When founder Megan Graham explained the concept — "the first made-for-beauty collection of reusable, refillable, washable travel-size toiletry containers" — it took a few moments of pause to realize that this product absolutely should exist and it's bonkers no one else came up with it. In fact, I was livid I didn't think of it myself.
Inspired by the word 'toiletries', travel beauty brand RIES was a member of the 2021 Sephora Accelerate program, launched in February 2022. It soon became the first reusable travel bottle partner (airless bottles, that is) to make it into Sephora in August. Oh, and it would be remiss not to mention that Graham is a Black woman.
I love it here.
"When I was creating the product, it was white men who were the gatekeepers," Graham explained to me. "I was literally being told, 'Go slap your name on [bottles] from Alibaba,' or 'It already exists.' I was having to continually say, 'No, it does not.'"
Even as a beauty writer, I struggle when it comes to decanting my 'big' beauty products, like shampoo and conditioner, into small containers for travel purposes. I also have a deep hatred for those semitransparent, flimsy and overpriced travel bottles. Not only are they hideous, but they are near impossible to clean and leak everywhere. It's very far from a perfect user experience, and the only other option is to hope and pray that brands make my favorite hair products in a travel size. Even that comes with the added element of excess waste, though, not to mention a serious price tag. Anyway, I have too much hair for travel-sized products, so RIES is giving me (and others) a level of access we only dreamed of.
Those tiny, flimsy bottles are the standard at drugstores, said Graham, who added that we've accepted them as the only go-to. But that's a layered problem. "To call RIES just a bottle just diminishes so much of what we're trying to go up against," said Graham. You see, traveling with textured hair comes with an unrecognized element of need. Our hair does not (and never will be) able to be condensed into a few products. RIES Beauty advocates for many unrecognized people in the travel space — and we're screaming for it.
I know how hard it is for brands to get funding, especially Black female founders. Graham had to convince people it was necessary, particularly white businessmen. "They truly didn't understand," said Graham. I thought, okay, you expect me to go to an Airbnb or a hotel and be able to use [the products which are] available there? That's not what works for my hair type — or my skin." Graham was also told to head to Target, Walgreens or CVS. She asked, "And buy whatever is available on the three inches of shelf that [they] give [my] hair type? It's almost impossible to respond in that scenario, so I had to break it down."
The entire goal of RIES is to return control to the traveler. "Often, [traveling] is the only time we get to be ourselves and experiment with our hair since we can't really do that thanks to work and other commitments," said Graham. She added that we place a great deal of importance on our hair since it has a significant impact on our vacation mood. "When it comes to traveling and hair, we have to take a lot into account, since we are unable to travel the same way other races may. As a Black woman, having a leave-out during a trip will be nice, but you also might consider not swimming as it will mess up your hair and be time consuming to fix on vacation. We are constantly faced with these challenges." Everything requires multiple levels of steps, and RIES Beauty exists to try to at least make our lives easier.
The brand is all about thoughtful consumption and knowing you deserve everything you need, so it's much more than a simple bottle. Traveling itself is already anxiety-inducing enough. On top of this, traveling with textured and curly hair requires a whole arsenal of products — something many lament. "If I plan to swim while on vacation or if I'm traveling for a long period of time," said Black travel influencer, Wande Akin, "I need more products than usual. If I don't have my hair in a simple protective style like braids, I have to pack heat tools, more hair products, spray bottles, brushes, combs and so on. This could take up the majority of my suitcase."
Personally, my hairstyles require at least six weeks of advance planning, so I feel Akin on this. When I'm traveling, the last thing I want to be fretting about is how good or bad my hair looks. Truly.
"I've been in four different states in the last four days," Graham told me. "I feel grimy, I've been hiking. But I have my own conditioner with me and my hair feels good. Hair is such a part of my identity and it's a part of people's first [impressions] of me. Being able to take care of it and truly have things that I know will make me feel good makes me want to travel more."
The public response to RIES' travel-friendly containers has been overwhelmingly positive, particularly from the curly hair community. Many people have thanked Graham for creating the smart airless bottles, while others mention that the brand gives them freedom. RIES isn't just for hair and body products, either. It's a chic way to travel with your prescriptions, too.
It's not like the RIES travel containers have cured everything about traveling with curly and textured hair. But the brand has ignited a conversation people didn't even realize was necessary. "One of the most frustrating parts of traveling with textured hair is drying it," said curly hair coach Barbara Kurmlavage, the CEO and founder of Curlvitality. "Almost all hotels have blow-dryers in the rooms, but why don't those blow-dryers also have diffuser attachments?" Kurmlavage's dream for the future is that it becomes mandatory for hotels who carry hair dryers to provide diffuser attachments — "for all rooms to make the amenity inclusive to all."
Curly-haired travel influencer Hiba Stouhi agrees: "My struggle when traveling with textured hair is that I need a lot of products to wash and style my curls. Some of the bottles are big, others are okay, but I can't fit all of them in my bag, especially if I'm taking a carry-on only." Stouhi wishes hotels would provide more texture-friendly products in the room, like a diffuser as well as sulfate- and silicone-free products. "That way I wouldn't have to worry about taking all my products with me. Travel-size products are available, but they are not available to everyone."
Sadly, mass retailers often overlook specific markets when it comes to travel-size products. But catering to only one type of person is not only dangerous, it's boring. "Traveling while Black is very different from traveling while white," Graham emphasises, "and for so many more reasons than anyone could understand, anticipate or scratch the surface with."
She concludes, "RIES is a way for people to start thinking about what that means, because beauty is truly the gateway into that conversation."
Like I said: this is so much more than just a bottle.
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