His is the classic Horatio Alger story. After arriving in the U.S. from Palestine in 1965 with just $71 in his pocket, Farouk Shami enrolled at the Koinonia Foundation, a missionary and teaching training center near Pikesville, Maryland, to receive training as a teacher. He would have returned to his homeland to teach English had he not met a group of women attending Ruth’s Beauty College in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and decided to enroll, much to the consternation of his parents. He opened his first salon in Lafayette, Louisiana, but by 1986 he’d moved to Houston, Texas, where he founded his own hair care products company. Today, Farouk Systems employs more than 2,000 people, and his BioSilk, SunGlitz and CHI brands are distributed in 133 countries worldwide. Like we said, a classic Horatio Alger story.
Still, it’s one that might never have happened if Shami had not discovered that he was allergic to ammonia, setting him on a course of action that led to the creation of the first ammonia-free hair color. After a doctor told him that he was allergic to the chemicals in the hair color he used every day at the salon, he became obsessed with developing a method for coloring hair without ammonia, which he knew to be toxic. Shami was no chemist, but he devoured every chemistry book he could get his hands on looking for a solution to his problem. Then, after observing how sunlight scattered on a pond in primary and secondary colors, he experienced what he calls his “eureka moment” and began looking at hair color as a physicist, not a chemist. Sunlight, he observed, was not one color but a mix of red, yellow, blue, green, purple and orange. Perhaps light, he reasoned, held the secret to ammonia-free hair coloring. After a few false starts, Shami was able to perfect his system, which he called SunGlitz. The process involved painting primary colors onto strands of hair that had been pulled through a nylon cap, and it enabled hairdressers to lighten hair one to four levels in one to four minutes, literally cutting processing time in half. Shami demonstrated his revolutionary new product at a hair show in Dallas in 1986 and ran out of product to sell by Monday morning. SunGlitz not only lightened and brightened hair without artificial dyes, but because it contained a masking clay that tightened the cuticle, it left hair better conditioned than it was before.
Of course, SunGlitz was just the beginning. A year after introducing that product to the market, Shami developed his BioSilk product line. The use of silk in hair care products was nothing new, but Shami found a way to liquefy the silk of butterfly cocoons so that the molecules were small enough to penetrate the hair shaft where they were able to repair damaged hair and eliminate frizz. With each new product launch, from Power Plus, a hair loss prevention system, to Chromatic Colors, sales increased exponentially. In 2003, sales grew by a whopping 55 percent and actually doubled internationally. Once celebrities like Renée Zellweger and Demi Moore began using his products and raving about the results, they found their way onto movie sets and television shows like Sex in the City and ER. The introduction of the CHI (Cationic Hydration Interlink) flat iron, which women were willing to pay up to $150 for, was a watershed moment, changing the category forever. Today the company Shami started—his son Basim has assumed the role of CEO—remains privately owned, something that is becoming increasingly rare in our industry.
There will be plenty to celebrate this month at the International Conference in Cancun, Mexico, which sold out in July. With 5,000 hairdressers planning to attend, it will be the largest conference in the company’s history. Already, plans are underway to celebrate Shami’s 50 years in the beauty industry with a runway show that will offer a look at five decades of hairstyling trends. Meanwhile, Farouk Systems creative artists and artistic directors will unveil their latest trend collection for the first time, bringing the top industry trends in cut and color from Europe and introducing the next must-have looks and cutting-edge techniques. Also on tap: musical performances by rapper Flo Rida and Dutch recording artist Natalie La Rose.
Things You Might Not Know about Farouk Shami
- He was born in Beit Ur al-Tahta, a small farming village between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
- He attended a Quaker school in Ramallah.
- Three of his eight siblings and two cousins were killed by a bomb that exploded near his childhood home.
- He ran for governor of Texas in 2010.
- He interviewed at 25 salons before he was hired as a hairdresser.
- He named his first salon in Lafayette, Louisiana, Le Salon Farouk.
- Hair Color USA named him Innovative Colorist of the Decade in 1990 for his invention and patent of the first ammonia-free highlighting system.
- His company’s mission and his personal motto is “Environment, Education and Ethics.”
- He appeared on The Celebrity Apprentice in 2011.
- His favorite color is red because he believes it gives off positive energy. Hence, the red cowboy boots he sports. Oh, and his company’s logo is red.
- He collaborated with NASA scientists to create CHI, a line of blow-dryers that emitted less EMFs than others on the market at the time.
- He became fascinated by color when, as a child, he helped his mother dye straw and silk threads for her weaving.
- More than half of the senior-level positions in his company are held by women.
- He worked for Framesi as a guest hair artist in the early 1980s, which is how he met his mentor, the “father of hair color,” Sam Lapin.
- He was a good friend of Paul Mitchell, who stayed at his home when he was in Houston and advised him to start his own color company.