As one half of the power-duo behind Bleach London – the salon brand that put rainbow hair on the map and a mecca for cool kids everywhere – Sam Campbell knows a thing or two about building a business. She wasn’t always destined for the world of experimental hair colour though, and here our last Creative Achiever of the year shares a bit about how she came to co-found a business well on its way to world domination.
You co-founded Bleach London alongside Alex Brownsell ten years ago, tell us a bit about the journey so far?
We started with a couple of chairs in the back of Wah Nails with £6k and without a care in the world! We now have three salons in London, we’re currently opening a salon in LA, we’re selling £6m worth of colour products a year in the UK and having just completed our series A fundraise we’re about to embark on rolling out the product business internationally.
Bleach has had so many lives; we’ve had licence deals, concessions, various other business partners, we had a bar, we’ve started other sub-brands, hair trends have come, gone, and come back round again! But it still feels like we’re just getting started and establishing how to make such a special brand the best business it can be.
What are the different skill sets that make you and Alex a great partnership?
I think when you’re thinking about starting a business it might feel natural to be drawn to those you have lots in common with, but the best thing about us is that our skill sets are chalk and cheese. You need to have someone fighting the brand case and someone fighting the business case for the perfect partnership.
You’re best known for Bleach, but tell us about what you were doing before you launched the brand?
I also have had a few lives... I did a law degree, I was an estate agent! I was a media planner buyer for direct response clients; which is particularly useful now we’re investing in performance marketing. Then the first business I started myself was an agency repping hairstylists, makeup artists, stylists, photographers and influencers.
What was your dream job when you were a kid?
I was always very ambitious and did well academically, so I was drawn to more traditional options like law. Where I grew up (half way between York and Hull) there didn’t feel like there was a real route to making a success out of doing anything creative, or fun. After living in London for a few years I quickly realised this wasn’t true at all. I wouldn’t say I changed direction, I have just applied what I’m good at to creative people and industry.
Who inspires you?
My friend Sam, she has a huge job, she parties, she has two sets of twins under four and I’ve never heard her complain ever <3
What’s been the most exciting part of running a business like Bleach?
No matter how long the list of challenges is at any given time, there is always a longer list of exciting things. We will be exceeding sales targets, have a salon full of the coolest people in London with their foils on, a bunch of retailers wanting to stock us, investors wanting to meet us and a post going viral on social media. I always feel proud and extremely lucky.
And the most challenging?
You’re basically completely out of control of your own destiny at all times. No matter how strong the demand for the brand, you have no idea what’s really going to happen, and it feels like in trading products everything is made more difficult than it needs to be. We’ve worked for years investing every penny into stock and being more financially exposed than anyone ever should come close to. Then not catching up with the working capital – when the plan said we would – because something else would come up. It doesn’t make for a good night's sleep, or for spending time with your newborn baby. You need an enormous amount of grit and tenacity to survive.
How do you get the best out of your team?
We’re not running a dictatorship, I like the morale to be high, and to have a mutual understanding that we’re hiring people who are self-starters who will in turn be met with a supportive, respectful and happy working environment.
Best career advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t take no for an answer.