Senior Project Molds Hairdresser Into Entrepreneur

Francesa DiSanti has been styling hair for nearly forty years.  For thirty of them, she has been lamenting the loss of a special tool – a flexible plastic brush/comb combo-that made unsnarling curly or tangle hair easy and painless.  DiSanti lost the tool early in her career and was never able to find another like it.

She mentioned her dilemma to a client who suggested that DiSanti make her own tool.  “I laughed and said, ‘Me? How would I ever do that?’” she said.

The client, Kathy Dahlkemper, Erie’s county executive and a former U.S. Congresswoman, told DiSanti she should call Penn State Behrend’s School of Engineering for help.

The next day, DiSanti mentioned to a friend what Dahlkemper had suggested.  The friend knew a Behrend engineering professor, who in turn put DiSanti in contact with Jason Williams, a lecturer in engineering.  Williams thought DiSanti’s tool would make a good senior capstone project and included it on a list of thirty assignments that students could pick from at the start of the next academic year.

“The brush was my first choice because I was very interested in making new products,” said Chad McDonough, then an upper-level Plastics Engineering Technology student.  “I found the whole process of turning a simple idea into a real product exciting.”

McDonough jumped in, interviewing local hair stylists and compiling a list of their needs that fit the outline of DiSanti’s old brush.

From the moment DiSanti met McDonough, she was impressed.  “He was truly interested in my idea, and he asked great questions,” she said. “He was very enthusiastic.”

McDonough worked on the tool over three semesters, spending nearly 400 hours fine-tuning the design, experimenting with various handles, testing bristles, and creating C.A.D. drawings and 3-D models.

“I did a little extra work with the tooling because I figured if it was easy to get tooling made, the brush has a better chance of actually being manufactured,” he said.  “The final model was sent to mold builders and plastics production companies.  With each price and method of production, a customer package was put together that gave DiSanti molding cost, production cost, and unit cost,” McDonough said.

By the end of the academic year, DiSanti held her dream in her hand- the “Santi a pennello” brush. “Santi” is a nod to her surname and “a pennello” is Italian for “fits like a glove.”

DiSanti sought Erie-area companies to manufacture the tool, choosing a mold maker in North East and a manufacturer in Girard.  It was important to her that the tool be as American-made as possible.

She has received nothing but positive feedback. “I’ve had people ask, ‘What’s so special about it?’ Then they try it and they understand,” she said.

The Santi a pennello brush, $25, is sold at various salons in the Erie area, but DiSanti hopes soon to distribute the brush through salons in California and Florida.  She has sold about 500 brushes so far.

It’s expensive when compared to brushes you can buy at the big box stores, but you can’t buy this tool there, and there is nothing else like it,” DiSanti said.  “I know. I looked for thirty years.”

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  • Mose Torgrimson

    Mose Torgrimson

    October 12, 2015 at 4:49 am

    I really like your article. It’s evident that you have a lot knowledge on this topic. Your points are well made and relatable. Thanks for writing engaging and interesting material.

  • Lisa


    June 21, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    It’s not like me to spend this much on a brush but I’m glad I did! It goes through wet hair like butter and feels nice on the scalp. The best part is that it won’t cause spit ends or pull out your hair. Wonderful!

  • Heather Ables

    Heather Ables

    December 29, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    I received the brush for Christmas and I’m in love with it. I have naturally curly hair but I have a short style and have been wearing it straight. I blow dry my hair so that I can straighten it and typically it’s a frizzy mess before the flat iron touches it – but not with this brush. I was super impressed and excited 🙂 Thanks so much for creating and selling a quality product.

  • Beth Zimmer

    Beth Zimmer

    December 4, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    What salons in erie can this be purchased at?

  • Angela Engro Fatica

    Angela Engro Fatica

    November 18, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    “It’s been a real pleasure to watch Fran blossom as an Entrepreneur! She has developed her brush not only from a stylist perspective but a salon consultant too! This has enabled her to show both the creative side and business side of the “pennello”. A combination that says “Winner”!
    Angela Engro Fatica
    Angelo’s SDG

  • Tamra Segert

    Tamra Segert

    November 5, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    Love this versitile brush, sturdy and great for a variety of things. Back combing.or full on teasing without any breakage. Great on wet or dry hair and as a stylist I need tools that are multi purpose. Thank you,Tamra

  • Anne Francani

    Anne Francani

    November 4, 2014 at 8:13 pm

    I bought the brush to give to my daughter who has long, thick, curly hair. I tried it out on my hair and couldn’t part with it. I ordered a second comb for her. I wish I had one when she was a kid.

  • Karolina Niedobecka

    Karolina Niedobecka

    November 3, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    i love my pennelo brush!!!! I have thin curly hair that can get extremely frizzy if I’m not careful. This brush has been an answer to my prayers as I can actually ’ brush’ my hair without the frizz! Thank you!


  • Marcy Confer

    Marcy Confer

    November 3, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    This is an incredible brush. Its great for combing out tangles, updos, fine or thick hair, men or woman. Less static and less frizz. It’s made in Erie Pa. Invented by a great woman,a hairdresser,and a friend. What an inspiration.

  • Kerry Conklin

    Kerry Conklin

    November 3, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    This brush is a must have for all parents. This brush makes it easy to brush kids hair with out them crying.

  • Lori


    November 3, 2014 at 8:15 pm

    This brush is worth every penny! Bought one for my mom and she loves it! Best brush for tangles! Love it!

  • Cyn Morschhauser

    Cyn Morschhauser

    November 3, 2014 at 8:14 pm

    Love the brush. Especially when i use it on my 2 year old grandaughter. No crying! Great idea!

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