Jack59, the Edmonton-based shampoo and conditioner bar company, started the way so many innovative businesses do. Because a smart, capable woman became determined to create a livelihood on her own terms.
“I was a dental assistant for most of my life with two kids, eighteen years apart,” says Vanessa Marshall, Jack59 founder. “I was really sick of this putting my kid in daycare for a million hours a day thing and I thought, ‘That’s it; I’m quitting my job.’ I just had to find something to do!”
That something turned out to be soap-making and eventually shampoo and conditioner bar production. From the start, Vanessa’s background in chemistry was an asset. It allowed her to create bars that were truly pH-balanced and wouldn’t dry out hair. It also made the process incredibly fun.
“I love the transformation of ingredients into products. It’s like brewing up potions. I get an adrenaline rush from the time-sensitive processes. I have a science background but I also express my artistic side with the product designs.”
Vanessa started “brewing up her potions” in her kitchen, but as the company grew, she created a workspace in her basement. Now she and her team work in their own production facilities in Edmonton.Once Vanessa was able to hire staff, she made an important choice to employ all women. This decision has given Jack59 a richly supportive culture and it’s also generated a few challenges.
“Women have a harder time staying employed because they tend to have so many responsibilities at home. Few employers are sympathetic to ‘I have a sick child at home.’
“That’s why I train staff in all areas so when someone has to miss work, it’s ok. I’m very open and honest with my girls. I tell them when I hire them that we cover for each other at Jack59.”
One of the company’s other perennial challenges is addressing preconceived notions consumers often have about shampoo and conditioner bars. Jack59 bars are made to align with the natural pH balance of human hair, producing a solution that works exactly like a high-end shampoo or conditioner. Truly, all that’s missing is water. Other bars on the market are, unfortunately, not formulated quite so carefully.
“We come across a lot of people who have lost faith in bars. They say, ‘I’ll never use a bar again’—and then we give them a sample of ours and they change their minds. Big companies that are primarily focused on the sustainability aspect don’t always create the best products. But although we absolutely exist to cut down on plastic waste, our primary focus is on great hair.”
Not that Jack59’s contribution to a more sustainable planet is anything to sneeze at. As their website notes, over 552 million shampoo bottles end up in landfills each year and by 2050 the ocean will likely contain more plastic than fish. But every Jack59 shampoo bar eliminates up to 3 plastic bottles, while their conditions bars can eliminate up to 5 bottles. To date, they have helped eliminate over 500,000 plastic shampoo bottles from entering the environment.
Initially, Jack59 was a proudly packaging-free company. But the COVID-19 pandemic changed consumer behaviour in a way that the company had to adapt to.
“We quickly realized retailers had a hard time promoting products that didn’t have the packaging that would make buyers feel safe. So, we compromised by getting Great Little Box Company (GLBC) to help us design a fully recyclable paper box. And that process has been super-smooth. The results are amazing; I love the boxes we made together.”
In addition to encouraging retailers, the new boxes had other benefits. “There’s something to be said for a beautifully packaged product. Plus, when people gave our bars as gifts, they used to have a hard time sharing vital information like ingredients and directions. But now that’s all on the box.”
We always love working with a sustainability-focused business. Order your own Jack59 bars here—and don’t be surprised when you start seeing them pop up at your favourite salon.