Foil Me comes to the rescue of hairdressers

Emily Ciardiello and her husband, Ili, came upon the idea of starting Foil Me in 2014. They began the business marketing pre-cut hair foils before expanding into other products, such as colouring tools for hairdressers. They also went outside their original market, through their pre-cut foil wraps for food.

Foil Me’s hair-colouring product, called ‘The Board’, is a recent innovation the couple are particularly proud of, as it allows hairdressers to colour their customers’ hair without the use of a foil.

Inside Small Business: Please tell us a little about your professional life, and that of your husband and co-founder Ili, prior to starting Foil Me.

Emily Ciardiello: My professional journey commenced in the realm of education; against familial advice, I pursued a career in teaching following university. I loved teaching, as I enjoy helping people, especially those who need guidance and leadership, where you can see the ‘Aha! moment’ on their faces after they have grasped a concept you are teaching. My husband, Ili, had spent a decade in the IT sector, but he was always starting and dabbling in other businesses. His affinity for business and entrepreneurship eventually led us to a serendipitous venture during our wedding preparations. Appalled with exorbitant rental costs for chair covers, Ili sourced them directly from a Chinese factory, and went on to sell them on Ebay. This marked the inception of a successful wedding supplies business. My role involved shaping the style and brand, along with the demands of being a stay-at-home mom with a newborn.

Transitioning from the wedding industry (we sold that venture for a five-figure sum), we encountered a business opportunity with nacho cheese sauce, which Ili successfully imported and sold, expanding our product range. Again, I assisted in the background with the marketing, branding and being the person with whom Ili could discuss business decisions. Three years into Foil Me, we sold this business for six figures, which then created the opportunity for us to really fly with Foil Me.

ISB: What was the inspiration behind the launch of Foil Me?

EC: My husband and I were discussing foil because he had seen a hairdresser put it in my hair whilst arriving at the hair salon to pick up our youngest child so I could have some ‘me’ time. We both thought creating a foil that was specifically for hairdressers was a great idea so we interviewed hairdressers in the area including my best friend – who was, and still is, a hairdresser – about what they wanted and needed for the ideal foil. Once we received this feedback, we went to our manufacturer with the information and attributes and, four months later, we had our first product – The Original, which is a 12.5cm-by-27cm, embossed, pre-cut foil. So, the inspiration behind the business was that we wanted to help hairdressers have an easier life by providing them with pre-cut foils.

ISB: And when and where did the business launch?

EC: In 2014, we launched our website and began distributing products from our shed. I would personally drop off foils at salons around our suburb and surrounding areas in Adelaide and gather feedback. Packing them on our kitchen table, we used plain white boxes with ‘foil me’ stickers. Deliveries were made daily after dropping the kids at school. 

Signing up on Instagram, I spent hours engaging with the hairdressing community, despite initial skepticism from Ili – he would say, ‘What are you wasting your time doing that for? It’s never gonna get us anywhere.’ Over time, our efforts paid off. We gained attention, received orders and attracted a larger clientele. Now, we have three warehouses on three continents and distribute to 11 countries.

ISB: What are the most significant innovations you have brought to the industry?

EC: We meticulously design each hair tool to simplify and elevate the colouring process. Our signature foil, crafted over years of refinement, boasts a secret alloy composition, unique embossing and precise microns. We pioneered various sizes, such as The Wide, The Extra-Wide, The Long-Wide and The Long and we introduced the sleek Flatter Me dispensing box. Collaborating with renowned colourist Sheree Knobel, we developed specialised colouring brushes for superior results. Our versatile, eco-friendly, Australian-made foiling and colouring board, made from recycled materials, exemplifies our commitment to sustainability. Additionally, our artistic foil designs showcase our dedication to innovation. Numerous imitators exist, but we remain the original trailblazer. The competition inadvertently aids us because hairdressers, accustomed to cheaper alternatives, switch to our superior Foil Me product and never look back.

Branching out into the food industry, we started home. by Foil Me – pre-cut foils for wrapping sandwiches and leftovers, replacing micro-plastics with recyclable foil wraps to keep food fresher for longer.

ISB: Beyond the day-to-day operations of Foil Me, how do you contribute to the wider small-business community?

EC: Beyond our commitment to innovation and the industry, we have a strong sense of social responsibility. Ili and I are big believers in giving back, which is why we give to charities that resonate with us and our movers. As a movement and individually, we’ve donated over $260,000 to not-for-profit organisations such as the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Animals Australia, The Wheen Bee Foundation, the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, ILGA World, FoodCycle, The Equality Project, the Sun Exchange and Reforest. In a world where there is so much heartache, pain and distress, if we can make even the slightest positive impact in the world, we are all for it.

I’d also like to mentor and consult with other business owners who are just starting out, in particular female founders, as I know how difficult it can be to be heard and respected in the business world. I started to provide my knowledge and assistance via my reels and stories on my Instagram last year and this is something I will take up again this year.

ISB: How do you see Foil Me growing and developing in the next couple of years?

EC: Over the past decade, Foil Me has evolved into Australia’s leading premium foil brand, experiencing significant growth and expanding our reach into key markets such as Europe and the US. We are launching in a new country every couple of months; we have just taken on board a Switzerland distributor, and we are now a US company so we can service our customers there directly.

We are continually improving and diversifying our hair tool offerings and, to support our evolution, we will be initiating new marketing and advertising strategies to stay on top. Our unique hair tools and our dedication to customer service will continue to build strong brand loyalty, and the fact that we own the designs of our products gives us the flexibility to explore new opportunities beyond the hairdressing industry – we already have home. by Foil Me. We’re eager to continue delivering exceptional hair tools and service as we strive to elevate how hairdressing is seen by society on a global scale. So, get ready – we will be taking on the world, and, so far, we have only scratched the surface.

This article first appeared in issue 44 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine