Monday 17 June 2019

Brandon Truaxe dead at 40: how Deciem's visionary founder changed how we talk about skincare

Brandon Truaxe launched his first beauty brand at the age 34 after years of working in software. Soon, Deciem became one of the most sought after beauty businesses in the world. Caitlin McBride remembers his game-changing contributions before his tragic death at 40

Deciem, 'The abnormal beauty company' at Covent Garden Market in London, and inset, late founder Brandon Truaxe (picture via Deciem/Instagram)
Deciem, 'The abnormal beauty company' at Covent Garden Market in London, and inset, late founder Brandon Truaxe (picture via Deciem/Instagram)
Caitlin McBride

Caitlin McBride

It's been a troubling year for Brandon Truaxe, the late founder and former CEO of cult beauty brand Deciem, and those in his inner circle.

Mr Truaxe, who was found dead on Monday at the age of 40, had found himself absorbed in headlines in recent months and last October, he was pushed out from leading the company he founded in 2013 after some troubling activity on social media, including the brand's official accounts. At the time, he alleged "major criminal activity" and replaced the company's website with an HTML page before he was removed from the position over the course of a few days. Over the years, his interviews say the least and his many meltdowns have been documented at length. He was reportedly hospitalised in December for mental health issues and though he denied any professional diagnoses, he admitted to drug use.

Deciem, 'The Abnormal Beauty Company', is the umbrella company which runs budget beauty brands like The Ordinary, NIOD and The Chemisty Brand, and his meteoric rise to success has become something of a business urban legend. Each of the name brands to Deciem's name holds a USP, while staying loyal to its parent company's values.

The Ordinary removes the bells and whistles of packaging, creative names and aggressive advertising, instead naming products by active ingredients and relying on word of mouth to spread the message of a skincare label that sells you scientifically led products for as cheap as €5. It has been a runaway success story and its best-selling foundation had a waiting list of 25,000 people last year.

It was Truaxe's vision back in 2013 that set the tone for a company that would become so successful by simply being disruptive. And prior to last year, each decision had been a carefully choreographed one. It was a stint in a laboratory in 1999 that spurred his interest in the beauty industry - namely his desire to turn it on its head by exposing cost-raising practices ("It becomes all about marketing") - and making extravagance affordable.

"We refused to hire anyone with a beauty background for our lab," he told NUVO magazine in 2017. "It's all biochemists and material chemists, because beauty chemists are trained to be marketing people."

One such example is hyalauronic acid, an essential ingredient in hydrating the skin, that has been a stalwart in anti-ageing products for years previous, but has suddenly become an 'it' ingredient in your skincare regime. Its prevalence is thanks, at least in small part, to Deciem's dedication to educating the consumer by using ingredient names instead of product names that tested well in focus groups.

That initial instinct paid off as the company's first line Fountain launched The Hyaluronic Molecule, a concentrated beauty supplement that can be used in addition to topical skin care products, proved to be a ground-breaking launch in the UK, its first test market where most Deciem products hold cult status.

The effects social media would have on consumer behaviour would also play a huge role in elevating Deciem: news of its effectiveness spread like wildfire, sparking a traditional media frenzy, all thanks to a well-executed grassroots campaign and not one that took two years to put together and needed board approval for execution.

By only buying necessary ingredients - e.g. the Lip Bio-Lipid Concentrate by NIOD - customers were able to shop smarter for a specific reason, instead of always looking at the fine print. Such was their impact that they eventually caught the eye of Estée Lauder, which bought 28% of the company in 2017.

And like all successful business models, many have followed, like the former Boots beauty buyers who set up The Inkey List or Garden of Wisdom's say-it-as-you-see-it skincare range which spread through Reddit.

Despite the tumultuous headlines of the last year, it's clear that the impact Mr Truaxe had on the lives of staff members remains positive. Acting CEO Nicola Kilner sent an email to employees yesterday, writing, "I can’t believe I am typing these words. Brandon has passed away over the weekend. Heartbroken doesn’t come close to how I, and how I know many of you will be feeling.

"All offices, warehouses, factories and stores please close today and take the time to cry with sadness, smile at the good times we had, reflect on what his genius built and hug your loved ones that little harder.

"We are all in disbelief and shock but I will be in touch again very soon. I love you all incredibly much, as did he."

On Instagram, the official company account paid tribute to the late founder, saying: "Brandon, our founder and friend. You touched our hearts, inspired our minds and made us believe that anything is possible. Thank you for every laugh, every learning and every moment of your genius. Whilst we can’t imagine a world without you, we promise to take care of each other and will work hard to continue your vision. May you finally be at peace. Love, (forever) your DECIEM."

His cause of death is still unknown, but his loss is one felt throughout the beauty world and with every woman who has a Deciem product in her bathroom.

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