Current problems and market demand
To identify current problems and demand for our potential products in the hair dye market, we carried out interviews and distributed a questionnaire.
We had the opportunity to interview Shanghai Hanjin Beauty & Hair Limited Company, a beauty and hair company that manufactures natural hair dyes. The company extracts pigment from henna, a kind of plant. Since the company focuses on customer experience, it has no major competitors in China. Its major challenge is commercialization, or manufacturing the dye on a large scale.
We also interviewed Dalian Free Trade Zone Huisheng Trading Co., Ltd, which also uses extracts from Henna to dye hair. This company finds its major limit in the color range of its products: only orange and black colors are available with dyes made from henna.
To better understand the demand for hair dye in the market, we interviewed a hairdresser at Fazhixiu. We learned that customers are indeed concerned that hair dyes may damage the hair and scalp and cause health problems. This barbershop uses natural plant hair dye, but they admit that synthetic dyes are cheaper and therefore more popular. When asked to name a disadvantage of current hair dye products, the hairdresser replied that current products are to some extent harmful to the hair and it is also hard to accurately acquire the desired color. When we introduced our plan of producing natural pigments with bacteria, the hairdresser showed great interest in it. He said that given similar effects, the barbershop would consider buying those products in large amounts.
We designed a questionnaire for our broad customers to gather their opinions concerning hair dyes and collected 486 responses. Among these respondents, 88% hope that their hair dyes are harmless to the hair and scalp. Other major hopes include that it should be not allergenic (72%) and made of natural ingredients (68%). Our team can well satisfy these needs.
Major concerns of our respondents for a hair dye product.
When we asked for their expected pricing of our potential product, most of our respondents expect to pay 26-100 RMB/month. Although over 70% of people do not know synthetic biology at all, only 8% do not trust our potential product. Still, many others show concerns over its safety and effects. We will have to do many more testing and characterization for this idea to become a product.
Expected pricing of our potential product. Around 75% expect the average price to be 26-100 CNY per month.
Whether our respondents have concerns over our potential products.
In short, we highlighted two points from social research. First, there is a potential demand for our potential product. Companies that produce natural dyes have problems commercializing the product, hairdressers have shown interest in our project, and customers are also looking for a hair dye that is natural, mild, and harmless. Second, the major concerns of hairdressers and customers are harm, good effects, and color accuracy.
These experiences enabled us to better target our project. The problem of mass production can be solved by the well-developed bioproduction techniques in industrial fermenters. We chose the target pigments to achieve the widest color range possible. The four pigments we planned to produce - indigo, indoline-betacyanin, dopaxanthin, and melanin - represent cyan (C), magenta (M), yellow (Y), and key black (K) in a standard printer. Therefore, theoretically, by mixing these pigments, we shall be able to get dyes of all colors. We also paid special attention to ensure that the dyes are natural and safe.
Visit to Shimadzu
Having produced the pigments and estimated production with a microplate reader, we hoped to measure their exact level of production. We were able to get in contact with a representative from Shimadzu Enterprise Management (China) Co., Ltd., a manufacturer of quantitative equipment, and used one of their HPLCs to measure the production of melanin and indigo. We first visited Shimadzu in late August to get a sense of their company, learn more about quantitative measurements, and verify the samples we would need to bring for subsequent measurements. An employee from Shimadzu, Dr. Liu, showed us around the company and introduced to us their HPLC machines in great detail. We then visited twice in September and October to measure the production.
Members of our team visiting Shimadzu.
To better build our team and popularize our project, we designed some derivative products, such as team T-shirts and sticky notes. We wore these T-shirts during Human Practices and Public Engagement activities, and we gave sticky notes to those that helped our research.
A group photo of some of our team members in our team T-shirt.
We integrated Human Practices into our project: we interviewed businesses and surveyed the mass public to finalize our project design, visited Shimadzu to measure our level of production, and designed derivative products to help with Human Practices and Public Engagement.