Follow us

The Interview: Claire Shread, Co-founder, Umberto Giannini

Gaelle Walker
27 May 2021

Claire Shread is the Co-founder of the Umberto Giannini haircare and salon brand which she established back in 1998 in partnership with her late husband and renowned hairdresser Umberto Giannini.

The pair met in the mid-90s when Umberto commissioned Claire, who at the time, was working as an artist painting large-scale nightclub murals, to design his latest salon.

The rest is history, as the pair went on to became partners and have two children.

In 1998, the Umburto Giannini product range was launched, featuring the iconic lipstick- shaped bottle, designed by Vogue Creative Director Robin Derrick.

A few years later the range was extended with what were then revolutionary products for curly hair such as the iconic Curl Scrunching Jelly, which continues to be the company’s biggest seller and the UK’s number one best-selling curl product.

Soon after Umberto’s tragic death in 2001, Claire took over the running of the business, bringing to it her artistic flair as well as her strong vegan and ethical views which have recently helped it to claim Certified B Corp status in recognition of its lofty social and environmental standards.

Recent years have seen Claire and her all-female team take the business to new heights, reinventing the brand in direct response to the changing needs of its community, with cutting-edge innovations in styling, scalp-care and colouring.

Its recently launched Flowerology Temporary Colour Masks, for example, proved a runaway success during lockdown – their pretty pastel shades providing a bit of much needed light and cheer in dark times.

And as Claire goes on to explain below, there’s plenty more brightness for this trailblazing UK brand on the agenda.

Take us through the origins of the Umberto Giannini brand…

Umberto started his hairdressing career in the late 80’s and when I met him in the 90’s he was already a rising star, famous for effortless, natural cuts in the salon and incredibly creative and theatrical avant-garde work for fashion shoots and photographic work.

In 1998 together we launched the UG product range with a fantastic team of creatives including Robin Derrick the then Creative Director of British Vogue, to give women salon quality haircare at home.

What unique properties and principals set the brand apart at launch?

UG was such a unique brand at the time because it was truly woman-centric. Our first ad campaign showed women with little or no make up, no retouching and un-done hair. Ad lines focussed on the personality attributes of the models, not all of whom were professional models, rather than their looks. In a time when high 90’s glamour was all about big hair and overtly glamorised looks, UG really stood out as different.

For me this was an act of feminism, being attuned to the power that women have beyond how they look to others. These ads still remain so impactful today and embody the fundamental ethos of the brand.

Talk us through some of its key defining moments so far…

Umberto winning British Hairdresser of the Year in 2001 was a pivotal moment in the brand’s development as it really put Umberto on the map in terms of international recognition.

From a product perspective the launch of the Curl range in 2000 and specifically the bestselling cult product Curl Scrunching Jelly, brought a whole new customer base to salon inspired haircare previously ignored by the rest of the market.

Umberto Giannini Group Shot

Tell us a little about the brand’s most recent product innovations and the insights that have driven them?

Our launch into permanent hair colour with a vegan, cruelty free and 95% natural alternative is a perfect example of how we look to disrupt the category with innovations born out of problems.

Since we launched Flowerology Naturally Kinder Colour, it has changed my relationship with my grey hairs! I dreaded the process of having my hair salon-coloured every three weeks, taking up so much valuable time out of my day and always concerning me that toxic ingredients were being absorbed by my scalp resulting in the irritation and stinging I experienced (never mind that vegan and cruelty free was horribly lacking in the market for hair colour).

It felt like an impossible task to deliver salon quality hair colour at home from natural ingredients but we did it, with expertise from our amazing salon teams and incredible innovation from our supplier.

We are so proud of this development and excited to have launched in Target in the US, Boots in the UK and Look Fantastic

Umberto Flowerology

What principals continue to set the brand apart now, more than 30 years later?

Our mantra is “doing good business beautifully” and we have recently been recognised for our strong ESG strategies by being awarded Certified B CORP status.

Through challenging and innovative ways of approaching age-old business techniques and cultures as well as our history in vegan and cruelty free commitments, way before it was fashionable, we always put people and planet before profits.

How important is it for businesses to have an ethical focus these days?

With the rise of the informed consumer and the climate challenge that we collectively face, I believe that businesses should take responsibility for their impact and do everything in their power to deliver their business model in the kindest way possible to people and planet.

Although consumers are starting to ask deeper questions of the brands that they follow, there are still a lot of brands that could do so much better and have such influence if they would set their sights on the ethical principles concerning animal welfare, environmental issues and women’s rights to name just a few.

How is Umberto Giannini leading the charge here?

Our Certified B CORP status means we are leading the charge in bringing ethical business practices to the beauty business in an affordable and mainstream way.

Expensive niche brands in the naturals and organic sector are out of reach for so many, our price points and availability give us a unique ability to influence the community and hopefully help other businesses grow into the positive ESG space.

What kind of an impact has the Covid-19 pandemic had on the brand and the types of products in demand?

The impact of Covid-19 has been felt by all businesses and particularly in high street retail. Our strong direct to consumer business has helped us weather this storm and in-fact has fast-tracked the growth of our e-commerce.

At-home hair colour has taken a leap in sales as have products that offer some fun such as our temporary hair colour masks in pinks, peaches and violet.

How has it pivoted operations to deal with the challenges?

Our main change to operations has been the increased focus on e-commerce. We have launched our subscription model to great success which seamlessly delivers your haircare regime each month and allows you to spend less time online and running out of your essential products as well as saving you money!

Are there any new launches scheduled for the coming months?

We are launching a new colour for darker hair in our temporary colour masks in July by popular demand! (Blondes can’t have all the fun!) and in October we are super excited to add two new lines to our hugely successful curl jelly and banana butter ranges with a curl jelly refresher spray designed to use on next day hair to revitalise curls (think iconic Curl Jelly in a spritz) and nourishing finishing cream in Banana Butter for all hair types needing extra help with control, hydration and frizz. Both of these lines have been developed as a result of a call-out from our community.

There are five Umberto Giannini salons in England, how have the first few months of re-opening gone?

Busy busy busy! The salon teams are so happy to be back working with their clients and catching up on months of chat! There have been no real challenges other than the endless cleaning and PPE wearing but it’s amazing how readily and easily everyone adapts when needed.

We are recruiting for most of our salons at the moment and there is a lot of energy and positivity in the hairdressing industry right now, we are seeing some great new talent out there. Most requested treatments include Balayage and highlights, long wavy bobs, overlong fringes with a centre parting, face framing highlights and for the more adventurous there’s a revival of 80’s asymmetric bobs and mullets making an appearance!

What do you expect the big trends in hair care and styling to be as we emerge fully from lockdown and into the summer? 

We’re still going to see long hair as the dominant trend into the rest of 2021 but with an emphasis on healthy, well cared for texture coming to the fore.

Whether that’s the smoothest blow outs or the bounciest curls, hair will be cared for much more than ever before with products that look after the scalp and bring key hero ingredients from skincare into haircare and of course the continued growth of vegan, cruelty free and sustainably produced products.

Scalp scrubs such as Grow Long and Scalp Restore are flying out of stores at the moment as attention has been turned towards hair health.

Fun has been in short supply so experimenting with colour looks set to continue and I predict a colourful summer ahead with tints of peach and rose in everyone from mums to muses!  And watch out for those 80’s inspired haircuts!

What’s next on the agenda for the Umberto Giannini brand?

There are two main areas of focus for UG going forward. Our new product development has always been something we are known for, ultimately we are an ideas brand and we get our buzz coming up with new ways to fix old and new problems, so new launches are always on our agenda.

Secondly, we have an ambition to get our products to the widest audience possible as we truly believe that we have a product for every hair type and look.

We are working really hard on growth outside of the UK, even though the universe is making that difficult for all of us right now!

Free NewsletterVISIT