His list of clients and investors reads like the who’s who of Hollywood and the revolutionaries. Celebs, supermodels and beauty editors around the world trust him, and of his own free will. It’s an impressive feat for a four-year-old brand launched by a duo who have never worked in the beauty industry before.
Augustinus Bader, a respected German physician and biomedical scientist, founded the eponymous skin care brand. An expert in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine, Bader is currently director of Cellular 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 grafting, or scar revision. It works by delivering healing signals to the wound, triggering a response from damaged skin cells and causing an accelerated healing process.
A dinner with French investor Charles Rosier changed the trajectory of Bader’s life. Impressed with the wound gel, Rosier convinced Bader to create a skin care product, and he assumed the role of CEO of the brand. Today, the brand has numerous products in the skin, hair, and body care categories. All products are powered by Trigger-Factor Complex 8 (TCF-8), a proprietary complex created from Bader’s 30 years of research into 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 their products are investments in skincare.
What inspired the Augustinus Bader brand?
Augustin Bader (AB): The Wound Gel was an unconventional approach to healing wounds. I am trained in organ transplantation, so the idea was to develop alternatives to transplant medicine by helping the body heal itself. Although it was my field of research, it is not the purview of the university to develop such products. It costs hundreds of millions of dollars to develop. After 10 years of trying to figure out a way to do it from basic research, I met Charles and showed him photos of the effects of Wound Gel on burn victims, who were children.
He believed there was something to technology and it was his idea to translate it into a skin care product.
Charles Rosier (CR): When I saw the images of the healing process of burn victims, I was surprised that this technology existed, but was not available. Technology like that is useful to everyone on the planet, from the Red Cross to war zones to anywhere 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 for the Wound Gel to be approved as a medicine. The risk of drug companies funding wound gel, compared to the potential rewards, didn’t seem exciting to them. I thought, “What if we created an effective product that could be profitable?” Those profits can be used to fund clinical trials. Ultimately, moving into skincare was a pragmatic funding tool for Wound Gel.
How did this idea translate into skin care?
CR: It is the safest and most efficient way to use your own healing abilities through the stem cells you have in your body.
It’s like using your own body as a bioreactor. Augustinus is the only person in the world who has found the signals to awaken his dormant stem cells and his healing abilities. That philosophy translates slightly into the skincare product. It’s all about nourishing the skin cell environments, so they make the right choice.
BA: Help your skin to be healthy by repairing it a little each day. It can be adjusted to the type of skin that the individual has.
What were the challenges you faced?
CR: It is 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 had more knowledge of the industry. I dared out of ignorance, which was a blessing at the time. The level of risk I took and the belief I held was a very simple equation. I was 100% confident that Augustinus could create the best product.
He knew that his science was unique and no one else had access to science at that level of regenerative ability. However, I neglected the fact that we live in a world where having the best product is not enough. You can have the best product and still be broke. We came close to going bankrupt at least five times in the first year. My CFO resigned three times because we were two weeks away from being cashless. I sold my flat in London; I was selling everything.
What have you achieved with the brand since then?
CR: We are only a four year old brand, but what we have achieved is excellent. We have also won many awards. WWD Beauty hosted a jury last year of hundreds of professionals with makeup artists like Bobbi Brown, and even the CEO of Estee Lauder. We were voted number one for the Best Skin Care of All Time title. We were an independent brand that was only three years old at the time, but 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 a Leonardo Dicaprio – everyone uses our product and says they see a difference.
And ever since Bobbi Brown tried our products, she mentions the brand. She has even said that she buys our moisturizers for all the important women in her life because they are the best gifts. That’s the kind of backing we have. It all happened very quickly and we are thankful for that. But those first nine months were very difficult.
What is the driving factor of brand growth?
CR: Part of this is driven by word of mouth. Today, our strongest ambassadors are our community, the people who have discovered and use Augustinus Bader.
Having a voice in such a crowded marketplace isn’t easy, so we’re grateful for the journalists and celebrities who have provided 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 products during the day and Augustinus Bader’s The Rich Cream at night. Testimonials like that are really organic.
When it comes to marketing, we can’t compete against big companies like Estee Lauder, LVMH, L’Oreal and Chanel. We’ll never have your 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 conduct clinical trials for every product we launch, not just user trials. The impact is measured by independent instruments through independent parties. We are not asking someone how their skin feels. We measure wrinkles using instruments. If you look at the clinical trials conducted by other brands, they typically involve 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 are rated 100 out of 100 on Yuka (a barcode scanning app that highlights clean content in 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 need to make sure that these skin care products are healthy.
Why launch in Singapore?
CR: Singapore is a hub and is an influential place in Asia Pacific. It is where people appreciate these products and can invest in high-end products. It is also a place where trends can be set. We need that.
We went to Hollywood because that’s where the stars are known everywhere and that’s where the influence is global. We did not have the resources to go country by country.
Once you have celebrities talking about your products, it resonates with just about everyone 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 are our flagship products and the best-selling products worldwide.
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.
They told us that a solution was needed for stretch marks and cellulite. When we did clinical trials for The Body Cream, the results were amazing. We saw clear results without any change in diet or routine. Our hair care range also shows incredible results in clinical trials for hair thickness and hair count. 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 that branches out into different things. We are a technological platform that adapts it to products for people who are looking for solutions.
How do you feel when you remember how the brand started?
CR: I have no skincare experience 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 have thought that we would start a skin care company together. If someone had told me that he was going to launch a skin care company, he would have laughed at me and the same thing happens to him. AB: It was daring at the time with this technology that was different. I’m a bit shy, but Charles is more innovative and energetic. There was a phase where people said that wound gel was too good to be true or not, so credit goes to Charles for believing in it from the start. Seeing it translate into a product was visionary.