JONATHAN ASSARAF

Kate Assaraf is all about keeping it real. After spending nearly 20 years in the beauty marketing industry, she found herself questioning who brands were trying to reach in their ad campaigns. “Traditional beauty marketing talks to women as if we are one-dimensional,” says the Sparta mom of two. “I’ve never met a woman in New Jersey (or anywhere) who fits that description. My girlfriends are tenacious, super smart and witty as hell—and they expect products to do what they say they do.”

Assaraf’s journey into entrepreneurship was inspired by her frustration with hair care products that didn’t deliver what they promised. Having grown up with an appreciation for environmental responsibility, Assaraf was searching for a shampoo that was as good for her hair as it was for the earth. “I was looking for plastic-free hair care bars,” she says.

Knowing she had a brutally honest focus group of close friends, Assaraf took the leap into starting her own line of sustainable hair care bars. She launched Dip—“an environmental awareness company parading around as a damn good personal care company”—from her kitchen table at the end of 2021. Her products are sold online and in local shops.

We asked her how she took Dip from vision to reality and how she and her husband, Jonathan, Dip’s creative director, juggle it all with their two young sons.

DAILY POST MEDIA

New Jersey Family: Tell us about Dip, its mission and what makes it unique.

Kate Assaraf: It would be easy to say that Dip is a company making bar shampoo and conditioner for people who want to be eco-friendly without necessarily looking eco-friendly. But Dip is more than that.

As I get older, I see the new world women are facing. On top of motherhood, we’re expected to juggle so many roles—we need to work, look beautiful, make the essential decisions for our families, sacrifice, and now, also make choices that protect the planet for future generations. While Dip can’t solve all these problems, I created it with mothers who are expected to “do it all” in mind.

My mission with Dip is simple: I want you to buy less. The best way to help the Earth is to purchase less stuff, less often. That’s why I made one of the largest shampoo bars on the market and a conditioner bar that can replace a year’s worth of luxury hair care. For me, one Dip conditioner bar saves over $500 compared to my former Oribe, Pureology and Kerastase habits. I wanted Dip to be the best it could be, respecting both the earth and our customers. In a world where little indulgences like luxury hair care can seem “frivolous,” I wanted Dip to be so good and save so much money that its plastic-free quality is just a happy bonus.

JOHN ASSARAF / Kate sampling Dip before its launch.

NJF: When did you launch Dip and what was your biggest inspiration?

KA: I launched Dip from my kitchen table at the end of October 2021. My biggest inspirations—besides my mother who raised me to love and admire nature, and my stepmother who led by example and had the courage to build her own business—are my Jersey friends. I’ve been in beauty marketing since the 2000s and I always wondered, “Who are these beauty brands even talking to?” Traditional beauty marketing talks to women as if we are one-dimensional idiots. I was born and raised in New Jersey and I will tell you—I’ve never met a women here (or anywhere) that fits that description. My girlfriends in New Jersey are tenacious, they’re super smart, they’re witty as hell—and they expect products to do what they say they do. Our Instagram is very sarcastic and I write it like I’m talking to my inner crew. Dip was inspired by them: serious hair care for not so serious people.

NJF: Dip sells shampoo and conditioner bars and more haircare beauty bars but you describe your business as one about environmental advocacy. Tell us about this.

KA: At the end of the day, what really matters is our planet. But being a plastic-free company isn’t enough if it leaves people feeling uninspired and disappointed. Many folks are tired of paying more for sustainable products, only to end up with something sub-par or destined for the trash. I’ve been there myself—trying to reduce my plastic use since 2014 and feeling more frustrated with my purchases than excited about the next step.

I realized that as a company, I could make a bigger impact on the planet than I could alone. The first step was ensuring our hair care products were top-notch, so no one would feel that awful regret. The next step was making it something that you don’t have to buy a lot of, or often. When you’re a customer of Dip, you’re already consuming less than you would have if you were buying bottles. And the third step was making sure it worked for all hair types—which means that one family, even one with type 1, 2, 3, and 4 hair sharing a shower, could all use the same bars. This was truly important to me because my best friend is mixed and her hair type was rarely represented on shelves.

You’ll also rarely find Dip on sale. This is to ensure we don’t undercut the small stores, surf shops, and salons that carry Dip on their shelves. You might wonder, “What does this have to do with the environment?” Well, many of these stores are community hubs where conversations about the planet and plastic crisis happen. If these stores disappear, so do the passionate entrepreneurs who educate and curate great, safe products for your families.

And those products that leave you feeling burned by the sustainable movement? Most of the zero waste store owners have to look you in the face when they sell you what’s on their shelves—so they make sure those solutions are amazing. We are so lucky in New Jersey to have so many incredible entrepreneurs that stock dip in their stores. As a company we re-invest our profits into environmental causes we truly believe in whether its sponsoring the Friend2Friend Races in Sussex County that raises money for preventative screening for breast cancer for women who can’t afford it, or for helping fundraise for a grant to get children hands-on education in the Great Lakes, or raising money for Surfrider which has many chapters here in New Jersey.

DAILY POST MEDIA

NJF: You are on a mission to reduce plastic and recently launched a collaboration with Surfrider. Can you tell us about this partnership?

KA: If you notice on our packaging, the conditioner bar also says “After Swim Detangler.” This is because I grew up going to the shore, and I have always brought conditioner with me to the beach and pool to detangle my hair after swimming. Most of my life, my hair has been long and with long hair comes tangles. I noticed that the older I got, the less I wanted to go swimming because I didn’t want to deal with getting my hair wet. So when I formulated the Dip conditioner bar, I wanted it to solve this problem for me: I wanted it to instantly detangle my hair after swimming or surfing, not melt in the heat, and give me the freedom to air dry beautifully so I didn’t have to waste time going home to shower after the beach—and could just continue on to the night.

The surf community found us pretty quickly and has been such a huge part of Dip’s story—and we are so thankful to them choosing to go plastic-free to detangle and soften their post-surf hair when there are so many bottled options out there.

I have frequently attended Surfrider beach cleanups with my family, even in the harsh New Jersey winters, and when Dip started to grow, I started financially contributing to Surfrider because I love their mission. At the end of 2023 I wrote to the CEO of Surfrider and said that I could contribute even more if we joined forces and made a collab bar where $1 from each bar sold went to Surfrider. We have pledged $25,000 but if we can, we will contribute even more to help their mission to enact nationwide changes in plastic legislation

We are all stronger when we contribute together—some people might say, “Oh, if I contribute $1 to Surfrider it won’t move the needle at all,” and rationalize themselves out of the donation. When we each do a little bit together, it helps the make the contributions more meaningful and lightens the load for individuals who do not have the disposable income in this economy to make a large donation.

NJF: What was the product development process like for your beauty bars? How did you get this process underway and perfect it for various hair types?

KA: It all started with frustration. I tried about 20 bar brands before I decided to take this on myself. Being in beauty for so long, I knew that starting a company is no small task—but I also knew that bars could be done better. First, I had to get real: who are the current bars on the market made for? I could tell you that it wasn’t for someone like me. What I was looking for was plastic-free hair care bars that would never make me buy expensive hair care again. What I got instead was bar after bar that left me feeling disappointed and worse: in the shower, when no one was looking, I would be returning to my coveted pricey bottled brands. It felt wrong.

I first found a chemist who had several decades of experience with creating hair care at salon level. I also chose my chemist because he had mixed grandchildren and I knew I wanted to make sure that these bars could work on my straight hair or my best friend’s type 3-4 curls. We made about 40 different iterations and with each sample I would A/B test: wash half of my hair with the Dip sample, and half my hair with Oribe, or Kerastase or Ouai, or Kevin Murphy, or Pureology or Olaplex … the list goes on. I tried each Dip sample against each major player.

I didn’t love the shampoo bars on the market because they would tug on your hair when you went to use them. So I asked, “What if we made the shampoo bar so that it didn’t need pressure to lather?” So that’s what we did. Since I am a runner, I also wanted the shampoo bar to be gentle enough for everyday use so I didn’t have to choose between my workout and a good hair day. The conditioner bar also had to have that luxury “slip” that I had grown to love in my hair care products. I wanted it to also be light enough that you could use it as a leave-in conditioner and prevent people from having to invest in that separate product ever again too.

I then purposely damaged my own hair and made it really, really blonde to test the bars on damaged, porous, bleached hair. Then I dyed my hair pink and tested its color safety even for vivids. I would do obsessive things like set timers on hair dryers, and count the amount of swipes I did with a round brush, and then when I thought Dip was perfect—I would give it to all of my friends with different hair types and ask them to put the bars through the wringer. Luckily in New Jersey, I could count on people to be very real with me instead of just saying, “It’s great!” I took all their feedback and ran more A/B tests until we had the formula that Dip is today.

Even after all of that, I was still scared to launch. I was so scared of what people would think of them. Would people care? To my relief, the bars are well loved and I get emails, DMs, and messages from people who thank me for making something that solves a problem for them. From curly haired people who save a ton of money switching to Dip to parents who found something that detangles their daughters’ hair without hurting them, to surfers who finally found a way to keep their hair soft, to people who were so fed up with “sustainability” until they found Dip—I am so grateful for my chemist who was patient with my antics and helped me get it right.

DAILY POST MEDIA / Dip’s Coconut + Almond Bars come in two sizes.

NJF: What are your most popular products?

KA: The Dip bars are basically all the same except for the scent, so you have the freedom to shop how you’d like to smell. Our most popular scent is Coconut + Almond. It is very beachy and tends to fly off the shelves where it’s stocked. I encourage you to go to a store near you so you can smell them all—once you choose your bar it will last a long time so scent is so important!

NJF: You don’t work with influencers or Amazon and prioritize supporting small/local women and mom-owned stores. Tell us how this has worked for you and local businesses. Where in NJ can we buy your products?

KA: This is true, and this business decision it seems to confuse a lot of people. With regard to influencers, I don’t have a problem with them—maybe it’s just the Jersey in me, but I don’t care what anyone thinks of a product unless they pay for it. I think paying for a product is part of a real review—so I find people that get gifted products or are paid to say they like something a little insulting to everyone else who has to pony up their hard earned money to use the same product. When you see someone talking about Dip online, chances are they paid for it. That is a love letter to our customers because I think they deserve that type of honesty from a company for a change.

Amazon is a whole other beast. Recently at the Surf Expo I was flat out laughed in my face by Amazon reps who stopped at our booth when I said we won’t sell our products on Amazon. They called me a “charity worker,” as if that’s an insult (to me it isn’t). If I sold Dip on Amazon I would make a lot of money—but you know who wouldn’t? The small stores in communities run by really amazing entrepreneurs. Most of them are women, and many of them are mothers. These small stores are the heartbeat of your communities. They are the places that sponsor your kids’ sports team and donate to the local tricky trays and bring communities together for classes. We need them to stay alive.

I make less money when someone buys Dip in one of these stores, but you know what? It isn’t about the money—it’s about preserving an authentic experience in a world of junky digital abundance. It’s about doing the right thing and hoping that if someone walks in to a refillery to buy Dip, they might also discover that they can refill their laundry detergent and never buy a giant plastic jug again. It’s about discovery and keeping your money circulating in your communities, instead of funneling it over to Amazon HQ.

I am really proud of the way Dip is run, and I can sleep at night knowing that Dip helps pay the rent in many stores that it’s in. I know most of our stockists by name and they can call me if they have a customer question. We have never had to run a Facebook, Instagram or TikTok ad. If you find Dip, usually it’s because someone with great hair told you about it. That’s always been so cool to me.

Dip is available in salons, zero waste stores and surf shops in New Jersey. There are over 30 locations all around NJ alone. Our very first store was Good Bottle Refill Shop in Maplewood, and I will always credit the owner Deanna Heacock-Taylor (New Jersey Family’s first-ever Mompreneur of the Year winner) for being not only an inspiration but a huge supporter when Dip first launched.

DAILY POST MEDIA

NJF: How did you take your business from idea to reality? What were some of your biggest obstacles in getting it off the ground?

KA: Well, Dip is my second rodeo. I first had to spatula myself off of the ground and overcome the shame that comes from your first company not working out the way you dreamed. I want people to know this because entrepreneurship often comes with just a highlight reel. When I closed my first company earlier in 2021 I was not OK, mentally or financially. My biggest obstacle was myself and my shame really held me hostage. Would my friends support me the second time around? Would there be whispers of, “Oh, she’s at it again”? These are very real things that might be true, might be imaginary, but are hard to overcome. I share this because if anyone is reading this and has shame holding them back—I want you to know that shame is personal and no one else is feeling it but you. Just build that second rodeo, you never know what will happen.

My husband Jonathan and I built Dip while our kids slept and while I was battling really crippling depression. I felt tremendous pressure to make Dip work after the first company didn’t. Often I would wake up at 4 am to work on Dip and then wake the kids up for school at 7, and I work through the day and Jonathan would work at his job; and when the kids returned home we would try and muster the energy to still be parents. The first year was really taxing and after 18 months, Jonathan finally joined Dip full time. Building something taxing doesn’t mean it isn’t fun—in fact, looking back, I really loved this time.

NJF: What was your proudest moment as a business owner?

KA: This answer used to be getting Dip on the shelves of a curl-specific salon because curly haired people are a tough crowd and never believe Dip will work for them—and I am still extremely proud of that, but now I’d say this: it’s that I am the owner of my own factory. My little company that started at my kitchen table in Sparta now has its own factory up and running for an entire year. I have an amazing small team that works with me and I am incredibly lucky to be in this moment and share the success of Dip with them.

My team is what allows me to be a mother. I don’t do it all myself and I don’t want anyone to think that.

NJF: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever gotten that you want to share with others?

KA: My mom used to say to me, “Who better than you?” when I was scared or struggling or having impostor syndrome. I find myself saying this to my entrepreneur friends and to my own sons when they need to hear it. It’s such a kind and empowering statement—even to say to yourself. Even when it came to being chosen for this, I had to hear her say “Who better than you” in my head to even believe it was real.

DAILY POST MEDIA

NJF: What are some ways your business has been able to be involved with the community and give back?

KA: We quietly do so much. Besides our evergreen support of Friend2Friend in Sussex County and Surfrider, I like to do small acts of love when Dip can afford to do them. Once I saw that one of our long-term customers was raising money to publish a children’s story, so we helped fund that. When we found out that a stylist in NYC was injured and couldn’t work, we created a whole party as a surprise and the entrance fee was actually a Venmo straight to her account—her pocket kept getting dings on her way to the party and she had no idea she was the guest of honor. That was a really fun one. If we see there’s an opportunity to fund a Kickstarter for one of our customers, we’ll do it. We were asked to donate a product to homeless teenagers in North Carolina, and we sent full kits. We do these things so people can believe that there are still legit random acts of kindness coming from unlikely places. I think we are all sick of corporate greed. I am in a position to lead by example, so I will. I had a very humble upbringing, and my mother was always first in line to help others. It’s part of my way of keeping her legacy of generosity alive.

NJF: What’s it like juggling raising kids with running a business?

KA: My children, both boys, are 6 and 8. I will say that the best byproduct of my first company closing is that I will never let a company mean so much to me again. We do this thing both as mothers and entrepreneurs where we let those titles take over our whole identity. You can’t possibly be both of them all the time and do them both 100% well—so when it comes to juggling my business and being a mother, I am happy to let the business balls fall and roll away from time to time. I love being a mother, I tolerate being an entrepreneur. I love what I do but what I’ve learned is that there are no shampoo emergencies, and most things can wait until after the bedtime story, game of chess, or search for my youngest son’s favorite stuffed fox.

KATE ASSARAF / Kate with her husband Jonathan and their sons Dante and Desmond.

NJF: What do you love most about living in Sparta?

KA: I chose to raise my children in New Jersey because of the sense of humor in this state. I wanted my kids to grow up sarcastic and funny, just like my friends I grew up with. Sparta is just one of my favorite places in NJ—in the winter we ice skate and in the summers we spend all day in and out of the lake.

I love the people here and when it comes to motherhood, I feel like I am surrounded by awesome, like-minded moms. When I launched my company, the mothers in Sparta were first in line to buy it—and I will forever love them for that. Sparta moms, if you’re reading this: thank you.

NJF: What are some of your favorite things to do in NJ with your family?

KA: We are outdoorsy so as a family we like to notice the small changes in nature through the seasons in New Jersey. We like to see sunrise at the shore when the birds and sea life are most active and the sun shines in neon colors; we love to go to Kittatinny Valley State Park and explore the trails; and we love to picnic wherever we go. Now that the boys are old enough, they look forward to Mountain Creek in the winter and ice skating on the lakes here. For Dip we do a lot of in-store visits and in New Jersey we love to see the cool neighborhoods that surround each store. And lastly, we never go anywhere without finding the local skate park and local’s favorite playground.

NJF: What’s next for Dip?

KA: We have some very cool new products coming out. I have been working on a hair and body oil that dries down so you can touch paper seconds after applying without having to walk around with that oily hand feeling. I love that you can put it on your legs and then put your clothes on shortly after. It’s so exciting and I can’t wait to get it out there! If you want to be one of the first to know, join our email list.

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