ROWSE on Defying Industry Standards
Boutique skincare brand ROWSE deconstructs complicated lotions and unrealistic advertising to bring customers natural ingredients in their purest form. Speaking from Spain, CEO Gabriela Salord and Creative Director Nuria Val share their approach to building a dynamic beauty company and explain how entrepreneurial ambition can benefit nature, people and creativity.
Advance Copy: Congratulations on opening the reimagined ROWSE studio. What was the idea behind this space?
Gabriela Salord: The studio is located in Barcelona and our idea was to create a space that would represent the brand. It was so important for us to have a space where people could meet us and we could do events and pop-ups. We decided to work with Isern Serra, an architect friend of ours. The space is a combination of a showroom, where people can feel and experience a ROWSE moment, and a creative studio. Everything we do in ROWSE in terms of the brand image comes from that studio.
AC: Was it a difficult decision to open during the lockdown?
Gabriela: It wasn’t easy, I agree, it was a lot of work to put everything together for April but it was so exciting and it was our first place representing the brand. We opened to people and friends of the brand and did a three-day pop-up.
Nuria Val: It’s amazing how people reacted and it made us realise that it’s not because you’re a D2C brand that you don’t have to have a physical space. It has been a huge milestone for us.
“You give everything you have to give…a lot of personal sacrifices have to be made and you have to know why.”
AC: If I’m correct Nuria, you come from the world of photography and creative direction? And for you Gabriela, that world was funding, venture capital and finance. Did you feel like you had to adjust your skills to begin working on the brand together?
Nuria: It had been a learning process since the beginning even though I was already working on creative content and Gabriela was working on the business part. Since the very beginning we were a great team but building a brand is not just taking photos and finding money. It’s a life experience. We had great moments and hard moments to define the brand and to make it grow.
Gabriela: You give everything you have to give. Nuria is pregnant and I have an 18-month old baby at home so a lot of personal sacrifices have to be made and you have to know why. I think that’s where we are very much aligned.
Nuria: The process of creating ROWSE was to first understand what we wanted to do. We wanted to go back to basics and find the easiest way to take care of ourselves. This is something that was super clear and also we had to do things right and we had to build a brand that we would be proud of. It took almost a year to understand what we first wanted.
Gabriela: We listened to the community that was surrounding us, the people that were following Nuria and our inner circles. We wanted to understand if there was a reason for us to try to create yet another beauty brand and what peoples’ expectations were. What made sense was to learn to use the power of plants to take care of yourself, your skin and the planet. Everything that we’ve done has had sustainable reasoning behind it. To give you a concrete example, we don’t have a face cream because a cream is an emulsion of water and oil so we decided to reconstruct that piece of your routine and give you the raw floral water and the raw oil. In nature, you can find many types of waters and oils that are suited to your skin type which enables us to create a personalised beauty routine for everyone just from raw ingredients. Everything we do comes from nature, we want to show people how to use these plants. That’s the core of ROWSE.
Nuria: That’s something interesting about ROWSE that when you’re using raw ingredients, for example the Neroli oil, you connect with the Neroli – its smell, the feeling and freshness. It’s a creative experience you make on your own and you know exactly what you’re putting on your face.
Gabriela: Another favourite step of our routine is encouraging our community to create masks at home. So we have plant powders and clays that you can mix with oil or water to make a mask. And it’s really part of the experience to smell it, feel it and pause to take time for yourself. That’s what we try to convey with ROWSE.
“Use the power of plants to take care of yourself, your skin and the planet.”
AC: In essence, you are deconstructing cosmetics to help customers create a relationship with the natural ingredients and help them recognise what they are putting on their skin. That tactility and time aspect is often condensed by classic cosmetic brands for convenience.
Nuria: And it’s another way to connect to nature. My work as a photographer is really connected to nature but I didn’t have this connection in the beauty industry before.
Gabriela: There’s been a lot of improvement with brands trying to use natural ingredients and creating clean formulations. But then the [visual] content is made in a studio with perfect skin and perfect people. We just wanted to be raw in every sense of the word. For us, showing nature is part of the whole experience. We got a lot of compliments for one of our campaigns for night serums, one of them is specific for acne-prone and oily skin. The girl we used as our model, Lex, is beautiful but has been struggling with acne and we showed it in our pictures. A lot of people reached out to say, “Wow, it’s the first time that I see a brand advertising something for acne and showing people who have breakouts.” We want to do things differently and there is still so much that can be improved. It’s little by little and we are bringing our vision to a very traditional industry.
“For us, simplifying means bringing everything in-house and doing it in a way that nobody else can.”
AC: You talk about simplifying cosmetics, do you have the same approach to the business side of the ROWSE? Do you feel like you are trying to deconstruct the processes and structures around brand-building?
Gabriela: I think we are trying to simplify in the sense that we have to have a very lean structure. We started as self-funded, we didn’t want to get into the race of raising money just for the sake of it. Everything is very simple. We have a creative studio in Barcelona and the idea of having a sort-of integrated agency was to not be dependent on third parties. So Nuria has the vision and she can execute it with her team. Everything is in-house: the agency, the logistics, we have our own warehouse and a product developer too. A lot of brands will have an external person who will create the formulas, we have that person in-house and she has her own lab in an office in Madrid next to our warehouse. For us, simplifying means bringing everything in-house and doing it in a way that nobody else can. It was also important to grow the brand organically so until we reached 40,000 followers on Instagram we didn’t spend a dime on marketing ads. Since then we have been testing it and seeing where growth will come from but we’re not the kind of brand that relies on online ads to grow. We have a very close relationship with our community that feeds us to create new products, new bundles and content because we know that’s what they want.
Gabriela: We’re both very ambitious and we have big plans for ROWSE but it doesn’t mean that we can’t do it in a healthy way. Everything from growing the brand organically to recruiting little by little just the people we needed. Having a team that stayed with us in the hard moments when there was no office, working from home during the lockdown – they’ve all been there for us. It feels like a family.
“We are bringing our vision to a very traditional industry.”
AC: You’re a relatively young brand but one that is experiencing significant success. I’m intrigued to hear what metrics you are using to measure growth?
Gabriela: We don’t want to go too fast in a sense of you’re not going to find us in commercial, mass-market retailers which would give us huge visibility. That’s not where we want to be so we are trying to play our cards well and find a balance. We are considering a few retailers that are strategically interesting because of the kind of community that they can open us up to, the kind of visibility that we want to gain. A very simple metric for us is the new customers that we’re gaining every month and the trend is higher and higher, and that’s amazing. Another metric is the countries that we are looking at. It all started in Spain: that’s where we opened the showroom, run events and have more contact with the media and local content creators but it doesn’t mean that we can’t be elsewhere. We are measuring if new customers are coming from Germany, France or the US and seeing little by little where it’s worth to use our marketing playbook and try to open a new showroom, run pop-ups and engage with the media.
Nuria: For me growing, in terms of image, is having a strong community who’s enjoying receiving and using the products, taking pictures and connecting with nature. Finally, they represent us.
Gabriela: We think a healthier way to grow your brand, or your company, is through your customer base. We’re amazed every day to see how people are sharing [ROWSE], they bring their mum, their sister or their friend.
Nuria: We also have this creative part on our website called The Greenhouse, where we have conversations with people, artists and many collaborations that make the brand really cool and rich. It’s another way to understand the brand from the eyes of another artist.
“We think a healthier way to grow your brand is through your customer base.”
AC: What’s your approach to creative content, how do artist partnerships and elements like The Greenhouse support the idea of “a purpose-driven creative community”?
Nuria: Something that’s super nice is that we connect with people who aren’t beauty experts and now they are using products that connect them to the planet. ROWSE is an open project, we are doing beauty but also ceramics, books and [working with] nature and artists. As the Creative Director, that opens the door to many things that I couldn’t do as a freelancer for other brands because I had creative limitations in the process. ROWSE was the project that I could develop myself as a creative. That’s important for the brand and for me.
AC: How do you balance the data-centric parts of the business with its nature-led ethos?
Gabriela: Of course everything is data-centric and it’s the core of our business. It’s ten messages when you first start so you can do it by hand, but when it’s a community as big as ours you have to run surveys and use different tools to analyse and find incentives. It’s been so interesting because we discover so many things that are guiding us through the journey and it’s about finding the balance with what we really feel like we should be doing.
Nuria: And following our intuition.
Gabriela: …our gut feelings, we do that a lot! People think that a business has to be very data-driven and scientific when in reality, it’s being creative because you have to make bold decisions. Sometimes you’re not sure and numbers won’t guide you every time. And maybe that was the hook for the two of us, that in a way we are being creative whether it’s building a team from scratch, trying to assess opportunities where to drive growth, the image that we want to convey and the kind of people that we want to relate to with the brand. Maybe the bottom line is creativity.