Walk through the beauty aisles of any major supermarket and you will be inundated with products that guarantee to fix problems you didn’t even know you had. But turn over that bottle of hair gel and you might discover a paragraph of ingredients that seem better suited for a sci-fi novel. Sure, you don’t know what ‘isopropyl alcohol’ is, but it’s only $4! On the other hand, you could opt for a product with more familiar ingredients, but go bankrupt in the process.
This common conflict between savings and style is the inspiration behind Smuthe, an all-natural men’s grooming start-up created by two UH students.
Aman Khusro and Troy Munson met through the Kappa Sigma fraternity two years ago. Khusro will graduate in December with a degree in Marketing and a certification from the Bauer Program for Excellence in Selling, while Munson, in his junior year, studies Supply Chain and Logistics Technology.
“I’m the ideas guy and Aman is the executor,” Munson said. “He has an excellent sense of selling and marketing. Pair that up with my entrepreneurial drive and crazy ideas, and we work perfectly.”
Munson got fed up with the hair care selection on the market, so with necessity being the mother of invention, he started making his own products in the summer of 2016.
“My hair is something that I have always cared so much about, so buying all-natural hair products with ingredients I couldn’t pronounce bothered me,” said Munson. “It was for personal use at first, but after letting friends and family try it out and receiving positive reviews, I decided to explore further into helping other people as well.”
As someone who is obsessed with hair care, I can attest to the price-phobia that ensues upon entering the beauty section at the store, and Khusro and Munson can relate.
“Troy got tired of spending $15, $18, $25 on good pomade or good hair styling products, and I experienced the same thing,” Khusro said. “Over time, that gets quite expensive, especially if it’s a consistent purchase.”
The inception of Smuthe sounds a lot like a Pinterest-experiment-gone-right as Munson tested formulas in his kitchen.
“Troy looked up some recipes online on how to make organic stuff, and it actually surprisingly worked,” Khusro said. “So Troy, over time, played with it and found a mix of ingredients that worked perfectly for him, and he realized it worked so well he could make a business out of it.”
Smuthe products are made right here in Houston, and the investment of time and resources in production proves that this endeavor is more than economic.
“Every single thing we do at Smuthe is promised to be done by hand,” Munson said. “We order our ingredients from natural wholesalers, but we make sure that all products are FDA approved, 100% organic, and with no additives.”
Of course, being an all-natural company is profitable as well as health-conscious.
“Organically, everything is just better for you,” Khusro said. “The organic market is so niche that we can create a brand and expand our company and actually reliably take a certain portion of the market share versus one of those corporate giants.”
Smuthe currently offers a dry pomade in four scents (mandarin, herbal, peppermint, and Belgium lavender, all $15) and two beard oil formulas (royal woods and sweet mint, both $15), but products can also be tailor-made to the customer’s needs. While the company has garnered followers from Seattle to California to New York thanks to social media marketing, word of mouth provided Smuthe with one of its first customers: Grant Jones, a friend Khusro met at an internship in Boston.
“I love to support all small, new businesses, and Smuthe is fantastic because it’s all natural and smells great,” said Jones, a student at the University of Georgia who fancies the herbal pomade. “It’s not sticky like some other products I’ve used, which can be a hassle. It also holds really well without making my hair look greasy.”
Khusro, whose product of choice is beard oil, mentioned new products like shaving butter and a premium beard oil are in the works as well as a subscription service that would keep their customers stocked with the goods. Munson added that another new product, a styling clay, is one of his favorites.
“The main ingredient is a clay that promotes healthy skin and thickens hair,” Munson said. “The hold on it is absolutely incredible and provides such a natural look.”
The future of Smuthe looks frizz-free, but Khusro has his own definition of success.
“At Smuthe, all we want to do is we want people to buy affordable and quality products and still do what they want to do with their hair or their beard,” Khusro said. “We want people to rely on our products and look good, look how they want to look. No matter if we end up failing in a couple years, if every single customer that we’ve touched feels that way, then at the end of the day, I won’t think of this as a failure.”
The business partners devote their spare time to Smuthe and hope to explore the world of retail and eventually move to a location designated for production. Until then, it’s back to the kitchen for Khusro and Munson.
“We both work,” Khusro said. “We’re just two full-time students with a dream.”