Chaz Dean of WEN Hair & Body Care: “Don’t give up on your passion”

To me, resilience is never giving up or losing sight of your dreams. Many people have passions that they drop or forget about if they don’t get instant gratification. The resilient people have a clear vision, hold tight to their dreams, and never let them slip away. In this interview series, we are exploring the subject […]

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To me, resilience is never giving up or losing sight of your dreams. Many people have passions that they drop or forget about if they don’t get instant gratification. The resilient people have a clear vision, hold tight to their dreams, and never let them slip away.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Chaz Dean, celebrity hairstylist and category innovator. For over 25 years, he has influenced the beauty world to push beyond traditional conventions with his brand, WEN Hair & Body Care. His holistic approach to haircare has redefined the industry with the simple philosophy that what we put onto our hair is just as important as what we put into our bodies.

At age 19, Chaz, focusing on a budding photography career, realized that in order to portray his unique vision, he needed to learn the art of makeup and hairstyling. He decided to enroll in beauty school and completed the course in a short six months.

“As a photographer, I could explain to a stylist what I envisioned, what the model should look like, the scene, etc. But the hair and makeup never came out exactly how I envisioned it. That’s why I decided to go to beauty school. I wanted to create the image that was inside my head, and then capture that on film.”

Getting his foot in the door as a beauty assistant shortly thereafter, Chaz quickly climbed the ranks and was promoted to manager at age 22. As his confidence grew, he approached the salon owners to create a deep conditioner in their product collection, which he did to great success. Years later, he formulated a natural product collection for the salon and eventually purchased the location and started what would be known as the Chaz Dean Studio.

Chaz set his salon apart by staying true to his own beliefs of not using lather, bleach or hot tools. He gave up lather in May of 1993 and created a Cleansing Conditioner, the first-ever, universal 5-in-1 product that acted as a shampoo, conditioner, deep conditioner, detangler and leave-in conditioner without damaging the hair. Though removing lather was a radical concept at the time, the Cleansing Conditioner quickly took off when clients began to see the healthy, shiny hair they’ve always dreamed of having.

After the salon received much fanfare from consumers and celebrities like Angie Harmon, Nicollette Sheridan, Holly Robinson Peete, Ming-Na Wen, Nicole Murphy, Gilles Marini, Alyssa Milano, Gwyneth Paltrow and Roselyn Sánchez, Chaz set out to bring his hair product movement to the masses and launched WEN Hair & Body Care by Chaz Dean in 2005. The product line quickly gained popularity, growing steadily to eventually capture the spot as the number one haircare brand on QVC in 2015.

Today, WEN spans over 350 products and has sold over 40 million Cleansing Conditioners, making it one of the largest beauty brands on QVC. The line has expanded into a full range of styling products, skincare, body care, lip care, fragrance, home, men’s, kids and pet care. In 2020, WEN secured seven prestigious QVC Beauty Award wins, including Best Shampoo, Best Hair Treatment, Best Hairspray, Best Body Lotion, Best Self Tanner, Best Men’s Product and the QVC Icon Award.

“Receiving seven accolades from QVC this year is something I would have never dreamed of. I’ve always strived to create an inclusive product collection that is both efficacious and formulated with good-for-you ingredients. To be so honored by QVC truly puts the ultimate stamp of approval on WEN’s growth and accomplishments over the past 15 years.”

Chaz announced the opening of his New York City Studio in Manhattan’s exclusive West Village, slated to open in late 2020. He is looking forward to bringing his beloved west coast oasis to the east coast.

Away from the chair and camera, Chaz spends his time seeking balance. He is in a constant state of ‘under construction,’ as transformation, creativity and design are part of his everyday life. He finds joy in the company of friends and his three dogs and ends each day with a sense of peace and serenity through spiritual meditation. He contributes to many organizations that he holds dear to his heart, including Global Green, Love is Louder, The Fight Against Pediatric AIDS, Oprah Winfrey’s™ Leadership Academy Foundation, Keep a Child Alive, the HollyRod Foundation, DesignCare, Habitat for Humanity and Best Friends Animal Society, to name a few. Nothing brings Chaz more satisfaction and joy than helping men and women everywhere rediscover their beauty, the healthy way.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

When I was in high school, I got into photography and continued in the field after graduating. I realized that to make my full vision come to light, I needed to learn how to create the hair and makeup to incorporate into my images, so I decided to go to beauty school to learn the trade. I graduated beauty school at 19 and decided to pursue my dreams in California. I started as a hair assistant at a salon with very little to my name. If I didn’t succeed in 6 months, I was going to fail. I quickly made a name for myself, so much so that they asked me to start teaching and developing products for the company.

At 22, I was promoted from assistant manager to manager and, although it was intimidating to manage people more than twice my age, I knew that it was something I could handle. Some of the staff couldn’t grasp a person younger than them giving them direction, but the changes I made were to elevate the customers’ experience and to empower the other employees. During my time as a manager, I was asked to move to another salon that wasn’t run very efficiently and had no real management. I soon started running the team as I did at the previous salon, and after three years at the location, the owners were looking to sell and asked me if I was interested. I knew I could take the salon over and make it extremely successful.

To this day, I still incorporate my original passion into my work, photographing all of the images for my WEN Hair & Body Care by Chaz Dean product packaging.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

When I was an assistant at the salon, I approached the team and asked why they didn’t have a deep conditioner in their product collection, something I saw a need for in the salon. They asked me if I’d like to help develop that product, and I jumped at the opportunity. Six months after a very successful launch of that product, they asked if I’d like to help them create a natural product line. After seeing the first product’s success, I knew that I needed to be my own advocate and ask, “what’s in it for me?” The team told me to prove myself with this product line and that we would chat after. I considered not doing it, as I felt I had proven myself with the deep conditioner’s success. Still, I ultimately decided to do it because it was something I became very passionate about. Even though I didn’t have to invest my own money into the project, I knew the value I brought to it.

After completion, I grappled with what I felt would be a comfortable number to present to the team. At first, I said I’d be OK with 15% but then talked myself down to 3% since I didn’t want to set myself up for failure. I believed in the products I created, and they did end up launching with great success. Once I sat down with the team, they slid me a piece of paper that said my cut would be one penny per bottle sold, and I was devastated — I tried to negotiate, but they said to take it or leave it. I took it but knew in the back of my mind that this was the last time I would be taken advantage of. Years later, when they offered to sell me the salon, I was very skeptical because of the past transgressions, but I knew I could take it and make it successful. I decided to go for it, borrowed money from my grandfather, and used the little money I had to fix it up and named it the Chaz Dean Salon. I was able to pay him back within the first two years of opening! After our opening night party, the salon took off. The previous owners would walk by and ask, “How did you do it?” I told them that I had many ideas that they wouldn’t listen to because their egos got in the way, and after I took over and implemented them, this was the outcome. The lesson in this is — don’t be afraid to take on a challenge, and even if there appears to be a setback while taking on that fight, stick with it and know your self-worth.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

On May 1, 1993, I decided to give up lather, meaning no shampoo. I created a Cleansing Conditioner and had to take on a re-education process with every person who walked into my salon, explaining why shampoo wasn’t good for your hair even though we’re taught from the start to shampoo and condition. This has been my mentality for 27 years and still is to this day.

I also haven’t used bleach for as many years as lather. Bleach breaks down your hair, making it finer, thinner and weaker. No one believes that I can get their hair blonde without bleach, but I show them how I transformed blondes like Nicollette Sheridan and then Tori Spelling and the cast of 90210, and gave my clients the assurance that you do not need bleach in order to be a blonde!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

It sounds crazy, but when WEN Hair & Body Care was just a thought in my mind, my client Mindy Cohn (Natalie Green on The Facts of Life) would joke with me when I told her I was naming my brand WEN, because “WEN is it ever going to happen, WEN will it launch?!” It was such a new category and idea I wanted to make sure it was exactly what I wanted before launching. She said that when it does launch, she’ll share my line with all of her friends like Halle Berry, Jaclyn Smith, Angelia Jolie and Cloris Leachman — she opened that door for me in 2000 and I am forever grateful.

In 2004, I hosted an EMMYs Style Lounge at my salon, and both Teri Hatcher and Marcia Cross came; this was about a month before Desperate Housewives launched. I bonded with Teri after cleansing her hair, and she fell in love with WEN, so much so that they set up a house account for the cast. Teri invited me to her 40th birthday party that year, where I met the rest of the cast, including Eva Longoria who had been a WEN girl even before the show and Felicity Huffman — I was so excited to hear how much they all loved the line, too.

In 2005, the Desperate Housewives team asked if I’d like to make a gift basket for Oprah, who was filming a guest spot. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity! I brought the products to set and actually got to meet her. As she passed by as I was holding her basket and she said those products look amazing — I told her that everyone on set used WEN and she asked, “Is that why all their hair looks so beautiful?” I said indeed, yes, that was the secret! She said she couldn’t wait to try them, and that gave me the ultimate confidence boost.

That one interaction gave me the confidence to fill out the QVC application that I had been holding onto because I was afraid of rejection. I took a call from QVC on March 27th, 2005, they asked if I could meet with them on April 4th. They gave me the opportunity to launch on in August of 2005. I’ve been there ever since and never looked back.

We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

To me, resilience is never giving up or losing sight of your dreams. Many people have passions that they drop or forget about if they don’t get instant gratification. The resilient people have a clear vision, hold tight to their dreams, and never let them slip away.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

Multiple people come to mind for me. One of them being Oprah — she has persevered through so much adversity in her life and look where she is today. I would love to talk to her about how she has stayed true to herself for all these years.

If you had asked me when I was 19, and I still believe this to be true, I would have said Madonna. Watching her and seeing her get criticized for every move she made, it would have been so easy for her to give up and walk away, but she never did. She kept forging forward and was groundbreaking at every turn.

Both of these people stood behind their beliefs and passions and wouldn’t be swayed by what other people said. It is so easy to get bogged down by criticism; even if you’re Madonna playing a concert for ten thousand people and 9,999 loved it, you’ll always remember that one that was critical more than the majority that thought you were amazing. Today, it is easy to get derailed with negativity, especially with social media, but you have to keep believing in your visions, dreams and passions.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

I hear this all of the time! When I first launched the Cleansing Conditioner, people could not understand why I was anti-shampoo. I also created the Cleansing Conditioner to be inclusive of all hair types and not a specific formulation for BIPOC hair, which went against the traditional grain. One hairstylist told me that I wouldn’t gain a following within the BIPOC community if I didn’t create a line specifically formulated for their hair type. I explained to him why Cleansing Conditioner works for all hair types, but he pushed back. I stood my ground and said I tested this product to make sure it was for every person, and now I’m proud to say that a large percentage of my customers are BIPOC.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

I launched WEN Hair & Body Care by Chaz Dean on QVC on August 27, 2005, and for the first ten years, we kept growing and growing to eventually, in 2015, securing a spot as the number one beauty brand on QVC and number three haircare company in all of the US. This was a huge milestone for me!

Then, at the end of 2015, I went through the most challenging point of my professional career, a class-action lawsuit claiming WEN caused hair loss. I knew at the time that these claims were unfounded; I had millions of customers, celebrities and models using and loving the products without issue for 15 years. However, I knew that I had to prove that this was the case, not just with my word but the word of outside validated professionals. I invested time and money into credible scientific and medical professionals including world-renowned toxicologists, dermatologists and labs, to test every facet of the product: each ingredient and ingredient interaction, ingredients mixed with heat, clinical trials — you name it, we tested it — over 30 different tests, some that had never been done on a hair product before, to prove no negative reactions from WEN. Investing millions of dollars into these tests was not only a financial burden but each time we ran another test, we opened Pandora’s Box. The test results would be 100% public, and if there were an issue, it would be widely and publicly known. I knew that I wanted to hear the good, bad or ugly to make sure I was putting the best possible product out there and would immediately change the product if any issue came about. Every single test proved that WEN could not cause adverse events. We ran so many tests that even top advisors were impressed; they said they hadn’t seen any other brand do the level of in-depth testing we did, and they’d love for other brands to follow suit.

This was one of the darkest times of my life. I pride myself on my integrity and am never one to exaggerate or embellish. I want people to take me for my word. I never turned my back, never walked away and didn’t shut down. I knew I was responsible and took everything extremely seriously. I encourage people to go to and read the outside reports on our products, many of which have been peer-reviewed.

All of the tests I did renewed my passion for my brand and encouraged me to develop even more products and continue to grow WEN to what it is today.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

My mom and dad worked for my entire life to pay the bills — my dad was a computer analyst, and my mom was a bus driver for disabled people. They instilled within me my work ethic and showed me that working hard will get you far, but also, if you wanted to do something you were passionate about, you had to work for it.

When I was 19, I worked at a photo lab and put in to become a manager but was denied because the higher-ups thought I was too young. They ended up hiring a man in his fifties that I had to train because he didn’t know how to do the job. This taught me a lesson about the best way to garner respect from my employees, which I continue to hone to this day. It also taught me that it’s worth giving everyone that shows a glimpse of promise a chance to show you what they can do.

I’ve learned that someone will tell you “no” every day in your life, and you have to learn how to pivot to get to your end goal. Don’t let no be a dead end! Also, just because someone has never done something before, don’t accept no as an answer — persevere and push through until you find a way to turn that no into a yes.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Find and follow your passion.

2. Don’t give up on your passion; stay steadfast. It may take ten years or more, but eventually, you’ll get there and the payoff will be worth it!

3. Don’t accept the word “no” as a dead-end; find a new path to get you to “yes.”

4. Find a way to stay motivated, whether it’s self-motivation or outside motivation. Don’t let adversity take away your hope for a better future.

5. Create a vision board to help you stay focused — where you want to go, where you want to be and what that looks like to you.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would love for everyone to realize that we are all created equal. Even though we may have differences of opinion, you can hear someone else’s point of view and respect their opinion without having to agree with each other — we’re all created by the same higher power, whatever you believe in. You don’t have to hate someone because you disagree with their opinion. We will never all have the same opinions, but listening to someone else may open your eyes to something you never thought of. We all have the right to be heard without being judged. We all should be united; we don’t have to agree, but we don’t have to be divided.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I would love to have an in-depth conversation with Lenny Kravitz. I believe in the power of music and think he is extremely inspirational. His vision has always been about peace and love, which is also something I deeply believe in. I truly get his message of let love rule — that we should lead with love not hate and be united, not divided.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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