Jess Edelstein and Sarah Ribner
Photos by Tessa Marie Images (left) and Ann Marie Casey (right).
In 2014, years after they first met at Friends’ Central School, Jess Edelstein and Sarah Ribner struck gold—or rather, charcoal. PiperWai was born out of a mutual desire to find an effective natural deodorant. Edelstein had struggled to find the right one for her skin. “Most of the brands on the market either didn’t work or caused itchy red rashes for people with sensitive skin like me,” says Edelstein, who graduated from Lower Merion High School.
For Ribner, a Mount Airy native, it was part of a greater lifestyle change. Working in finance in New York, she wasn’t putting self-care first and wanted to make a change. “I threw out pretty much all my food, care products and cleaning products,” she says.
Deodorant, though, proved tricky.
All the while, Edelstein was sampling different formulas, finally landing on one that takes advantage of the natural absorption properties of activated charcoal. Initially, the pair made batches by hand in a Fishtown test kitchen, later sourcing it out to a manufacturer in Conshohocken. As PiperWai’s popularity grew, it became increasingly difficult to keep up with demand. “We did all of our own branding and packaging,” says Ribner. “We managed our website, doing all of our press and partnerships.”
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Friends and family encouraged them to apply for ABC’s Shark Tank. And after a casting call in Philadelphia hosted by the NAACP and Values Partnerships, they were flown to Los Angeles. The pair ultimately turned down a handshake deal with one of the Sharks, but sales skyrocketed after their episode aired in December 2015. PiperWai quickly went through its 10,000-jar inventory. “We hit $1 million in revenue within 10 days of airing,” says Edelstein.
Today, Edelstein heads PiperWai’s Philadelphia office, while Ribner runs things in New York City. Both were named to Forbes’ 2018 “30 Under 30” list. This past summer, the company celebrated another huge milestone, hitting $10 million in revenue. “The idea of having sold over $10 million of something that I made in my kitchen is pretty cool,” says Edelstein.