Brandon Truaxe is not your average beauty brand founder. In fact, that’s an understatement on the level of saying that RuPaul kind of likes sequins. In an age where most brands are fronted by a glassy-eyed, flaxen-haired former model who speaks breathlessly and evocatively about how she found her ‘glow’, Truaxe is something of a sore thumb. He’s a man, for starters, and has the excited, bubbling energy of someone who’s just discovered cold fusion. Wiry, animated and usually wearing all black, he speaks at a pace that would make Lorelai Gilmore reel, gesticulating frequently and veering off on tangents. "The thing I’m most excited about," he says gleefully of a recent investment from Estée Lauder Companies, "is that with the cash injection and access to some of their suppliers, we’re going to be able to bring some of our prices down". He’s a PR nightmare. He’s the kind of sore thumb I like.
Deciem, the company that Truaxe formed in 2013, had tentative beginnings. After becoming disillusioned with the industry and its jaw-dropping markups, Truaxe developed Indeed Labs (you might know their Hydraluron range). Upon exiting, he was slapped with a non-compete, which prevented him creating facial anti-ageing skincare for three years. What’s an impatient overachiever to do? Ignore all advice about not doing ‘10 things at once’, name your brand after the Latin word for ‘10 in a row’ and do literally that – start 10 brands overnight. Hand Chemistry, the initial frontrunner, offered a hand cream so popular Boots couldn’t keep it in stock. Its transformative power was reportedly so pronounced that women took to using it on their faces (that's one way to circumvent that pesky non-compete clause). Fast-forward four years and Truaxe is still doing the very same thing: disrupting. When I meet him at the launch of Deciem's second UK store, he speaks with abject horror about a big beauty brand that has recently decided to move into the Chinese market, and thus be legally required to test on animals. "Here’s the thing – I could never do that. I would feel sick knowing there’s animals having my products squirted into their eyes. As brands, we have the power to not play ball and refuse, and change will come."
With 12 stores (and counting) worldwide, Deciem has a raft of brands to keep shelves stocked. There’s NIOD, the super-high-tech skincare line that has, by Truaxe’s own admission, "a very narrow audience". There’s no Magic Radiant Butter Beautifying Essence here; products have names like Multi Molecular Hyaluronic Complex and Superoxide Dismustase Saccharide Mist. Confused? The packaging doesn’t offer much more help – one blurb reads: "If used with CAIS, apply CAIS after cleansing, followed by MMHC". It’s a brand with zero hand-holding, by a skincare nerd for skincare nerds, and Truaxe is well aware that lots of consumers won’t bother to understand it. Then there’s Fountain, a range of drinkable supplements, and Hair Is Fabric, the specialist haircare line (not to be confused with Stemm, their other haircare line focussed around a healthy scalp). There’s Hylamide, the mid-range skincare line offering skin-blurring primers to rival FaceTune, and the most recent – and arguably most disruptive – The Ordinary.
The Ordinary’s tagline is "Clinical formulations with integrity" – integrity being something Truaxe considers distinctly lacking in the beauty industry. "Commonplace technologies are referred to as groundbreaking, and insensible pricing strategies confuse the audience," he explains. Truaxe believes that brands purposely mislead customers into thinking they’ve got some super-shiny new ingredients or technology and whack an extra digit on the price tag, when in reality, their ‘discovery’ has been de rigueur for years. The Ordinary exists to cut through that – and with the most expensive product in the range costing just £14.90, they’re delivering. Where NIOD is complex and sprawling, The Ordinary is straightforward and edited. Their retinol costs £5.80, their spot treatment is £3.90, a Vitamin C starts at £4.90. But the range couldn’t exist in a vacuum – it’s only because Deciem has the factories and suppliers and technology in place for their other brands that they can afford to keep their margins, and therefore prices, so small. "It’s a shame," Truaxe muses about a forthcoming product, "I really wanted to get the price under £20, and we tried for such a long time, but the raw ingredients are so expensive we can’t launch it under The Ordinary. It’s going into Hylamide, instead".
By 2017, Deciem was becoming a victim of its own success. When The Ordinary launched their £5.90 foundations, the waiting list was 70,000 strong. Instagram posts were littered with comments from disgruntled customers waiting weeks for delivery, and Deciem had to post several apologies and updates on the state of play to try and placate fans. I know from trying to order from their website that things were often long-term out of stock or took frustratingly long to arrive. Accelerating globally at a pace of knots, it was clear that demand had outgrown what Deciem could comfortably supply. Truaxe began looking to outside investors, and surprised the entire industry when he accepted a cash injection from Estée Lauder Companies (ELC). "People keep saying, why didn’t you go with private equity? Listen, if I’d done that, it would be a disaster. Those guys want their money back in three to five years, and I don’t want to sell Deciem. Plus, it’s dirty money. It’s money that comes from buying and selling other brands that test on animals. ELC approached with respect, with patience, and with a promise not to make us stop being cruelty-free, not to inflate our prices, and with less than 30% of the shares. ELC treated us like family, and if you look at other brands they’ve acquired, like Aveda, they’ve never tampered with the brand DNA, and they’ve always encouraged the founders to stay on," Truaxe explains. While the volte face might be bewildering to die-hard fans (of which there are plenty), there was simply no way for Deciem to survive, let alone expand, without help to match their customer demand.
One thing’s for sure – ELC certainly don’t stand a chance if they want to put a lid on Truaxe. During our meeting, he tells me excitedly about a planned "social media rampage": he sent three big-name sunscreens to be tested by an independent lab and found that they provided shockingly less SPF than they claimed, and is incensed by the smoke and mirrors of it all. He also has a dizzying number of new products and even ranges to launch by the end of the year – a lip care range called ESHO, designed in partnership with renowned cosmetic doctor Tijion Esho, for those who’ve had or are considering lip fillers, as well as a first foray into sun care. Fanatical about results, passionate about science and obsessed with transparency, Truaxe and Deciem are shaking up the somewhat stagnant skincare industry. He’s done to skincare what Charlotte Tilbury did to makeup – launch something independently with such impact that it forces the heavy-hitters to confront their shortcomings. Long may the shockwaves continue.
5 Deciem Products Daniela Recommends:
Requiring at-home blending and with a vivid Smurf blue colour, this isn’t your grandmother’s face serum. However, the copper peptides are brilliant at keeping breakouts at bay (it’s antibacterial), as well as tackling all the visible signs of ageing. Since I started using it six months ago, I’ve had strangers ask me how I get my skin so clear and bright.
One for the gym bag. Unlike a lot of face mists, this actually adds visible hydration to the skin and makes it soft and supple. It’s great before makeup or after a post-gym shower. It supports water density in the skin, so the hydrating effect isn’t just superficial – it’s making your complexion juicier and fresher, from the inside out.
This £12.70 serum offers anti-ageing benefits that rival a lot of products with four or five times the price tag. Packed full of peptides and probiotics, it makes you look like you sleep eight hours every night, and never even look at a glass of wine or a shot of tequila. Smoother, firmer skin – and change from a £20 note.
If you like the oh-so-satisfying tingle of a good clay mask, you’ll love this. The colour of a strong cup of chai, this purifying and decongesting masque really packs a punch. Truaxe believes that lots of clay masks only offer a superficial cleansing effect, whereas with a mix of copper-rich clay, bio-soluble technology to break down oil and an acid that exfoliates without stripping the skin, this masque keeps working even once it’s washed off.
Dubbed ‘skincare for hands’, Deciem’s debut product is still going strong. Even if you’re not particularly concerned about dark spots or slack skin on your hands, there’s no denying that this is the most supremely hydrating yet curiously non-greasy hand cream I’ve ever tried. Boasting visible results in just 11 days, it’s no wonder it was an immediate sell-out when it hit Boots in 2013. To try it is to be converted.