Its list of clients and investors reads like a who’s who of Hollywood and game- changers. Celebrities, supermodels and beauty editors worldwide swear by it – and of their own accord. It’s an impressive feat for a four-year-old brand launched by a duo who have never worked in the beauty industry.
Augustinus Bader, respected German biomedical scientist and physician, founded the eponymous skincare brand. An expert in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine, Bader is currently the director of Cell Techniques and Applied Stem Cell Biology at The University of Leipzig in Germany.
In 2008, Bader created the Wound Gel. With its ability to treat diabetic wounds and third-degree burns, it eliminates the need for surgery, skin grafts or scar revision. It works by carrying healing signals to the wound, which trigger a response from damaged skin cells and produces an accelerated restoration process.
A dinner with French investor Charles Rosier changed Bader’s life trajectory. Impressed with the Wound Gel, Rosier convinced Bader to create a skincare product and took on the role of the brand’s CEO. Today, the brand has numerous products across skin, hair and body care categories. All of the products are powered by the Trigger-Factor Complex 8 (TCF-8), a patented complex created from Bader’s 30 years’ of research on skin healing and tissue repair.
With the launch of Augustinus Bader in Singapore at Sephora Raffles City, Bader and Rosier tell us more about the brand’s journey and why its products are skincare investments.
What inspired the Augustinus Bader brand?
Augustinus Bader (AB): The Wound Gel was an unconventional approach to healing wounds. I’m trained in organ transplantation, so the idea was to develop alternatives to transplantation medicine by helping the body heal itself. While it was my field of research, it’s not the scope of the university to develop such products. It costs hundreds of millions of dollars to develop it. After 10 years of trying to find a way to make it from basic research, I met Charles and showed him pictures of the effects of the Wound Gel on burn victims, who were children.
He believed that there was something about the technology and it was his idea to translate it into a skincare product.
Charles Rosier (CR): When I saw the pictures of the burn victims’ healing process, I was amazed that this technology existed, but was not made available. Technology like that is useful for everyone on the planet, from the Red Cross to war zones or anywhere where there is a catastrophe.
The cases of burn victims are from emerging countries, and it takes a lot of investment and years of clinical trials to get the Wound Gel approved as a drug. The risk for pharmaceutical companies to finance the Wound Gel, compared to potential rewards, was not exciting in their eyes. I thought, “What if we create an efficacious product that could be profitable?” Those profits can then be used to finance the clinical trials. Ultimately, moving to skincare was a pragmatic financing tool for the Wound Gel.
How was this idea translated into skincare?
CR: It’s the safest and most efficient way to use your own healing capacities through stem cells that you have in your body.
It’s like using your own body as a bioreactor. Augustinus is the only person in the world to find the signals to awaken your dormant stem cells and healing capacity. That philosophy is translated slightly into the skincare product. It’s all about nourishing your skin cell environments, so they make the right decision.
AB: It helps your skin to be healthy by repairing it a little every day. It can adjust to the type of skin the individual has.
What were the challenges you faced?
CR: It’s a very competitive industry. As Augustinus’ business partner, I created the company, recruited the teams and financed it. I put all my savings into launching the brand. I wouldn’t have done it if I was more knowledgeable of the industry. I was daring from ignorance, which was a blessing at the time. The level of risk I took and belief I had was a very simple equation. I had 100 per cent confidence that Augustinus could create the best product.
I knew that his science was unique and nobody else had access to science on that level of regenerative capacity. However, I neglected the fact that we live in a world where having the best product isn’t enough. You can have the best product, yet still be bankrupt. We were almost bankrupt at least five times in the first year. I had my chief financial officer resign three times because we were two weeks away from having no cash. I sold my flat in London; I was selling everything.
What have you achieved with the brand since then?
CR: We’re only a four-year-old brand, but what we’ve achieved is great. We’ve also won many awards. WWD Beauty organised a jury last year of hundreds of professionals with makeup artists like Bobbi Brown, and even the CEO of Estee Lauder. They voted us number one for the Greatest Skincare of All Time title. We were an independent brand that was just three years old at the time, yet we ranked ahead of products from Estee Lauder and L’Oreal.
Many people in Hollywood use our product, including top makeup artists and beauty leaders. From Naomi Campbell to Brad Pitt to Leonardo DiCaprio – they all use our product and say they see a difference.
And ever since Bobbi Brown tried our products, she’s mentioned the brand. She’s even said that she buys our moisturisers for all the important women in her life because they make the best gifts. That’s the type of endorsement we have. It all happened very fast and we’re grateful for that. But those first nine months were very tricky.
What’s the driving factor for the brand’s growth?
CR: Part of it is driven by the word-of- mouth. Today, our strongest ambassadors are our community, the people who have discovered and use Augustinus Bader.
To have a voice in such a crowded market isn’t easy, so we’re grateful for the journalists and celebrities who’ve given testimonials about their own journey with our products. We don’t pay them, but they endorse us.
Gwyneth Paltrow has also said that she uses her own brand’s products in the day and Augustinus Bader’s The Rich Cream at night. Testimonies like that are really organic.
Marketing-wise, we can’t compete against big companies like Estee Lauder, LVMH, L’Oreal and Chanel. We’ll never have their budget, but how can we compete when we’re an independent brand?
You must have something of your own and for us, it’s our proprietary technology. We also do clinical trials for every product we launch, not just user trials. The impact is measured by independent instruments through independent parties. We’re not asking someone how their skin feels. We measure wrinkles using instruments. If you look at the clinical trials done by other brands, it usually involves seven to 15 people. We do clinical trials of about three months each with between 100 and 300 people.
Our products are also cleaner than brands that claim to be clean. Most of our products rank 100 out of 100 on Yuka (a barcode scanning app that highlights the clean content of cosmetics). We have this combination of science, efficacy and a clean formula. Our philosophy is to finance something that has a good impact. To do that, we’ve to make sure that these skincare products are healthy.
Why launch in Singapore?
CR: Singapore is a hub and it’s an influential place in Asia Pacific. It’s where people appreciate such products and are able to invest in high-end ones. It’s also a place where trends can be set. We need that.
We went to Hollywood as it’s where the stars are known everywhere and that’s where the influence is global. We didn’t have the resources to go country by country.
Once you have celebrities talking about your products, it resonates almost everywhere else. Like I said, having the best products is not enough. We need to communicate.
Tell us about your star products.
CR: For the first 18 months, we only had The Cream and The Rich Cream. They’re our hero products and the best-selling products globally.
The product after those two is The Body Cream. Hollywood actresses say they love what they see on their faces and want the same for their bodies.
We’re told a solution was needed for stretch marks and cellulite. When we did clinical trials for The Body Cream, the results were astonishing. We saw clear results without any change in diet or routine. Our hair-care range also shows incredible results in clinical trials for strand thickness and number of hairs. Our latest launch is the eyelash and eyebrow serum. Unlike others, our product has no side effects and you don’t need to use it every day.
That’s why we don’t think we’re a skincare company branching into different things. We’re a technology platform that adapts it into products for people looking for solutions.
How do you feel when you look back on how the brand started?
CR: I’ve no skincare background and neither does Augustinus. He didn’t take my idea very seriously and it took me two years to convince him. When we met, we never would’ve thought that we’d create a skincare company together. If someone told me that I was going to launch a skincare company, I’d have laughed and it’s the same for him. AB: It was daring at the time with this technology that was different. I’m a little shy, but Charles is more innovative and spirited. There was a phase when people said that the Wound Gel was too good to be true or not real, so credit goes to Charles for believing in it early on. To see it translate into a product was visionary.