could've been better,’ he says.
It was then that he suggested the idea to his friend, Moe Elgawly. The two had met via mutual friends while attending separate colleges in Philadelphia and immediately bonded over their ambitions to start their own businesses. Gabi and Moe knew they wanted to start their own online sales company and met regularly to pitch and brainstorm ideas.
‘I pitched him that I'd been using these keratin fibers and, if we could fix a few small things, we could make a much better product,’ says Gabi. Moe was sold on the idea after Gabi showed up at a party one day with what appeared to be a full head of hair. ‘I was like: what happened here? He explained to me it was the keratin fibers he'd been telling me about,’ says Moe.
Making a superior product
The two make a good double act: Moe has run his own creative agency for many years, heading up branding, messaging and visuals; while Gabi has experience as a franchisee of fast-casual restaurants, running sales and operations. They also brought on board Gabi's brother Sabi to help lead research and development and source manufacturers. From this, Fyll was born.
Keratin fibers are the proteins that make up hair and nails. The products often come in a powdered form and work by binding to existing strands of hair and follicles to create a temporary appearance of fuller hair. According to Gabi, the issue with previous iterations of keratin fiber products on the market was that they wouldn't look as real as they should. They'd also clump up and stick to hands or textiles that came into contact with the hair. ‘We went out looking for suppliers with better technology. Basically, we needed fibers that were better at attaching to hair follicles rather than the scalp,’ says Gabi. Once they formulated a product that the pair felt was superior to those already on the market, they set about building the brand vision they had in their heads – one targeted at younger people.
‘It was really important for us to get our messaging right because the biggest differentiator for Fyll, besides being a bit more premium, is our presentation – since we're going after that younger demographic that doesn't know about [these kinds of products],’ says Moe. Most products in this category are marketed to older people without much thought for the younger generation. As both Gabi and Moe dealt with thinning hair in their early 20s, they knew there were many others out there who probably didn't know about the benefits, or even the existence, of a product like Fyll.
Chasing away the stigma
‘I went through the process as a customer for so long that I knew it wasn't just a hair-thickening product,’ says Gabi. ‘This is affecting self-confidence and self-esteem. It makes you feel better across the board and is very important – whether people want to admit it or not.’ Their purpose with Fyll is to destigmatize hair loss, especially for those at a young age, and to make prospective customers feel comfortable with doing something about it and using products if need be. ‘Hair loss in general is such a taboo thing that people don't talk about, because there's a lot of shame connected to it,’ says Moe. ‘So, we wanted to go about it in a way that is shameless. We want to keep pushing that conversation: OK, you're balding, who gives a shit? It's so common.’
Fyll is currently selling bottles in barber shops (even the very one where Gabi was originally inspired) and directly to customers on its website. At the moment there are three different colors of the keratin spray, but the team is working on expanding to other shades.
‘I'm at a point now where I just don't care. I've told literally every person I know that I use fibers in my hair. Once you normalize it, it's a much better feeling,’ Gabi says.
This article was first published in 100 Ways to Make a Living 2022. To purchase a copy or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.