Q&A: Meet Kailey Bradt of Susteau

Kailey Bradt’s Susteau is good for your hair and the planet —and this waterless product line will be your new go-to.

It’s rare for a child to know what their life calling should be, but Susteau founder and chief executive officer Kailey Bradt was an exception. Since she was a small child, she felt pulled to help the environment. Growing up, she would collect and recycle bottles from her house in upstate New York and eventually launched the eco-club in school with some friends from her chemistry class.

“We held electronic scrap drives and eventually our school wouldn’t let us have them anymore because we ran out of space to put the electronics we were collecting for recycling,” she tells essio. “We would have people drive from two hours away just to recycle their electronics because they didn’t know what to do with them.”

Then at 16 she decided she wanted to do something that would help address sustainability. After years of bleaching her hair, the self-professed blonde wanted to start there — she wanted to pursue a career in beauty, so she set her eyes on studying chemistry.

“I used to sit on the floor while my mom would put one of those plastic caps on me where you poke holes and pull the hair through,” she says. “Being blonde is part of who I am at this point, but that meant my hair was always damaged. I used to break hairbrushes when stepping out of the shower because my hair was so tangled.”

Bradt graduated with a degree in chemical engineering and used her background to start Susteau, her sustainable haircare line.

“When I started, I felt a rush of freedom,” she shares. “I remember feeling like I was finally on a path that made sense to me and who I am.” Her first product to market was Moondust Hair Wash, which is a waterless powder shampoo you mix with water while showering to create a lather. (Most other brands’ formulas for shampoo and conditioner include over 80% of water in their products.)

Keep reading to learn how she overcame certain obstacles when working up the Moondust formula and why this line of products was born not only out of a necessity to improve the world but also to save hair from getting stuck in one more brush!


For someone who isn't familiar, what does sustainable mean when it comes to haircare and specifically Susteau?

Kelly Bradt: Sustainable has become so overused, and it’s unfortunate. There is no standard definition for sustainable, especially when it comes to beauty. At Susteau, sustainability is where the “sust” in our name comes from. It’s not an afterthought, it’s the first thought. It’s considered in every choice we make from our packaging to our shipping materials to our merch, you name it.

When you initially set out with this concept, were you overwhelmed and what advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?

I think there’s a honeymoon phase of starting a company, but it really supports that leap of faith you’re taking in the beginning. The entire journey becomes a rollercoaster of emotions and being overwhelmed is definitely a part of that cocktail.

All I can say is be prepared to learn a lot in general. You’re constantly learning, but it’s part of what I’ve loved about starting my own company. I enjoy a challenge.

It took you two years to come up with the formula for Moondust, how did you not get discouraged?

[For] a product you’re starting from scratch, two years is a fairly normal time to market. There was a lot of R&D for what I was doing, but because I was formulating myself, I was able to iterate quickly. I had developed over 50 formulas for Moondust before I was (and all my friends and family were) happy with the formula. It was really exciting because I loved the product development process so, so much. I love creating in this way.


Any crazy stories of testing the products initially and throughout?

Well... on the sustainability front (mind you this was 2016 when I started doing research) there was no reference for clean or natural. I had a study from a scientific journal I was using to determine naturality index and it was on me to define what I thought clean was (luckily my insights were correct here). I researched each individual raw material. However, manufacturers were really lacking transparency when it came to ingredient origin and how they were processed. It was almost impossible to know. While I was bothering everyone for what seemed like simple information, my primary surfactant (what does the cleaning and the main ingredient in my shampoo) was discontinued. The substitute they replaced it with was no longer marketed as naturally derived and the origin of the ingredient was crude oil – a nonrenewable resource and not something I was willing to use in my formulation. So, I pretty much had to start from scratch all over again when I thought I was almost done.

Having a haircare line, what have you realized about hair? Does Susteau work for all types?

It’s really a universal formula that works well for all hair types and is great for those with a sensitive scalp. I’d really like to launch formulas optimized for different hair types in the future though!

The powder products are so great for travel too, was that an added bonus or did you aim to make packing products easier too?

I discovered liquid shampoo was 80% water when I was questioning all the liquids in my travel bag, so it’s really part of the origin story!

What did it feel like when you made your first sale? 100th?

My first sales came from friends and family, but it was SO much fun packing the first orders. I had been building up hype for a few years, so we had a strong launch. I’m pretty sure we had over 100 sales our first day! It is still really exciting to me that people I’ve never met before enjoy using something I made.



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