It’s the kind of crazy match made in heaven that you’d expect to find in a movie. A discovery is made that can help heal those wounded in battle. Then, in a bizarre twist of fate, it turns out that same discovery can help do something else too – create beautiful hair.
A group of bio-scientists discovered Alpha Keratin 60ku. They found they were able to use it to help wounded soldiers heal quicker. In 2012, Melisse Shaban learned about this fascinating technology and began hearing rumors that this life-changing regenerative medicine might also repair hair. In that moment, Virtue was born, a biotech company designed to repair hair.
Shaban is now the Founder and CEO of Virtue, which merges the two distinct worlds of biotech and beauty. Virtue contains the patented, self-regulating protein called Alpha Keratin 60ku recognized by the hair as its own. So, basically, Virtue is putting the strength of $30 million dollars of military medicine back into hair care.
The brand launched in February 2017 with several million dollars. At the end of their B-round in August 2017, Virtue had raised over $20 million. Shaban was born and bred in the industry and so few are surprised that she is shaking up the beauty game with hair care products that are equal parts beauty and tech.
Shaban grew up in New York and Greenwich, CT, and attended Rosemont College in Pennsylvania. As a kid, she says she was pretty shy. “I was also a ‘Sporty Spice.’ I was a very outside kid and loved sports and being part of a team,” she explains.
She says that she doesn’t necessarily have any sort of fundamental interest in hair or beauty. Instead, she has an interest in products and how consumers relate to those products. “I came to the beauty industry because my Dad worked for Revlon for 30 years – the whole time I was growing up – and I wanted to do what he did. It’s certainly a very interesting, competitive, and constantly evolving product category.”
As a kid, Shaban wanted to be a veterinarian because she loved animals. “My actual career took a different path. But I maintain my love for animals to this day – especially our three dogs, our crazy cat, and the occasional fish. Clearly, I’m proud to have passed that love of animals along to our kids. It’s a very animal-friendly home.”
Almost all of Shaban’s career has been in the health and beauty industry, much of it working directly with founders and entrepreneurs, who she says she feels like she has a real an affinity and understanding for.
“Early on, I was given a huge opportunity and named General Manager of Aveda, working with founder Horst Rechelbacher, and helped oversee a dramatic expansion of the business, including internationally.”
After that, Shaban had the opportunity to work with Anita Roddick as Chief Operating Officer & General Manager of The Body Shop in the Americas. She was then the CEO of Frédéric Fekkai, followed by StriVectin. “At Fekkai I oversaw double-digit yearly growth, expanding it into Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia, leading to the acquisition of the brand by P&G.”
But, for the past six years, she has been bringing her own baby to life - Virtue.
There is real technology in Virtue, Shaban says, which has been both a huge blessing and an equally enormous challenge.
The protein used in Virtue was discovered in the study of regenerative medicine by researchers looking into how to speed up healing from catastrophic battlefield injuries — things like bone, tissue, and nerve regeneration. “The fact that it is being used in hair care is kind of a fluke,” Shaban says.
Shaban explains that other “keratins” currently on the market in hair care are derived from animal sources – feathers, sheep’s wool – and are harshly broken down leaving little more than amino acid fragments that don’t really do all that much. “The technology in Virtue, Alpha Keratin 60ku™, is a whole, fully functional human keratin protein, carefully extracted from human hair – the first of its kind on the market, and a major breakthrough in hair care.” She says it’s clinically proven to locate the damaged spots on the hair, and adhere to it naturally, repaving and repairing those spots. The result? Healthy, beautiful hair, Shaban says.
When she first learned that the human keratin protein was $46.00 per gram, she thought it was a typo. The product requires an extremely high dose of the protein. But instead of simply walking away, she “found a resource engineer with experience in human proteomics, and worked to put a scalable process in place to drive down costs to the point that production was feasible.”
But then she was unable to find a contract manufacturer to extract and purify the protein, regardless of process. “Pharma companies wouldn’t do it, and cosmetics manufacturers couldn’t do it, so by default we became our own ingredient manufacturer – not something we ever intended to be.” Virtue now has their own lab facility in Winston-Salem, NC, where they extract and purify the human protein they use in their products.
As far as they have come with Virtue, Shaban says, “I honestly believe we have just scratched the surface of what this protein can do. As we continue to develop the brand, we will only go where the technology leads us – that will always be our point of difference.”
Throughout her career, Shaban has raised over half a billion dollars. “It’s always hard, but I believe I have a solid knack for being able to tell a story of what’s possible for a brand.” Shaban says that when you’re raising money, the story and the logic has to be pretty simple.
She believes that people tend to invest in companies when the business model isn’t overly complicated. “I’ve been lucky enough to work with some pretty meaningful brands and technologies along the way which helps. But raising money – taking people’s money – always comes with a great deal of personal pressure, but that’s part of the job.”
Because Virtue began as a local North Carolina biotech company, she started with the North Carolina business community when it came to fundraising, and “raised most of the initial capital from local, high net worth family offices who consider it part of their mandate to bring more jobs to the state,” Shaban explains. In fact, the company is housed in a former RJ Reynolds facility in Winston-Salem, NC.
So, Virtue is actually creating jobs in areas hit the hardest when tobacco industry left the area.
“That’s a very serious and noble cause, and it was our extreme good fortune to be able to repurpose that technology to repair damaged hair.” The technology behind the Virtue line came from the study of regenerative medicine to help wounded soldiers. Shaban was committed to paying homage to the root of the technology.
“We had to find a word that gave us comfort that we weren’t exploiting that, and yet also remained on brand for us.”
A copywriter came up with twenty-five words, Virtue was one of them. “For us, the word has a very deep meaning. We use the word Virtue as a touchstone, a standard to measure everything we do against.”
It was nothing short of surreal seeing Virtue out in the world for the first time and hearing people’s responses to using it, Shaban says, especially since it took nearly four and a half years to get the products to market. “I’m usually in and out of a deal in that amount of time,” Shaban explains. She describes it as both was scary and truly gratifying to finally have Virtue out in the world. “And to hear that the products are resonating and creating a real, transformative difference in people’s lives is deeply moving to me.”
Shaban says that rising above the noise in the crowded industry that is beauty has been her greatest challenge. “The consumer has so much information constantly being pushed at her. It’s hard to build space and time with her, and then to get her to take notice and also take a chance.”
When she was able to share the proceeds of a company’s sale with absolutely every person working there, including many who never would have expected to have been included in something like that, Shaban says, “It was one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced as a boss and frankly as a person. I really hope to be able to do something like that again someday.”
Shaban says that although she doesn’t see beauty for beauty’s sake as a vital part of the human experience. She does think that “confidence, self-worth, and being your best self is an important part of the human experience” as is whatever goes along with looking, feeling, and seeing the best you in yourself.”
When it comes to challenges she has faced as a woman, Shaban says she has certainly experienced her share. “Because I’m alive, and I’m human, I’ve seen a lot of misogyny out there,” Shaban says. “I think that women who are passionate and strong are sometimes criticized as being emotional and mean spirited.” Shaban adds she has certainly felt a little of that in her life because she is extremely passionate. “But I’ve never let those types of criticism define me or limit the way I approach my work. If I believe in something, I’m all in.”
As for the future, Shaban’s hope for our world is that “this period in time is a teachable moment and that we will come out on the other side much better and stronger because of it.” As for Virtue, she wishes for a legacy for the brand. “That we can keep true to our roots and what the brand stands for; that we have a voice and that we use that voice for the betterment of society. We feel this brand.”
Shaban says she feels very lucky and humble to be working with such an amazing piece of technology and such a great group of dedicated, caring, talented people. “It’s a unique moment to be building a business and a brand from the ground-up, and we’re hopeful that for this brand the future is bright.”
Shaban’s advice for other women looking to mark their mark is simple, “Tenacity, tenacity, tenacity. Life isn’t linear. Business isn’t linear. Surround yourself with really quality people who share your values and your perspective on the bigger-picture things. Then get up to fight another day. As my girl Miley says, it’s all about the climb.”
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."