Meet the Northern Irish couple experiencing phenomenal success in the US thanks to their innovative haircare brand.
New York-based Helen Reavey from Armagh, and her partner Colm Mackin from Co Down, launched Act+Acre in 2019 – building on Helen’s many years of hairstyling experience.
They first met 20 years ago while studying at Ulster University, Coleraine, having both enrolled in an international business course. It was during a break in her studies that Helen fell in love with hairdressing and was encouraged by a lecturer to pursue it as a career after graduation.
She then trained with Gordon Keddle in Newry, continuing her studies at Southern Regional College before taking on a role at Peter Mark in Dublin, while Colm worked for PwC.
Following eight years in Dublin, an opportunity presented itself in 2013 when Helen was offered the chance to assist at a show at New York Fashion Week. Following this, she took the bold decision to move Stateside.
Helen soon found a mentor in Sam McKnight, known for his work with the likes of Lady Gaga, Princess Diana and Kate Moss. She assisted him across the globe for a number of years, working for brands such as Chanel and Fendi at major fashion week shows.
Since then, Helen has worked with the likes of Alicia Keys, Harry Styles and Bella Hadid, to name just a few.
It was in 2017, when Helen was leading the hair for Ralph & Russo’s Haute Couture show in Paris, that the couple had a ‘lightbulb’ moment backstage.
Helen said: “Colm came over to support me, he was allowed in because I was the lead now. When fashion week happens, Paris is always the last. The models’ scalps are red raw, the hair doesn’t take any sort of style, you’ve to put in so much product and they’re super sensitive. I had said that I wished there was something to dissolve all the product and help me with the hair – then this lightbulb moment went off with Colm, he was like, ‘is this a thing?’
“He flew back to New York and called me a few days later saying, ‘I think we have a brand here’. That kind of started us and straight away I knew it had to be about scalp health.”
Act+Acre uses an innovative “cold-processed” method. Partnering with Stanford University scientists, the couple created a patented line of haircare that retains the freshness and potency of active ingredients.
Helen explained: “Everything begins at the root. Nobody is thinking about the nutrients the hair needs at that birth stage, it’s the most important stage. If you’re using heat to blend ingredients, you’re not getting the ingredients at the end of the process. When you’re smelling peppermint on something, it’s actually synthetic because it’s already evaporated off.”
The cold-pressed method is achieved using hyperbaric chambers, ice-cold water and 1,200 pounds of pressure, combining plant-based ingredients without heat, thus producing a much more sustainable and effective product.
Colm said: “It has been really incredible. Our focus has always been on producing a world-class product and the world-class service with that - education and aftercare. If you have that, anything else [in the business] can be fixed.”
“For me, that product had to work, it had to be incredible,” Helen said.
Act+Acre was officially launched in January 2019 with an editorial feature in American Vogue. Helen described this as a huge moment as the magazine rarely launches beauty brands.
“It really put us on a different playing field,” added Colm.
Described as “pioneering the scalp care industry” by Forbes, it has also been named as one of America’s fastest-growing e-commerce brands by Business Insider and sold out in seven minutes on QVC, having won the network’s “Big Find” competition in their first two months of launching.
Since then, the brand has been seen across the pages of Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour, Vanity Fair and even received Oprah Winfrey’s stamp of approval in her April 2022 magazine.
As successful as the launch has been, Helen is still working full-time as a hairstylist, having recently styled Hillary Clinton for the MET Gala.
She said: “That was an amazing experience… I came in with a big ‘hey guys’, which maybe isn’t the way you go about meeting Hillary Clinton, but she knows Northern Ireland so well. I had met her in 1998 in Armagh.”
The couple still share a close connection with back home, regularly visiting family in Warrenpoint and look forward to launching the brand in Europe.
Colm said: “We wanted to reach critical mass in North America first. We have had to get to the point where we’re doing big brand activations before launching in Ireland and the UK.
“We’re always trying to hire people from Northern Ireland, the last time we were home we were holding interviews in a coffee shop in Warrenpoint. So if you know anybody, give them a shout. We need heads of marketing and communications, we want people to help activate the Irish and UK launch.
Act+Acre is currently available on net-a-porter.com. The brand can be contacted via e-mail: email@example.com