Welcome to Beauty Boss, a reoccurring series in which we spotlight the power players driving the beauty world forward. Consider this your chance to steal their get-ahead secrets, and grow from the real-life lessons they’ve learned on the job.

By Erin Lukas
Updated Dec 26, 2018 @ 10:00 am
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Credit: Courtesy

Gail Federici might not have a namesake haircare line, but there's a good chance she's solved your some of your biggest hair struggles. She's one of the founding members of John Frieda, the classic drugstore brand that brought us the cult-favorite Frizz Ease Serum, the product everyone turns to for an affordable, but effective remedy for frizz.

Fast forward to 2018, and Federici is still the reason why your hair's easier to style thanks to Color Wow, her latest haircare brand that's quickly become a line beloved by beauty editors and celebrity hairstylists alike. If Color Wow hasn't found a place in your shower yet, consider the fact that Chris Appleton, Kim Kardashian and J.Lo's go-to stylist, is an ambassador for the brand. He swears by Color Wow's Dream Coat, an anti-humidity treatment, for creating Kim K's super sleek bobs.

While the leave-in spray might have been the key to a ton of the shiny hair looks you saw on celebs this past summer, it's not the first common hair problem Color Wow has corrected. The brand's Root Cover Up, a unique powder that seamlessly camouflages grown-out dye jobs and grays, instantly became a fan-favorite when it first launched seven years ago.

So, what's the secret sauce to Federici's uncanny ability to develop the hair products that have been missing from our bathrooms? We chatted with Federici to find out how she got her start in haircare, Color Wow's best-selling products, working with Chris Appleton, and more.

Tell us about your start in the haircare industry?

Working in haircare wasn't a conscious decision. I wasn’t looking for a job in haircare, but I was temping at the time and ended up getting placed at a haircare company. It suited me because I've always had really frizzy problem hair so I learned how to handle hair at a young age. When I was in collage I would do everyone’s hair before events. They would all line up to get styled and I would do mine last — so it always looked the worst. Since I always paid attention to hair, things just clicked when I ended up at that company.

You were one of the founders of John Frieda, a classic drugstore brand that most of us have used at some point. What made you want to part ways with that brand and start Color Wow?

When we sold John Frieda to Kao Corporation we had a five-year non-complete so we went into the music business. During that time I noticed a lot of people I was working with were starting to go gray and had pretty major roots, but didn't cover them up. I remember thinking, why aren’t they covering up their roots? It was because there was no product out there what was consumer-friendly and easy to use. So, I talked to them about it and they told me they didn’t like what any of the markers or sprays on the market were doing to their hair.

Their feedback reminded me of photoshoot I did years prior to this. The session hairstylist put a blonde wig on a model and used brown eyeshadow to make it look less fake at the roots. It looked dull and when we hit the hair with a fan, the powder blew off. I thought, if there was a way to make a powder stick, it would be so easy to use, plus you could put so many pigments in it and it wouldn't look fake. We started to work on it and it took three years, but we finally got a sample and it worked like a miracle. We found out the formula was waterproof by a fluke when my sister went swimming with it on her hair.

Dream Coat has recently become a cult-favorite product, too with a ton of celebrities using it. How did you come up with the idea for this successful product?

After Root Touch Up we started to look at color-treated hair in general, but we're always searching for the next holy grail product. I have a huge list for our chemist to work on. This product is all about texture and humidity, which has always been a problem for me. We had been searching for something for years that would help with that. The [John Frieda] serum did to a certain extent, but serums are heavy. So, the ideal solution was to create something that protected hair from humidity, but with the most weightless, natural feeling.

Celebrity hairstylist Chris Appleton works with some of the biggest stars. How important is it for brands to work with these stylists, and how has his involvement in Color Wow impacted the brand?

It depends on the people that working with the celebrity hairstylist. Initially we weren’t working with a hairdresser, but I was searching for somebody and I just wasn’t finding the right person. I think that just because a person has celebrity clients and is well-known it isn't always enough or the secret to a successful brand. For me, it’s somebody that I’m aesthetically on the same page with, and that I can talk to about products and respect their input. With Chris, it was not only the styles he does, but he lives and breathes hair. I know when he’s testing the product I know that it’s really reliable information he's giving me.

A celebrity stylist is testing products under dramatically different conditions than the average person doing their hair and then going to sit in an office.

Exactly. It’s not just about finding somebody who’s going to go out there and say they’re using your product. With Chris — and with anybody— we want to know that they get what we’re doing and they 100 percent believe in it. Right away when he was using the product (before he was our ambassador) his input and understanding of what we were trying to do as a brand was right on point.

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How has haircare has changed since you started with John Frieda, and how do you think the industry is still lacking today?

Color Wow is more in the trade sector than we are in consumer. Things haven't really changed that much in the trade market, but the world around us has thanks to the internet. Digital can really help us with marketing a product now. I think it's possible for trade brands to have more of a presence and make a difference because we can take advantage of this new landscape that the internet has provided.

How would you like to see Color Wow Grow?

We're about finding solutions for common hair problems. We’re always looking for the next problem that we can crack — and we have a long list. It does takes time for the light bulb to finally go off, but the reality is that we couldn’t have done Dream Coat five years ago because the ingredients and technology weren't there.

But, we as a brand have never been about following a trend. What I like most about working in hair is that you can really make a difference by recognizing an issue that people are having and creating a solution that will make styling their hair easier, or you can take what they like about their hair and enhance it.