Most people could say Horst Rechelbacher doesn't count modesty as one of his prevailing traits. The founder of Aveda, the hair care company that introduced the U.S. to aromatherapy and ayurvedic philosophies through a line of shampoos and conditioners in the Seventies, often and openly talks about the "perils" beauty companies present their customers through "harmful" formulas. Now it seems the former hairstylist-turned-product formulator-turned-organic farmer has another reason not to mince words when needling so-called beauty industry do-gooders: Rechelbacher is launching the first hair care line to bear the USDA Organic seal.
Up until now, natural product makers have argued strong and loud that there is not enough technology or scientific research to make shampoo or conditioners efficacious enough to market to consumers to earn the food grade stamp.
Hailing from his 600-acre farm in Wisconsin, purchased no doubt from the $300 million he made when he sold Aveda to the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. in 1997, Rechelbacher stood before a crowded house of beauty editors and other members of the media Wednesday afternoon, possibly scaring at least a few into clearing their bathroom shelves of just about everything that doesn't have a USDA Organic seal.
"I predict we will have warning labels on beauty products very soon," he said, pointing mainly to lipsticks that may contain lead, and lotions and creams with petrochemicals and parabens that could contribute to everything from respiratory damage to birth defects. "One of the reasons I stopped doing hair in the Sixties was because of my respiratory condition. It took me years to realize the beauty industry is very sick."
Scare tactics aside, his new beauty products, which are sold under the Intelligent Nutrients brand, have been many years in the making. A solid team of scientists and marketers have banded together to develop the next generation of beauty products including Melissa Christenson, president of IN, who is also a biochemist and a former research and development executive at Aveda; Jeff Anshus, a food chemist and also IN's marketing and product developer, as well as doctors from the University of Minnesota and food chemists located all over the world. The company, also called Intelligent Nutrients, is based in Minneapolis.All items are 100 percent certified organic, except for two products that are made for color-treated hair. Each item in the line uses the Intellimune Seed Oil Complex, an antiaging-antioxidant blend of black cumin, pumpkin, red grape, red raspberry and cranberry seed oils. Hair items include a Hair and Scalp Treatment Oil, to be used to restore hair health, $45; a Styling Creme and Styling Gel, $35 each; a Leave-In Conditioner, $39; a Perfect Hold Hair Spray, $39; a Volumizing Spray, $39; an Organic Hair Balm, $32; a Total Body Cleanser, meant for the hair, scalp and body that is free of surfactants, $39; Hair Conditioner, $42; a 70 percent Organic Hair Cleanser, $39, and a 70 Percent Organic Hair Treatment, $45, both safe for color-treated hair and 100 percent free of nontoxic plant chemistry.
Distribution for the line will be "diverse" said Rechelbacher, who said he is speaking with retailers including Barneys New York, Space NK, ABC Carpet & Home and Fred Segal. He also said he is working on deals with high-end salon and spa chains, as well as opening freestanding stores in Minneapolis, New York and Toronto. Distribution is slated for the fourth quarter and first-year sales are estimated to hit $10 million, he said. Advertising is not on the agenda as "word of mouth" is what will grow the brand.
Tapping food chemists — not only cosmetic chemists — is what he said opened the door to solving the missing-efficacious-ingredient mystery. Food chemists, he said, hold the key to developing products for the body that are safe enough to put on your skin and, yes, even to ingest.
Rechelbacher said that it's not solely the fault of the beauty industry that there are no products on the market safe enough to eat. The raw materials needed to make such formulas, he said, are just not available.
Enter Rechelbacher, organic farmer, who planted and harvested his own organic seeds and then had his team of food and beauty chemists develop organic formulas that would serve as surfactants (cleansers found in beauty products such as shampoo) without harsh ingredients.
"We have produced cleansers out of different food substances, proteins out of rice, soy, nuts, seeds. We are very much into seed technology," he said.Rechelbacher is not formally educated in science, however he counts his 20 years of product development at Aveda and Intelligent Nutrients, as well as his studies in ayurvedic medicine in India, as giving him his "street education."
"If you own a company for 20 years and work with chemists and it's your love, and this is my love, and you surround yourself with brilliant people and learn from their contributions," an education can be formed, he said.
Strategically, IN's new products are not patented so that it does not have to list product ingredients. But he said he is willing to "work with any [company] because my mission in life is to get rid of petrochemicals. They are outdated."
Industry watchers are embracing the new line but at least one said she can only hope that a more affordable, more attainable version will eventually trickle down.
Gay Timmons, owner of Oh, Oh Organics, a seller of organic materials to cosmetics companies based in Los Gatos, Calif., said, "When you can afford to go to this great extreme it is lovely, but is not broadly available and because of that it is not going to create a great deal of demand for organic or organic farming, which I believe should be the ultimate goal. More than 50 percent of pollution comes from agriculture. [Horst] is looking at this from the individual perspective and how safe a product is for the individual. I look at it from the view that if the planet is safe then people are safe. At the same time, this is a huge inspiration for others to take it in a direction where it will be more available."
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