Megan Graham was frustrated.
She was finding it hard to find her favorite hair products in smaller, travel versions—and the 2-in-1 generic shampoo/conditioner simply wasn’t cutting it for her natural curls.
Resorting to the empty travel-size plastic bottles to transfer her product into wasn’t great either—what was often advertised as being reusable wasn’t actually reusable, and it ended up being thrown away after a single use.
So, like many solution-oriented business owners, she made her problem the impetus for the start of the brand Ries. Launched in 2022, these TSA-friendly, reusable and dishwasher-safe products make travel less messy and, perhaps more importantly, less wasteful. Every product is silicon free, pre-labeled (no more forgetting what’s what) and has airless pumps for seamless use.
To understand the environmental impact of travel, Graham and her team did their research: They found that on average, consumers carry nine personal care items when traveling and take six trips per year. That equates to 54 single-use bottles every year. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Especially when living eco-friendly is a growing trend. Case in point: 66 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products, according to a survey conducted by GreenPrint.
As the desire to be more eco-conscious continues to rise, Ries (the pronunciation should rhyme with please) wants to make it easier for consumers to make this commitment. Graham spoke to Sweet July about her company’s multifaceted mission.
Can you talk more about the journey that led you to launching Ries?
I used to work in trend forecasting. My job was to literally go to trade shows and street-style events and fashion weeks and report about fashion trends. During these trips, I would always travel for like four days at a time and it was too much to bring my full-size conditioner. But I also couldn’t find Black hair care travel sizes. So I’d always go to the corner store and buy one of those little single-use plastic bottles that claim to be reusable. I’d decant my Miss Jessie’s—all of my curl creams and gels and everything. I had all these different methods over the years, writing on them with Sharpies, wrapping them in aluminum foil—all of these creative things I would have to do. And, spoiler alert: they’d always leak or crack, or the Sharpie would wipe off. And at the end of the trip, I was not only throwing away the product that was still there in the bottom of the bottle but also throwing away this plastic bottle that I used for four days. It always kind of haunted me.
Fast forward, I’m working at Vogue, and I’m leading their marketing team, so now my vanity is full and not only with great hair care but also these beautiful luxury products that I’m getting by working in this industry. That’s really when I decided that I wanted to make a better bottle and go down this road of being an entrepreneur to design something that would be more functional and better for the planet overall.
It seems like you were at the forefront of addressing a layered yet very specific issue in beauty and travel—what was it like getting people on board?
It’s really interesting, when I was first pitching this idea, I would always be pitching to white men, which is no surprise, and honestly, a lot of times, it was bald white men. They couldn’t understand why someone would need to take their products with them. They were like, “Well, there’s shampoo at the hotel.” And when I would go to manufacturers and say, “Help me make this bottle,” they would say, “Why? There’s other bottles out there you can fill and throw away.” But when it came to talking to women and telling them what I wanted to make, every time, they would say, “Oh my god, that’s genius,” or “Oh my god, I need that.” And it wasn’t just for haircare, it’s for their skincare routine or…whatever. Everyone has that thing that they need it for. But I think that the gatekeepers of the packaging industry and the investment industry, truthfully, were not interested. I think that’s a big reason why these products haven’t existed before.
So, how did you get people interested?
I truly have to give Sephora such credit. We were part of this Sephora Accelerate program in 2021. I had started working on the idea in 2019 and just ran into these roadblocks—these investors didn’t get it. Sephora has been working with the 15% pledge to adjust their program, and at the end of 2020, we were accepted into the class of 2021. That really jump-started and truthfully accelerated the business. For them to see what we were trying to do as a solution to reducing plastic in the industry and believing in us was just a complete game changer.
Let’s dive into the actual design of your products. What are some of the features that set them apart?
We have the first-ever reusable airless pump. It was really important for me to have a pump feature on the bottle because it just feels more in line with those luxury beauty products that I’m using. That’s one part of the functionality that I don’t want to give up when I’m on the road. And because it’s an airless pump, there’s no straw in the bottle. The bottles are made of recycled plastic, so we’re not putting more virgin plastic out. When you twist off the top, the first thing you notice is that the opening is generous. It’s fully open so you can decant your product really easily. It’s made to reduce the amount of mess during this process. Once you fill the product to the top and you screw the top back on, from there, it just easily pumps right into your hands. The platform at the bottom is also adjustable to the user. If you just turn the bottle over, you can actually push up the platform to access any bits that might be left at the bottom. You don’t have to stick your fingers in a jar. At the top, there’s a locking mechanism where you just twist to lock into place. Then you can take apart each part of the bottle and throw them in a dishwasher.
What role do you think brands can and should play in creating a more sustainable world?
I definitely think it’s on brands to help educate consumers. There’s a lot of different perspectives right now—is biodegradable ok? Is compostable really compostable? I think that we need to be championing every effort that exists and not necessarily saying, “Oh, well that could never scale,” or “How will this work?” Every effort towards sustainability from a business perspective is a great step. I think customers want it, but they need our help. Contributing on smaller scales is great. I don’t think we all have to be doing 100 percent of everything. Eventually, we’ll all get there. But it’s great to see consumers paying more attention and holding us more accountable.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.