This week our interview partner is Sam Farmer, founder of a unisex personal care line named after himself  (read on to find out why) that caters to  teenagers. Sam also founded the Cosmetic Information Network (CIN) which provides a collaborative environment for professionals in the personal care and cosmetics industry. He is also very active on Twitter where you can find him discussing current news, misinformation in the industry and personal thoughts.

In this edition of #AskTheExpert you will learn more about:

  • Sam’s background in personal care and his vocal opinion of the issues the industry faces today
  • Archaic ways of stereotyping, especially towards teenagers, in the personal care industry
  • The rise and importance of gender fluidity and unisex products ad how some brands have abused this, to their own detriment
  • The flood of misinformation about ingredients and how brands try to leverage this to tear down others and scare consumers with empty claims

Q: Hi Sam, Thank you for taking the time to speak to us today. First question: What’s your favorite personal care product right now?

Dizziak hair care products have a fantastic formulation and ethos. Their packaging makes you stop in your tracks and pick up the product – a rarity these days - and Loretta De Féo is an inspirational brand owner.

My other current favourite personal care brand is Ameliorate. They have formulated for a specific skin condition and applied their expertise to help with Keratosis Pilaris.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you end up developing skin care products?

I was a stay at home dad.  When my son and daughter reached adolescence they had asked me to get them a deodorant. I couldn’t believe that an industry with such an opportunity to engage with young people resorted to lazy and outdated sexual stereotyping as the main message to connect with teenagers.  

Having always bought my daughter and son up as equals, it made sense to develop a range of essential personal care products that didn’t tell them who to be or how they should behave. The formulations simply help with adolescent skin and hair issues they experience.

Q: How was your experience going back to school for cosmetic science? Was it more challenging or simpler than you expected?

It was difficult, challenging and I absolutely loved it. I hadn’t done any Chemistry for 25 years so in the end I hired a private Chemistry tutor to help me catch up on those lost years.   

Coming back to science as an adult has been liberating. It’s as if a light has been turned on, I’ve met the most incredible people and visited awe inspiring places. The cosmetic science community are immensely supportive of each other and if I’m struggling to answer a problem, I can always find someone who can help me.

Q: The Sam Farmer brand carries your name and you even have your phone number on your website. Why is this?

The name was a quick solution to a big problem. Every name we thought of either sounded a bit ‘cynical’ or had already been taken. Sam is a unisex name and the ethos of the company is mine, so it just made sense. If someone wants to copy the brand they’ll do it anyway but they can’t copy the individual.

My mobile number is on the website and in fact on the back of each product in the new production run. When it comes to contacting companies, I‘m bored of not being able to talk to a human being, let alone someone who can actually deal with my question.

Q: Why did you choose to create specifically a unisex personal care line for teenagers?

Using gender segregation in personal care at exactly the age when we should be bringing young people together seemed absurd. In this day and age, young people no longer use gender as the main means to define themselves.

Scientifically, a product cannot identify gender - the formulation does the job it’s been designed to do. Splitting the same product into two types of packaging, one for girls and one for boys just seemed unnecessarily wasteful and pointless. 

Q: Gender fluidity or unisex lines are being seen more and more in the beauty industry today. Do you have any brands that are doing this well from your perspective? And do you think this is a trend that is here to stay?  

In mass market personal care, having observed the recent ‘mixed’ reaction to the Gillette ad and the recent change in direction for Lynx, the pitfalls of getting it wrong can be damaging and long lasting. The messages and images a company uses should originate from the brand’s authentic core values or they risk being viewed with some cynicism. In many cases, the stereotypes now being challenged are exactly those created by some of these brands in the first place.  

Consumers are also now more vocal in their opinions, with social media allowing everyone to have a say on what a brand is doing. Changing direction on a sixpence to the exact opposite of what a brand’s communication has been focussed on for decades is risible. Consumers are skeptical and suspicious of such strategies, and brands risk their audience becoming disenchanted if their communications are not grounded in an authentic value or belief.

It may well be a trend for some. I’m trying to level the playing field though so it’s about equality.

Q: Are there any other issues you are seeing in the personal care industry today? 

The industry is tearing itself apart at the moment, it’s as though someone has pressed the self destruct button.  

The misinformation surrounding not only ingredients but many aspects of our industry is being used as a sales tactic to scare and humiliate the consumer.  

At a time when consumers are beginning to become genuinely interested in ingredients and formulations, some brands have seen this as an opportunity to trash talk each other instead of educating and inspiring consumers and other brands alike.  

The global companies haven’t made a stand against this tide of misinformation and, in their cowardice, have let indie brands dictate the direction of travel. The tail is now wagging the dog when it comes to cosmetic science which is a completely absurd situation.  

So many indie brand owners are completely ignorant of the chemistry involved in the products they are selling. It has been catastrophic.

Q: How are you, as a brand and individual, trying to overcome these issues?

I try to engage with people who have much more influence than I do. Bloggers, YouTubers, journalists and others who can get the message out there.

The really interesting aspect is that consumers just want the information, when certain issues are explained clearly they find this much more interesting than using asinine single words like “Clean” or the infantilizing “no nasties”.

Q: When looking for ingredients, what are the most important things you consider? 

Efficacy (evidence), supply chain security, sustainability, and compatibility.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about Covalo?

I love getting lost in Covalo's search criteria and discovering ingredients that I might have overlooked for a specific task in a formulation.

That’s it from our #AskTheExpert interview about with Sam Farmer. What do you think? Were these insights helpful?

Please share this with your colleagues by clicking one of the social media like or share buttons above, and remember to leave a comment. We love hearing from our readers!

Also, Covalo is always looking for interview partners who want to share their knowledge and thoughts about the personal care industry. If you are interested in being featured in our  #AsktheExpert series, send us a message.

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