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Deciem is a Toronto-based company founded in 2013 by a serial beauty entrepreneur named Brandon Truaxe. The company name is a metaphor of sorts. According to a company representative, "The name comes from decima, which means 'ten' in Latin. Brandon called his craziness Deciem since everyone was always telling him not to do ten things at once, and he wanted to do exactly that. The name is to reflect this message and so it will stay the same even when we have more than ten brands."
The fact that there are now ten brands is just lucky alignment; there were only two at launch. The brands include skin care, hair care, a men's grooming line, and supplements, each with a unique personality profile – color cosmetics are in the works. (More on the brands shortly.)
According to Cosmetics Mag, Truaxe and a partner started a luxury skincare line in 2006 called Euoko, whose best seller cost $525. After selling that brand, he started another beauty company called Indeed Labs, which he left in 2012. He started Deciem while working under a two-year facial anti-aging product non-compete agreement with Indeed Labs, launching with anti-aging hand products under the name Hand Chemistry and an oral supplement brand called Fountain. Hand Chemistry soon became a best seller at Boots in the UK, partly because people were using it on their faces, which is certainly one way to circumvent a non-compete.
"I think the beauty industry is a scam."
By all accounts, Truaxe is kooky, almost like a Willy Wonka of face cream. He says things like this gem from an interview last year in the Globe and Mail: "I think the [beauty] industry is a scam. That’s why I decided not to hire anyone who has ever worked in beauty before. There’s no point in hiring people experienced in scams." In a Q-and-A with Get the Gloss, he shared,"I start work naked in my bed and end it the same way every day. In between, either be unnoticeable or make a statement. In between is really bad. It's like buying flat black Diesel jeans." This is not something that, say, Leonard Lauder would ever share in an interview.
This is all part of the marketing narrative, which positions the company as an outsider in the industry, as "the abnormal beauty company." The website is a riot of color, self-deprecation, and long ingredient descriptions. I respond to it very strongly. The marketing is as compelling as Glossier’s, but for a neurotic skin care obsessive who cares about the difference between an AHA and a BHA rather than the perennial cool girl who maybe uses some serum once a month when she feels hormonal.
The packaging is heavy on dropper bottles featuring graphic labels with vaguely sci-fi sounding names, like NIOD. It’s all very apothecary-lab-sample-esque. The products are generally not scented, so each has its own unique chemical-y smell. Don’t let this turn you off, though, because some of the most beloved and effective cult skin care products, like Biologique Recherche’s P50 and Skinceuticals’ CE Ferulic smell downright disgusting. The overall effect is, "I’m scientific. Trust me."
Despite this focus on the clinical, it's all definitely done with a wink, and taken to an almost ludicrous extreme. Colorful bottles and labels show up across some brands that really evoke the Wonka aesthetic, and these contrast nicely with the faux-serious dropper bottles. But nowhere is the branding sillier than in the men's Ab Crew line. Imagine Axe meeting the WWE and you have an idea of what the products look like.
Deciem is trying to capture a breadth of consumers, from skincare newbies to those willing to spend $200 for a copper serum, which is ambitious. Its multitude of brands, and all the processes, from manufacturing to marketing, are self-contained and done in-house. "As a start-up, no single brand and concept can justify significant investment in having in-house laboratory, creative, manufacturing, technology, distribution, sales, and marketing resources," Truaxe said in an email. "However, when you work on a few brands, they can each afford their timeshare of our resources. Furthermore, our team is always very excited and energized because of fresh ideas, brands and products. It's very difficult to find and retain incredible talent – and money isn't the way to do it. Evolving passion in what you do is the only way."
Deciem sells all of its brands on its website, at select retailers all over the world, and at three brick-and-mortar stores in Toronto. Stores are also slated to open in Melbourne, Sydney, and Seoul. UK and US stores are in the works. The UK has enthusiastically embraced the company, and it’s become fairly mainstream there after the success of Hand Chemistry and recognition by large magazines like Cosmopolitan UK. (Truaxe told the Globe and Mail, "The British media lick the floor when Deciem has something new.") He says its direct retail business is the company’s biggest focus now. "It has continued to grow more than ten times year-on-year," he said.
"It's very difficult to find and retain incredible talent – and money isn't the way to do it."
This growth is causing some corresponding growing pains. There have been anecdotal reports on Reddit about shipping delays and one confusing email blast asking customers to send pictures of their credit cards for verification.
I myself ordered several products, and then realized about ten days later that I'd never received a shipment confirmation; no one responded to email queries. When I finally called, I was put on hold and then disconnected. When I called the same toll-free number again, I somehow ended up speaking to someone at one of the Toronto stores, who told me that phone number was shared by both customer service and the stores. She was lovely in only the way Canadians are and finally connected me to the correct person. She was able to get my order out of limbo, and it arrived two days later. Clearly some infrastructure still needs to be built.
Various Deciem brands (see below for specifics) are carried at CVS, Urban Outfitters, Joyus, Shen Beauty, Anthropologie, and Free People here in the US. While these brands have been flying under the radar here, the company’s profile is likely to skyrocket thanks to this month’s launch of its latest brand, The Ordinary.
The Ordinary is a line of basic skin care, featuring one or two active ingredients, at prices that even make drugstore skin care brands look expensive. On August 31, the company sent out a newsletter to subscribers announcing the Ordinary, and a frenzy ensued. (Typical Reddit comment: "I told myself I'd slow down and start patch testing my products more. Anyway I just bought 4 of them I can't wait to put them on all at once.")
A sell-out since launch, The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension costs a mere $5.80. This range has caused much excitement online because of the high-concentration, low-frill, low price formula. Picking and choosing individual ingredients without the unnecessary, fancy botanicals that so many brands like to add into skincare is heady for a bunch of people who analyze every ingredient religiously. It's also great for a skincare newbie, because the product descriptions very directly say, "[Insert ingredient name] is for [insert skin issue]."
Marketing has all been done by word-of-mouth so far. "We sold over 50,000 units in just a couple of weeks since launching The Ordinary and have been unable to stay on track as it is, so marketing will have to be an after thought once we settle down a bit with this initial rush," Truaxe said.
Apparently this is all working for Deciem. People, myself included, seem to mix and match products from the various Deciem brands in high-low regimens. "Our average margin percentage on The Ordinary is far higher than, say, NIOD's Flavanone Mud, which has our lowest margin to make it sensibly priced. For example, very high purity Niacinamide costs under $10 per kilogram and so the cost of all materials in Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% is under one dollar," explains Truaxe. "Most of the cost actually goes into compounding, testing, and retail costs/margins. We haven't cut any margin percentage and The Ordinary is a sustainable model."