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Skinega Founder Interview By Dana Beuttler for Beauty Matter, January 18, 2018
Fraser Hill is a consultant turned luxury skincare aficionado and four-time BeautyMatter contributing author with a knowledge base more extensive than his articles. Less than impressed by what the luxury skincare landscape had to offer, Hill decided to put his 20-year background in research and technology to good use and establish SKINEGA: a luxury vegan skincare brand focused on simplifying skincare by using higher concentrations of fewer ingredients found naturally in skin or nature. Eager to know more about the entrepreneur turned CEO dedicated to vegan quality skincare, BeautyMatter reached out for an interview. Below is our Q&A:
Tell Us A Bit About Yourself. What Did You Do Before Making The Dive Into The Colossal Beauty Industry?
I grew up in Scotland. When I graduated I headed to London and entered the corporate world. The next 18 years were spent living and working all over the world, including Hong Kong, Thailand, Poland, Canada, and the US. I spent most of my career in executive headhunting—recruiting senior executives into banks and large tech companies. I worked at J.P. Morgan. I started two companies in London and one in Canada, all in and around the executive consulting space. When you’re recruiting Board / C-level executives, you’re not asking about their strengths and weaknesses. At that level they’re all incredible candidates, so you develop a sixth sense for when you’re being lied to, and you learn how to test and qualify the truth. A lot of the work involved is research and detective work. So this was the best schooling I could ever have had coming into an industry that has more stretched truths than a presidential election campaign.
With A 20-Year Background In Research And Technology, You Embarked On A Journey To Find Cleaner, Vegan, And More Effective Luxury Skincare. What Motivated This Ambitious Venture?
My career in executive research gave me a natural curiosity for what is real, and a very annoying propensity to accept nothing at face value. When you take 18 years of this and drop it for the first time into the world of skincare, sparks fly, and it doesn’t take long to work out what is fact and what is fiction. I’m not the only one in this business either. My partner, Karina, worked in skincare in Beverly Hills for six years before joining me on this journey, and we both struggled with the different brands of products she sold. We’d have countless evening conversations about it, and after learning some of the truths from Karina, I started doing super in-depth research. I still have my notes on over 700 ingredients I researched, one by one. I read medical textbooks, many different medical journals, and educated myself on the science, before then doing market research. The more I researched, the more I became frustrated. I felt skincare had lost its way. Seeing products with 30-99 ingredients, even in natural/organic/clean categories, all diluting each other, companies claiming to be all natural and weren’t, products made with so many ingredients that didn’t positively impact skin. That was our eureka moment—create vegan products with far fewer ingredients, all at meaningful concentrations, and focus on effective skin natural ingredients (not just botanicals), made without thickeners, color, fragrance, and controversial chemicals. We don’t claim to be “all natural,” despite 90% of our ingredients being naturally derived, because the “natural” definition is so warped and abused that it doesn’t mean anything anymore. Completely natural to us means cold-pressed oils and whole dried ingredients, not extracts that you used chemicals and lab processed to create. So we fit many people’s definition of natural, just not our own.
Snowballing Off The Above Question, Why Did You Seek Out Vegan Skincare Specifically?
It may surprise some people to hear that I’m not personally vegan. I am very conscious about how the meat and fish I do eat is sourced, raised, and processed, but am I vegan? No. If I worked with a PR company they would put me on a time-out step and sentence me to media training bootcamp so I could learn to be more “on brand” with my admissions, but we need more truths in the skincare world. However, when it comes to skincare, in this day and age, there is no need to be smearing dead animal bits on our faces when there are much better plant-based alternatives. It’s unnecessary, and it’s also a market that is underserved in the luxury segment, so it all made sense.
Alas, The Endeavor To Find Clean, Vegan, And Effective Luxury Skincare Proved Unsuccessful, So You Decided To Establish Your Own Luxury Skincare Line, Skinega. Why Did You Pursue Luxury Skincare? What Drew You To It? Is Luxury Superior And More Efficacious?
Let me just clarify; there are many clean, vegan, and effective brands out there. It all comes down to how you define these terms. Clean to the industry so far has been “our products don’t contain endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, and the likes.” To us, that was a given. Of course, we don’t include any of those ingredients. This is skin-care, not skin-couldn’t care less. Clean to us is products made with zero non-impact ingredients, so we don’t include thickeners, fragrance, color, or any ingredient that doesn’t serve your skin. For us, this approach is so much more important than natural and organic labels, because those labels are so abused, so open to interpretation, and often, natural and organic products are still made with 30-99 ingredients, all diluting each other, and also containing ingredients that do nothing for your skin, like thickeners, fragrance, color, and so on.
I’ve always been a big fan of luxury goods, but it doesn’t mean you always get better quality. I felt the mass skincare market was already very well served by some awesome brands servicing the more natural and clean skincare market. I still believe there’s comparatively little choice in the luxury space. Generally speaking, the efficacy of ingredients increases with concentration, as does the price for the raw ingredients. Much like in the restaurant world where chefs don’t usually raise their meat or grow their vegetables, skincare companies don’t typically produce every single one of their ingredients. When you’re sourcing ingredients, they come with data sheets and research information, and on there, you see guidelines for concentrations to be used, like “between 0.1%-2%.” Then when you see the test results, they’re done at different concentrations. The variances in efficacy are huge, and the ingredients are priced per kilo/lb or ml/oz. Buying an ingredient at 1% concentration is going to be ten times more expensive than at 0.1%, but consumers have no idea what concentrations they’re getting. They’ll see certain ingredients on packaging and think, “Oh this has X ingredient, so I’ll buy it” and it may only contain such a small concentration that it’s meaningless. Instead of including 30-99 ingredients, we sought what we believed to be the best ingredients, and maximized their concentration.
What Is Skinega’s Mission?
“To simplify and better define safe and effective luxury skincare that’s vegan and cruelty-free, free from synthetic thickeners, colors, fragrance, and ingredients linked to health concerns. Designed by us, for us, and all others that care about what goes in their skin, and not just on their skin.”
This for us is exactly what skincare should all be about. Enhancing what we each already have, and keeping it real. Let’s just take ingredients that work, amp up the concentration, combine only a small number of the most effective ingredients, and don’t dilute the product with ingredients that trick your senses into thinking its thicker, scented, colorful, glittery, and other sensory additives that don’t care for your skin. We all get old and we will all end up with wrinkles, unless surgery plays a part, and that’s okay. If we draw parallels with the health and fitness industry, some of the promises made in skincare today are the equivalent of telling you if you use it, you’ll run the 100m in under 10 seconds.
What Was The Reasoning Behind Launching With Only One Product? Does Skinega Have Other Products In The Works?
We believe that, much like other single-SKU brands have successfully done, launching with only our hero product would give consumers a singular focal point to develop brand awareness, and learn about what we stand for. This message is a lot simpler to convey with one product, and speaking commercially, acquiring some early adopters will help convert new SKU sales when we release our new products. Furthermore, we firmly believe that the dialogue with our customers will really help us pivot and refine our products and brand message, and with the feedback, we stand more chance of getting it right the first time, rather than launching the whole line, and wishing we’d changed certain elements later on. That’s already proven to be invaluable to us as we’ve tweaked the new products. Which brings me to your second question. Yes, we have some products in the works. Later this year we’ll launch a cleanser and moisturizer which collectively will form our core line. It’s a unique concept, so we’re excited to share the news in a few month’s time. Remember, we’re consumers ourselves looking for simpler honest solutions, and we’ve done the scientific research that proves we don’t need a separate neck, eye, day, night creams and gels. These discoveries won’t make us the retailers favourite brand but we hope it won’t put them off altogether, and at the end of the day it’s about the consumer, and we believe simplification will resonate well with them.
Gender-Free Beauty Is A Major Trend And Skinega’s Serumizer Is Marketed As A Solution To Both Men And Women. How Important Is This Positioning To The DNA Of The Brand?
This positioning is very important as it all comes back to our core beliefs in simplifying skincare, keeping it real, and creating products for ourselves, consumers. We were tired of all the fact exploitation that was occurring in skincare, and the gender category differences are no exception. Yes, men generally have more oily skin and thicker skin, and a few other relevant differences, but skin type variances in women are already so vast, genetically and geographically, that gender-neutral products for skin types are absolutely sufficient to deal with any gender variance. I, for example, have very dry skin which is also quite thin. My skin doesn’t fit the generalization you’ll read about that “men have more oily and thicker skin.” I recognise the science behind why this generalisation exists (mainly hormone related) but within all genders, huge variances exist, be they genetic or geographic, and already, skin type specific products more than adequately address these variances, so apart from profits, scent, and gender-specific marketing, what reason exits to differentiate the two? None.
What Is Skinega’s Distribution Strategy?
First and foremost it is direct to consumer as we can focus on educating our audience through our blog, Instagram, and great publications like BeautyMatter. Retail is something we’re actively pursuing this year, but as any skincare start-up will tell you, you don’t end up on the shelves overnight. We’re very patient with that route as we’re six months in, a two-person team, we do all of our own design, photography, social media, ingredient development, and even cold calling of retailers, so we’re realistic. We love it though. This encompasses all of our dreams about being entrepreneurs—living and breathing our brand and building something we truly believe in, from scratch, with no external investment or outsources services. We truly believe that the real future of skincare is in stripped-back products with meaningful, impactful ingredients at meaningful concentrations, and made without any ingredient that does not positively impact the skin. This for us is the best version of clean and natural skincare, and one that is not open to misinterpretation.
What Do You Believe Is The Worst Thing Someone Can Do To Their Skin? Is Excessive Sun Exposure The Ultimate No-No?
My skincare routine consists of six steps, and in this order: mental health, nutritional health, physical health, cleanse, serum, moisturize. The absolute worst thing you can do to your skin is not take care of yourself physically, nutritionally, and spiritually. Skincare will only ever enhance what you already have, and never in dramatic fashion, so focus on the canvas and not the paint. If you’re not sleeping, stressed out, smoking, drinking heavily, not exercising, and surrounding yourself with negative people, don’t waste your money on skincare—spend it on better wine as at least your palate will enjoy your skin aging, and you’ll have one less thing to complain about.
What Is Your Perception Of The Current Beauty/Skincare Landscape? And Where Do You See It Going?
From a consumer perspective, I think it’s in a very worrying place, but fast approaching a very positive juncture. The reason I say it’s worrying is that we have this great big natural, organic, clean skincare movement that isn’t even wholly natural, organic, or clean. I always refer to vegans when discussing this topic. In the food world, if something is called vegan, there’s no ambiguity or bending the truth or allowing for a small percentage of animal ingredients. It’s vegan, 100%, always, vegan. Not so in the natural, organic or “clean beauty” world. I’ve had articles on the subject published in BeautyMatter so I won’t drag this out, but in summary, natural has no legal definition in skincare, yet this term has been misrepresented beyond recognition by so many. Even well-known “100% natural” brands are lying and getting away with it, but consumers trust the brands. Organic, unless labeled “100% organic” can contain as little as 70% organic ingredients and still be called organic. By that definition, a McDonald’s burger, which, by weight of the bun and all its contents, is around 29% beef, could be called vegan if the same logic applied, so it’s ridiculous, and worrying.
As for the “clean beauty” movement, it’s a horrific state of an industry when marketing that a product does not contain cancerous ingredients or endocrine disruptors or other nasty chemicals is a valid point of differentiation. Skincare products should never contain any of these ingredients, period. Also there are a lot of “fad” ingredients in the market, which alone are great, but they’re often just added to 30+ other ingredients, many of which don’t fall into the “clean” or “natural” definition, so the good is cancelled out by the bad. It’s a bit like having organic blueberries on top of your pancake stack, along with high-fructose corn syrup, artificial whipped cream, and sprinkles, and boasting about your antioxidant organic pancakes. What about the consequences of all the other ingredients?
So, the positive juncture is this: consumers are smart people, and the root of this movement came from a good and positive place, arguably originating in the same movement in the food space. They’ll figure it out, and as I mentioned previously, we truly believe that the real future of skincare is in stripped-back products with meaningful, impactful ingredients at meaningful concentrations, and made without any ingredient that does not positively impact the skin. This can be well defined and “policed”; natural and organic on the other hand have failed to deliver definable parameters, so it’s a free-for-all.
What Is The Biggest Change You’d Like To See In The Beauty Industry And What Are You Doing To Address It?
There are so many changes I’d like to be a part of, and they revolve around the themes of transparency, consumer education, and “keeping it real.” I’d like to see significant changes in the whole natural, organic, and clean beauty space. This change will only come from consumers demanding more, and our part of that is helping to educate consumers with some of the real truths, from two consumers who felt so strongly about the lack of transparency that we quit our jobs, to move all in on this mission. It’s outrageous that a company can say its 100% natural, yet include synthetically processed ingredients. It’s outrageous that a product can market itself as “fresh,” yet have a 12-month shelf like. It’s outrageous that a product can promote one fad ingredient, yet it has 50-60 other ingredients in there. It’s outrageous that a product can contain 30-99 ingredients, many of which do nothing for the skin, and call itself “clean.” This has to change, as marketing dollars can only fool consumers for so long.
What we’re doing to address it is trying to represent the consumer, as that’s our background—consumers who were frustrated enough to feel compelled to act. We’re not a rich big corporate with deep pockets. We’ve made huge sacrifices just to get this business off the ground, but it’s what we believe in. As consumers, we didn’t tolerate the bent truths we were sold in skincare, and we certainly don’t tolerate them now. We want to bring clean and natural skincare into a whole new era. Clean, meaning products made without any ingredients that do not impact the skin, that are gender neutral, and that are made with impactful ingredients combined in small numbers but large concentrations, so we optimise the health of our skin. Natural meaning, either naturally derived from botanicals (which is not always by a natural process) or skin natural, like hyaluronic acid, which exists in our skin to keep it plump and hydrated, but it can’t be cold pressed from a plant. It is derived from natural sources but its processed in an un-natural way to create it. People need to know this is okay. Your skin doesn’t speak English. It speaks in chemicals and molecular formulas. If the molecular formula for hyaluronic acid naturally occurring in our body is the same as the one created in a lab using botanicals as the source, your body doesn’t care.
We’re living and breathing the concept of “be the change you want to see in the world,” one skincare product at a time. Let’s see how it goes.