A new pop-up in Soho lets you design custom hair products — if you dare

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Though designing your perfect life partner may only be possible in HBO’s “Westworld,” a new pop-up shop in Soho is allowing you to design the next best thing: the perfect shampoo and conditioner.

At least, in theory. Function of Beauty is an online start-up that lets you create individualized shampoos and conditioners based on your personal preferences and hair goals. At their new pop-up space on Mulberry Street, customers can not only design their own products (and have them ready in about ten minutes), but also enjoy watching them get made by a complicated mechanism that looks like a set piece from “Breaking Bad.”

Zahir Dossa, one of the company’s co-founders, got the idea for Function of Beauty when he was working at The Argan Tree, another beauty company he founded, and noticed that customers always gave dramatically different feedback on the products they were using.

“We’d need to store a million products to make 100 customers happy,” he said.

Zahir Doss at the company's pop-up
Zahir Dossa at the company’s pop-up

Though theoretically, Function of Beauty can work for everyone, Dossa says their target customer is millennials because “they’ve seen the value of individualization in other aspects of their lives. They know tech is a very cool solution to fix things.”

I always want to fix my hair and I’m certainly not opposed to using technology — or really any means — to do so. Function of Beauty’s process is easy-to-use and straightforward. First you build a hair profile (my hair, for instance, is straight with a fine texture and my scalp has a normal amount of moisture). Then you select up to five hair goals — I chose only four: volumize, fix split ends, nourish roots and strengthen. Finally, you choose a name for your mixture and select the colors and scents you want them to have. A set of eight-ounce bottles of shampoo and conditioner is $32 and a set of 12-ounces is $42.

Simple enough, sure. But the process assumes that regular people — like me — know what’s best for their hair and how to ask for it. As a non-expert, I don’t really know what I’m doing when I choose “nourish roots” as a hair goal, or whether it might counteract my other goals for my hair.

Personally, the only real goal I have for my flat, limp locks is volume, and while the resulting shampoo I received definitely did add volume to my hair, it didn’t work quite as well as my regular volumizing shampoo, which I bought last year in a Swiss drug store for $10 and have been trying to replace ever since.

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To be fair, there are 12 billion different possible combinations of shampoo that Function of Beauty can make, so if I continue to use the service one of these days I might stumble on a formula that works for me. Thankfully, the company does have a “happy hair guarantee” that lets you reformulate the shampoo until it works for you, and it also offers free refunds within 30 days.

A spokesperson for Function of Beauty also noted that the company is launching a “hair lab” on its website that will help customers select the best formulas for them as well as an opportunity to chat with a chemist. Those additions, I think, will go a long way toward improving the product.

After all, everyone may want their shampoo to do different things. But most people — myself included– need a little help knowing what to ask for.

The Function of Beauty pop-up is open through Wednesday at 219 Mulberry Street, but if you can’t make it in time to see the mechanics at work yourself, you can always order your customized shampoo online here