For this podcast I interviewed entrepreneurs who developed organic consumer goods. Jack Haldrup did it with men’s soaps. Jaime Schmidt formulated natural deodorants, as did Moiz Ali. All built thriving direct-to-consumer businesses.
But nobody did it before Eric Malka. He and his wife Myriam developed shaving oils from their kitchen in 1996. Subsequent company, The Art of Shaving, eventually sold branded grooming products in locations in the US and elsewhere before being acquired by Procter & Gamble in 2009.
The Malkas are passionate about wellness, sustainability and the protection of the planet. The new Ingredients company sells plant-based skin care products and organic teas.
“Our mission with Ingredients is to encourage the world to remove petrochemicals from personal care products,” Eric told me.
He and I recently discussed his trip. The full audio interview is embedded below. The following transcript is edited for length and clarity.
Eric Bandholz: Tell us about The Art of Shaving. It paved the way for premium men’s grooming companies like Beardbrand.
Eric Malka: In 1996 my wife Myriam and I developed our own brand of premium shaving products. We were in our 20s. We opened stores in the US and elsewhere. Thirteen years later we sold to Proctor & Gamble. It is now a monster brand that is internationally recognized.
I am a high school dropout. My wife is a brilliant chemist. She was 22 when she made our pre-shave oil in our New York City kitchen. I was looking for a way to get out of poverty. Shaving was the way. I’m not particularly passionate about shaving.
We were one of the first men’s grooming brands in the 1990s to make products with botanical ingredients and essential oils for men with a beautiful aesthetic that enhanced men’s grooming.
It was before the internet when we launched. But the internet was coming soon. We believed retail had to be more than just selling products. Because of this, we started to put hairdressers in our stores and create a unique environment.
Band wood: It’s an amazing story. These tactics are still relevant in the world of Amazon today.
Malka: We started with a stationary location in New York. But soon after was the perfect time to enter distribution channels like department stores and specialty stores. After opening three stationary stores, we switched our strategy to wholesale. This business gave us a lot of visibility and growth, but we hit a cap because store sell-through was very poor. That brought us back to our own retail stores.
I said to myself, “There is no distribution channel for this category. I have to make it. “At the time, our three stores were in New York. It wasn’t scalable in the US and in malls. So in 2003 we created this little shop jewelry box – a few hundred square feet. It was a great success. We opened them up all over the US and raised funds for them. As of 2005, we’ve opened 10 to 15 stores a year.
When we sold the company to Procter & Gamble in 2009, we had annual sales of nearly $ 50 million. Seventy percent of this came from stationary retail. 25 percent came from our wholesale channel. Services accounted for around 15 percent of our retail sales. The rest were products. So we were primarily a product company.
Band wood: How many retail locations did you end up with?
Malka: We had about 50 leases. In addition, P&G built another 100 stores. Now there are only two stores left.
Band wood: Is it painful, so to speak, like losing your baby?
Malka: Not at all. I’m focusing on my new company called Ingredients. My babies are my two sons. I wouldn’t sell them to P&G.
Band wood: Tell us about ingredients.
Malka: Myriam and I launched Ingredients about three months ago. We had the vision when we were selling The Art of Shaving. We have registered the word Ingredients as a trademark. The art of shaving was more or less Ingredients 1.0.
We are passionate about wellness, natural health, herbal ingredients, and honesty with consumers. This is what Ingredients stands for. With The Art of Shaving, as a struggling entrepreneur, all that mattered to me was to build, scale, and sell.
I needed financial freedom to do what I always wanted to do, which was to influence the planet. Our mission with Ingredients is to encourage the world to remove petrochemicals from personal care products, household cleaners, food and beverages.
Ingredients is about disrupting the industry. We are on a mission. We introduce the entire industry – we hide ingredients, call petrochemicals natural fragrances and the like. Put toxic chemicals in products – into human hands, into children’s hands.
Band wood: Is Ingredients a Direct-to-Consumer Game?
Malka: Direct-to-consumer, luxury retail, international, distributors. They call it. Our game is make and ship. We don’t care if it goes straight to your house, your grocer, your favorite luxury store.
Band wood: Not only do they list the ingredients on the label, they also list the percentage of each. This is essentially your formulation, your trade secret.
Malka: It is our exact formulation. I ask the competitors to shut me down. I’m asking the whole world to make products the way we are without using those petrochemical emulsifiers, binders, fillers, synthetic fragrances, or synthetic preservatives. Just copy our formulas. We’re here to make a difference, not just money.
Band wood: That is the Elon Musk strategy. He wants the whole world to be electric.
Malka: It hits petrochemicals from one end and we hit it from the other end. We both want to save the planet.
Band wood: Where can people contact you, connect with you, or learn more about what you build?
Malka: IngredientsWellness.com is our website. Listeners can contact us there. I’m on LinkedIn, Eric Malka. We have a venture capital fund called Strategic Brand Investments that we invest in in emerging entrepreneurial companies. We are easy to find.