Timothy Han. Image courtesy of Charles Moriarty.

As the skincare industry sees a huge shift in favour of natural and organic products, Urban Times gets the opportunity to speak to the delightful Timothy Han; founder of his own luxury and organic skincare brand.

Timothy reveals the beauty industries biggest myths, shares the incredible journey taken to get his products to receive organic recognition and speaks of the legacy he wishes to leave behind.

In what way do you hope the Timothy Han brand can change perceptions within the luxury industry?

I think it will change people’s perceptions about what’s possible with skincare. Even though our product is organic, we’re not telling customers that, unless they read the fine print. This is contradictory to the way most organic products are marketed.

The Timothy Han brand is linked quite closely with sustainable luxury so how would you define this?

I suppose it’s a little bit like defining what organic is. In a true sense, organic as a concept is a relatively new way of thinking. Pre-thirties and DDT, there was no such thing as organic food as there was no need for it. Food, by and large, was organic. It’s the same with the luxury industry; traditionally, luxury was all about the quality of materials, the craftsmanship and the longevity of the products. It’s only more recently that luxury has lost its perspective. We became much more about the brand rather than the product. So, for me, sustainable luxury is a little bit like bringing luxury back to its roots.

But aren’t the two words ‘luxury’ and ‘sustainability’ paradoxical, as luxury is often associated with being ‘over-the-top/indulgent/lavish’, which seems opposite to the term sustainable?

On the contrary. I would actually argue that luxury is sustainable by its very nature. If you compare luxury to fast fashion, for example, where it’s all about the here and now and things which are ephemeral, luxury has always been about quality, endurance and craftsmanship. Luxury has never really been about mass consumption. Authentic luxury is about consuming less; consuming quality.

Luxury has always been about quality, endurance and craftsmanship

Luxury is actually a forerunner. The luxury industry influences the highstreet and what happens in the luxury industry eventually trickles down. So I think from that point of view it’s important to set an example to the rest of the industry.

But it seems the Timothy Han brand is the exception rather than the rule. Given the fact that luxury brands have the necessary resources to build sustainability into the core of the business model, why are so many luxury companies not doing more?

You’d be surprised actually. A lot of luxury companies are looking at building sustainability into their processes. One of the projects I was involved with was to help set up a round table together with the UN, that essentially addresses the issue of how the luxury industry can behave more sustainably. We worked with a lot of the big NGOs and IGOs, from the UN Environmental Program to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. We also have a lot of the big luxury brands sitting around a table, from Zegna and Burberry to Gucci Group etc; all working together to drive sustainability.

So many of the big luxury brands have become involved in addressing issues of biodiversity. What’s interesting is that most don’t publicly say that they are involved- the reason being that if you’re a big brand and you try to start with one effort into something which is sustainable, all the skeptics will immediately pick it apart and say, “You’re still not doing x, y and z.” A big company can’t make everything sustainable overnight; they have to do it step by step.

Timothy Han Products. Images Courtesy of Timothy Han.

Specializing in skincare and candles, how would you describe the current situation in the industry right now and how is it different from 5 years ago?

The industry at the moment is going through a state of flux. It used to be completely about synthetic, science-driven products; then it went more towards natural products, and then fluctuated more towards doctor-driven products, before people got horrified about all the ingredients and switched to organic. Then people realised that for the most part organic products didn’t actually work, when it came to technical skincare. Now the industry is trying to find a new balance. So it’s always changing.

The big problem was when organic products first came out, companies were so concerned with removing what were perceived as all the harmful chemicals from products in order to meet organic certification, that they didn’t put enough consideration into putting actives in the product that actually made it work. For this reasons there’s been a big backlash against organic products by consumers in the larger scheme. Sure there are always niche consumers, but it wasn’t being as widely adopted in the way that things like organic food have been.

So how do you ensure that your products do work?

We spent nearly four years developing our new range; we have done extensive research to identify ingredients that have been proven to be effective and serve a purpose. We’ve worked together with UCL Advances to identify the extragenic aging factors that affect your skin. This was done in conjunction with a world leading doctor of dermo-cosmetology, to look at what kind of actives you can use with your skin to prevent the damages which we’re constantly facing in our everyday urban lives.

We have done extensive research to identify ingredients that have been proven to be effective and serve a purpose

When we put our products through Soil Association Certification, whereby they could normally approve a product in 2 weeks, it took us something like 8 months before we started to receive organic certification. As a result of using so many new ingredients that they’d never certified before, they had to go right back to the source on every single item, and vet it in order to make sure it met their standards. Furthermore, the Soil Association Certification is the strictest when giving organic certifications which really complicated things.

Your cosmetic products aren’t accessible to everyone given your price bracket. How can we better make sustainable products more accessible?

That’s a really difficult thing. It’s a bit of a catch 22 situation because to do things at the level you can afford, you’re going to need volumes. If you’re a small brand, you won’t get those volumes up. The other thing you have to consider is that all our raw materials costs are significantly higher than non-organic or non eco-friendly ingredients. So you’re forced to have a more premium product just by that very nature.

So I don’t know that we’d necessarily call our product luxury- it’s a quality product and it’s aimed at a consumer who’s aware and who wants a performance product. If you compare our product to the Body Shop, yes, it’s expensive; if you walked into Bergdorf Goodman or Space NK, then it’s not that expensive.

Timothy Han Candles. Images Courtesy of Timothy Han.

How did you begin with candles?

There was a report that was done in the early 2000’s in Maastricht, the Netherlands, analysing the air quality of a particular church. The key facts published was that for particulate matter, which gets in your lungs and can potentially cause cancer, the air was 20 times higher than the EU limits and it was more polluted than a freeway that had 40,000 cars traveling it daily. Now that’s down to candles, incense, fragrance, and that’s one of the things that got me interested in candles.

There was also another report that has since been pulled, where part of the American lung association had done some tests and realised how toxic candles were. This was all happening around the same time.

What about fragrance in our perfume?

There’s no law that says you must disclose what’s in your fragrance. A lot of these fragrances, particularly when they’re burned, contain formaldehyde and benzenes, which are quite bad for you.

That’s why we use only 100% natural fragrances made from pure essential oils.

Would you ever move over to the Perfume Industry?

A natural perfume evolves, so if I make a perfume right now, in an hour it will smell different, tomorrow it will smell different again

We are actually experimenting with perfumes, but we’re still a long way off. It’s a very difficult thing to do. The problem is people are so used to artificial fragrances. A natural perfume evolves, so if I make a perfume right now, in an hour it will smell different, tomorrow it will smell different again, and in a month it will smell even more different. So it’s very difficult to get a natural perfume that’s stable.

You also have a more limited palette to work from. There are a lot of fragrances which are impossible to achieve with truly natural ingredients.

Can you tell us about some of the current projects you’re working on?

We’re launching an urban skincare range, which is based on the fact that most people who consume organic products, or are concerned with healthy living, live in the city. And yet all existing organic products out there convey this message of ‘clean country living thing’, which isn’t a reality for most people. Living in the city can be very hard on your skin. What ages you is pollution from all the cars, electro-magnetic waves from things like cellphones, too many glasses of red wine, staying up too late, work stress, climate, etc. These are all the things that actually contribute greatly to ageing, and yet can be controlled.

The reason I wanted to focus on this is because the whole cosmetic industry is based on making someone feeling insecure about themselves. Cosmetics companies are often conveying the message of, “You’re looking old, you’ve got lines around your eyes. You need product X to make you look younger”. I didn’t like that it was all based on playing on people’s insecurities, as well as smoke and mirrors. There are products out there that try and make you look younger and remove wrinkles, by containing acids which tighten your skin, but at what cost? Often the instant result is at the cost of long-term damage to your skin.

So what I wanted to do is to create a brand that has a lot more integrity. I think most women know that there is no such product that will make you look 10 years younger. Our products don’t promise to make you look 10 years younger, but do promise to cleanse and detox your skin, help restore and replenish and finally enhance and protect it from the effects of extragenic ageing. We’re unique in this respect.

The whole cosmetic industry is based on making someone feeling insecure about themselves…

Being a man, and your products being marketing at mainly women, have you bridged that gap?

Our skincare range is unisex. One of the big myths about the beauty industry is men’s and women’s products. Okay: a shaving product is a men’s product, and make up remover is more of a women’s product. But generally you do not need separate products. It’s a way for companies to sell more products.

What we’ve tried to do is to create a capsule collection which essentially does everything that you need it to do.

Timothy Han Products. Images Courtesy of Timothy Han.

What kind of legacy would you like to be left behind?

I would love to revolutionise the skincare industry. I’d love to see it change to become more transparent with integrity and honesty.

Same applies for the luxury industry- I’d love to see industry become more sustainable and take more proactive roles in stewardship. The problem with globalization is that now we have head offices that are removed from any community and spread all over the world – so companies don’t have the same sense of care in the way that they used to.

With thanks to texƧture, our Eco Fashion Strategy partners. texƧture helps players in the textile, fashion and jewellery industry become successful and sustainable businesses by addressing their strategical and operational risks.

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