“I’m 70 years old, and I’m a startup.”
Horst Rechelbacher may be one of the most well-known entrepreneurs in the natural beauty industry, but the founder of hair care powerhouse Aveda prides himself on being a student—of love and potion, Ayurveda and organic farming, business and science. And with his latest venture, Intelligent Nutrients, he’s starting from the ground up to cultivate an entirely new way of doing business.
“Empowering yourself to make a difference: that’s entrepreneurship.”
After selling Aveda, which he founded more than 30 years ago, to Estee Lauder in 1997, Rechelbacher launched organic health and beauty line Intelligent Nutrients, one of the few personal care companies to offer only products that meet the strict NOP organic standards. He’s determined to bring safe and feel-good organic beauty products to consumers—and shed light on greenwashers in the process.
Here, the author of Minding Your Business, Rejuvenation, Aveda Rituals and Alivelihood (Earth Aware Editions, 2008) shares top tips for building a sustainable and successful beauty business.
3 tips for a sustainable beauty biz
1. Build your brand on a mission
For Rechelbacher, going to work every day is anything but the grind. “It’s my activism,” he says. “A business is a group of beings that say, ‘I have a mission.’”
And what great mission doesn't start with a question? His: “How is your business organized—does it leave toxins or clean up toxins?” His ultimate business goal is for every aspect of Intelligent Nutrients’ manufacturing process to be entirely free from toxins, from the farming and the herbal distillation—much of which takes place on his 600-acre Wisconsin organic farm, where he also hosts retreats—to the preservatives he uses.
Honest organic labeling and cosmetics safety are as much a part of his brand as the wide range of products, which include skin and hair care, nutricosmetic supplements, elixirs, aromatherapy, and even household and pet SKUs, all made from USDA Organic food-grade ingredients such as acai, argan and olive oil.
“The consumer deserves safety, and it will improve healthcare, because why are cosmetics making people sick and giving them cancer?” he asked. “The greenwashers will disappear, they must disappear because they are doing things which is not legal; they’re creating consumer fraud.”
Beyond the harsh environmental impacts of conventional farming practices, Rechelbacher vehemently argues that conventional personal care is linked to negative health consequences. He said consumers need to consider the “impact on the overall system” and exposure to insecticides and pesticides, not just the finished product.
He sees his mission through with a set of core business values that include everything from the familiar, like advancing technology and science and protecting environment to the less familiar—corporate nurturing, medicine and the healing arts, and “invironment” set apart Intelligent Nutrients.
2. Sell the “love” (and the potion)
Rechelbacher builds his marketing strategy around the role of the women as the primary shopper. In fact, research shows that females drive 80 percent of consumer spending—and they’re now taking a more holistic view of their purchases. “The informed shopper is creating a preventative system of feeling and looking better.”
A veteran hairstylist, Rechelbacher understands that women will always want results, which is why he continues to focus on testing and performance. But what is performance exactly? The son of an herbalist, Rechelbacher also has a doctorate in Ayurveda. His background in Eastern healing is why he maintains that a beauty product’s efficacy is about more than what shows up through the skin or hair.
“Products can really assist a person to function when a person goes through the mode, ‘I really love this, I love the way it smells, I love the way it feels.’”
This type of experience means the body has accepted the product as a remedy, which makes his products not just about beauty (the potion) but also about health and wellness (the love).
“Only love sells, so designing a business that is based around nurturing is good business,” he said. “The love and the potion. The two can have a wonderful relationship.”
3. Invest in science
According to Rechelbacher, the future of the natural beauty is all about plant stem cells, which are 1,000 times more potent than other parts of the plant and allow the plant to live in their environments and be the host to what he can then further develop in a lab. This stem-cell science has brought about tremendous breakthroughs for his sustainable skin care and hair styling products, which incorporate various plant stem cells for “maximum efficacy.” The only problem, he said, is getting the organic community to accept that something developed in a lab can still be organic.
Other challenges in science and technology hinder the industry, particularly when it comes to hair colorants, said Rechelbacher. During his time at Aveda, he noted how chemists often lied about the capabilities of nontoxic hair color science, leading to the less-than-natural dyes that still dominate the salon industry today. Plant color stills takes longer to penetrate the hair shaft, which has largely prevented the industry from embracing natural alternatives in this category, according to Rechelbacher.
Still, he believes investing in this science will pay off in the future. Translation: Expect Intelligent Nutrients to soon lead the way in organic hair color developments.