Over the past eight years, Unilever Prestige has built a portfolio of founder-led brands that are vibrant, relevant, and poised for future growth. The family of brands includes Tatcha, Dermalogica, Kate Somerville, Garancia, Murad, Paula’s Choice, Ren, Hourglass, and Living Proof.
These are brands that were acquired with active founders with a clear viewpoint. By being under its wing, Unilever Prestige founder brands have the support for accelerated growth — but it doesn’t come at the expense of losing the brand’s original vision.
“Each of the Unilever Prestige brands has a unique viewpoint and a singular voice and purpose,” said Jane Wurwand, founder of Dermalogica, on what makes Unilever Prestige unique. “Dermalogica is focused on respect and success for skill set training and the skin therapists we teach and serve.”
Wurwand said the brand’s mission “is the same as when we launched in 1986 and that specificity is our true north. Our founder-led Prestige brands all set out to make a difference and the strength of Unilever has accelerated and amplified our positions. We can retain our identity and niche while collaborating with the best operational minds in the industry.”
Similarly, when speaking on why he chose Unilever Prestige, Dr. Howard Murad, founder of Murad, said Unilever Prestige allowed him to be himself. “They didn’t ask me to change my brand – they just wanted to help me continue the success of Murad.”
In building the Unilever Prestige portfolio, Vasiliki Petrou, CEO of Unilever Prestige, has always actively searched for brands where the founders will stay deeply intertwined with the business. She believes working with founders who care about the next phase in their brand’s journey is essential to their success.
Working with founders, Petrou said, is a partnership – one that takes having a mutual understanding of the company vision, what makes it special and how it’s going to get there.
Petrou said founders are the soul of the company, “and you never remove the soul from a brand. Ultimately, a founder has created something precious. The process of acquiring founder-led brands requires sensitivity. And during the early stages of an acquisition, I feel like founders know they have found a safe space for the next phase of a brand’s journey.”
She said the division’s founding principle has been to be purpose-driven and future fit, which has given the portfolio an edge in the market. In turn, acquired brands must align with that principle as well. “We look for the right combination of founder-led, purpose driven, owning unique spaces, or doing things a little differently,” Petrou said. “When these things come together, that’s when the magic happens, and we can deliver the growth we are known for.”
Fueling that growth is the ability of founder-led brands to leverage the size and scale of Unilever. “Once you decide you’re going to partner with Unilever Prestige, the process is easy,” said Murad. “They allow you to run your business while providing resources you didn’t have access to before, such as research professionals, new raw materials (exclusive to Unilever) and more. Unilever encourages your brand to scale at a healthy speed while bettering the outcome. I felt very comfortable throughout the whole process. The team understood the brand extremely well – that was important to me. They could see the legacy and mission of Murad and I knew they would support it.”
Vicky Tsai, founder of Tatcha, describes Unilever Prestige’s unique model as a “string-of-pearls” in the beauty industry.
“We share insights and resources with our sister brands where we can gain leverage from doing so but are otherwise independent and encouraged to stay true to our vision and brand promise,” said Tsai. “As a founder who wants to see my brand and my company grow for the long term, I am so grateful to have a found partner who cares about Tatcha as much as I do. The Unilever Prestige leadership is thoughtful and strategic in its approach to nurturing brands for both short-term performance and long-term value creation.”
Wurwand said Unilever Prestige’s platform and way of working with founders has kept her involved — for the long term.
“Whereas it is common for Founders to exit their business almost immediately, or soon after the acquisition, it has been over 7 years and we are all still involved,” said Wurwand. “I am involved with Dermalogica, not because it was part of the deal, but because I believed we had a real model of inclusion and partnership we could establish – and we have.”
Wurwand also said Unilever Prestige keeps its focus “on serving a large global community of customers and the Prestige brands retain their niche mindset and individual brand strengths and purpose. Were that not the case, I would no longer be involved.”
It is exactly that level of commitment and dedication that Petrou seeks when eyeing acquisitions. And for some brands, including Dermalogica and Tatcha, the natural alignment of shared values was key to forging a strong partnership.
“We chose Unilever Prestige because, like Tatcha, it is a deeply purpose driven company,” said Tsai. “Our authenticity and commitment to our craft, clients, colleagues, and community has been nurtured and protected. We are incredibly grateful to be a part of a group that believes in doing great by doing good. Unilever Prestige also brings thought partnership and resources to help their brands approach innovation, digital transformation, and sustainability in ways that we never could have when we were independent. Tatcha is a better company because of its partnership with Unilever Prestige.”
Wurwand agreed, and said, “It was clear almost immediately that Unilever and Dermalogica shared the same value system,” said Wurwand. “While other companies courted us with expensive dinners and showy gestures, The Unilever Prestige CEO personally flew out to Los Angeles and connected with us over a brown bag lunch where we shared stories about our lives and families. We agreed that sustainability in packaging and daily business operations was critically important – we talked about climate change and the UN Development goals. Most important was their alignment with our purpose of helping more people access skill set training, and their commitment to creating five-million jobs for women in the Unilever supply chain.”
Petrou said when the company is eyeing a brand, “we’re looking at legacy. I ask, ‘Where will this brand be in five- or twenty-years’ time?’ Any founder needs to know that they have put the next phase of their brand’s journey in the very best hands. That requires an enormous amount of trust. The very fact that we only proceed on such a small number of possible acquisitions shows that when we do, we really mean it – we are in it for the long haul.”
In this way, Unilever Prestige can preserve the uniqueness of each brand, recognizing that each has its own evolving journey and connection to its audience. From here, the group as a whole will evolve, add more brands, and forge relationships with new customers who are also eager to discover new products.