Home / News / Kristin Ess Files Lawsuit Against Maesa

Kristin Ess Files Lawsuit Against Maesa

Aug 08, 2023Aug 08, 2023

Celebrity hairstylist and social media influencer Kristin Ess is suing beauty brand incubator Maesa to reclaim her rights to her eponymous brand, and be free from “unreasonable restraints” on her business.

Ess, the cofounder of tutorial site who codeveloped the Kristin Ess Hair line in partnership with Maesa and launched exclusively in Target in 2017, revealed the lawsuit in a series of Instagram posts.

“I am suing my partners for several reasons, but the primary one being that I was misled during this partnership,” she wrote. “They sold themselves to me as a beauty brand incubator, touting their ability to launch, grow [and] eventually sell my brand to ensure its continued success. Instead of holding true to their commitments, they’ve continued gripping onto my brand, using it as a piggy bank to fund their many other ideas. Their actions are not fair to me, or to the long-term growth of Kristin Ess Hair.”

Ess continued that she hoped that they could deal with this privately, but the time has come to take a different approach. “The one thing I know for sure is — if I don’t fight with everything I’ve got in this moment, the Kristin Ess hair brand will continue to suffer and deviate from the path I’ve always dreamed for it. I can’t just sit back and watch that.”

The suit alleges that Maesa has “deprived” Ess of both her creative control over and ownership of her own brand, as well as threatening to prevent her from pursuing new opportunities for herself, including threatening to sue her if she pursued other product categories with another partner using her own name.

“Maesa has shirked its other duties under the existing agreements and treated the Kristin Ess Hair collection as a cash cow that can keep Maesa’s other, underperforming brands afloat,” the suit said. “In the process, Maesa has, among other things, pushed Kristin Ess Hair into down-market retailers without consulting Ms. Ess first; rebranded the Kristin Ess Hair brand over Ms. Ess’ objections and in a manner that is incongruent with the overarching brand image and story, and pressured Ms. Ess and existing retail partners to accept lower-quality products.”

It also detailed that in exchange for exclusive rights to manufacture, sell, distribute and market Kristin Ess Hair products, Ess received limited sales royalties and a modest annual guarantee. The parties agreed that once Maesa and Ess grew the business and positioned it for a sale in excess of $40 million, it was in their mutual best interest to sell the business and Ess only stood to realize equity proportionate to her contribution once the business was sold, at which time she would receive 25 percent of the proceeds from the sale. But so far a sale has not happened, despite there having been interested parties.

“Relying on the promises and affirmative statements of Maesa, Ms. Ess agreed to this in lieu of direct equity in the business because it created an obligation for Maesa to pursue a transaction with sales proceeds in excess of $40 million,” the lawsuit said. “Despite this, Maesa has already taken advantage of Ms. Ess’ position by reaping significant value from the Kristin Ess Hair business by selling a majority interest in Maesa to Bain Capital in 2018, structured in a way to circumvent any obligation to Ms. Ess. The time has now come for Ms. Ess to receive a commensurate benefit for her efforts in creating value for Maesa, Bain and Kristin Ess Hair.”

The suit also alleged that Ess learned that a representative from L’Oréal contacted Maesa to inquire about a potential purchase of the Kristin Ess Hair business, an opportunity that Maesa did not pursue.

According to the suit, the line is now sold online and at retailers across Canada, Europe, Southeast Asia, South Africa, Australia, and beyond, and is expected to generate more than $250 million in retail sales this year. The business represents more than 50 percent of Maesa’s revenues, it said.

As well as general and compensatory damages, Ess is seeking a judicial declaration that the unlawful non-compete and exclusivity provisions in the brand and license agreements are unenforceable, null and void and that Maesa provide Ess with a full accounting of all royalty payments.

In a statement, Maesa chief executive officer Piyush Jain said: “Since its inception, Maesa has been dedicated to the growth and expansion of the Kristin Ess brand. Maesa appreciates the early insights and contributions Ms. Kristin Sivesind made to the brand. We’ve provided various affordable salon quality luxury hair care products to consumers worldwide. Unfortunately, the parties have several disagreements about aspects of our commercial agreement. We adamantly disagree with Kristin’s allegations about Maesa and the parties’ relationship. However, even during this time of disagreement, Maesa remains committed to focusing on and continuing the success of the Kristin Ess brand and providing consumers with exceptional hair care products worthy of the trust of the Kristin Ess community and consumers. We cannot comment any further on this matter at the current time.”

Maesa started out manufacturing private label brands, but moved into incubating brands such as Drew Barrymore’s Flower Beauty as well as Kristin Ess Hair. In September, Gianni Pieraccioni, the company’s CEO since 2021, stepped down for personal reasons. He was replaced by Jain, a Unilever alum of more than 20 years.

Ess did not immediately respond to a request for comment beyond social media and the lawsuit.

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