The Interview: award-winning hairdresser and creative director of Imbue Michelle Sultan
Michelle Sultan is an award-winning hairdresser with a career spanning 20 years. Her hairdressing journey began when she visited her Aunt in New York. The visit gave her the passion to train as a hairdresser.
Throughout her career, Michelle has specialised in Afro hair and in 2010, she was named Afro Hair Stylist of the Year at the British Hairdressing Awards. As well as being the Creative Director and Brand Ambassador for hair care brand Imbue, Michelle has her own salon and works with celebrities including Mel B, Vick Hope and Alison Hammond.
Imbue launched in the summer of 2020. The brand describes its range of products, which are aimed at those with Type 3A to 4C hair, as ‘curly girl compliant’. Imbue is dedicated to cleansing, conditioning and styling curls whilst locking in moisture, giving curl confidence to customers every single day. All products in its range are 100% vegan.
“There was a gap in the market for brands that celebrated curly hair,” Sultan said. “Historically, the language used to describe curly hair tended to be negative - words like taming, reducing and frizz rather than ‘making curls the best they could be’, for example. We wanted products aimed at curly hair that were available on the high street for all curly hair types,” she explains.
The brand’s formulation process was simple - heavy research was carried out using hundreds of different curl types and Sultan tested everything to make sure she was happy with the products. She also used the products on her clients’ hair to ensure the brand received varied feedback. Sultan learnt a lot about hair care during the formulation process for Imbue.
“I was able to see how much goes into developing and formulating products - so much more time and effort went into making sure the formulations were not just correct, but curly method friendly,” she said.
When Imbue launched, the brand targeted the curl community. “We wanted to reach people who had never explored wearing their natural curls out before and were new to the curly method. Imbue launched during Covid-19, at a time when people were unable to go to the salon, so they were figuring out how to look after their hair on their own using quality, affordable products, so this was a great starting point for us,” Sultan says.
The brand was well received when it launched as it was the first time people could buy products from a curl-friendly brand that empowered people. Imbue’s bestsellers include the Curl Inspiring Conditioning Leave In Spray, a moisture boosting leave-in spray formulated with coconut, cupaçu and camellia that detangles, nourishes and revitalises curly hair as well as the Curl Respecting Conditioner, which has moisturising and nourishing properties that leave hair soft, smooth and manageable without the frizz. The Curl Liberating Sulphate Free Shampoo has also been popular with the brand’s customers. The shampoo is sulphate free and has been formulated with all curl types in mind. It separates curls, leaving them shiny and defined.
The brand’s latest launch is a collection of hair accessories that have been adapted to style curls and coils in the best way possible. “The tools you use on your hair really do make it look its best and they also make the styling process easier. The range includes scrunchies, crocodile sectioning clips and a treatment mask cap,” Sultan says.
Most of Imbue’s products can be found in Superdrug stores and on its website. Price points range from £4-£10. “The brand’s messaging is inclusive because it’s for all hair types, which is something we never used to see with curl-friendly brands,” Sultan says.
Through messaging, the brand is adding value to consumers’ experiences. “Positivity around curls is so important,” Sultan says. Sultan also believes that beauty is all encompassing and empowering and should be about feeling your best.
“I think that beauty as a whole needs to have personality and joy - it’s more of a feeling rather than an aesthetic. Some of the most beautiful people are beautiful on the inside and it shines out. I often think of the Roald Dahl quote - 'If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face',” Sultan says.
In the space of two years, Imbue has won numerous awards including Best Hair Tool (Scalp Massage and Shampoo Brush) at the Fabulous Beauty Awards, Best Hair Brush of 2022 (Define and Style Brush) at the Cosmopolitan Summer Beauty Awards and Best New Hair Product (Coil Rejoicing Leave In Conditioner) at the Marie Claire Hair Awards. The brand’s priority over the next few years is to continue working on and improving its messaging.
“Everything is always evolving,” Sultan says. As for her thoughts on the beauty industry in general, Sultan has nothing but praise for the brands who are taking the ever-changing world into consideration. “High brow bands are looking at different skin tones and hair types and developing products for that market, which is really great to see,” she says.
For anyone who wants to get into hairdressing or launch their own hair care brand, Sultan advises starting at the bottom, learning your craft and working your way up. “Knowing the basics is key when you’re just starting out. In addition to that, staying open to education and keeping abreast of ever-changing trends. TikTok and YouTube are great places to stay in touch with what’s going on in various communities,” she says.
In the space of two years, Imbue has redefined hair care with its unique approach and has actively encouraged a generation of women with curly hair to embrace the curls they were born with. So what’s next for the brand? “Developing more products dedicated to looking after more specific hair types to cater for even more members of the curly community,” Sultan says.
Imbue’s unwavering commitment to celebrating the beauty of all hair textures and encouraging consumers to find joy in caring for their hair has been the key to their success, and will undoubtedly continue to be for years to come.