Looking at Nicolas Travis’ flawless and luminous skin, it’s hard to imagine that he once struggled with terrible acne as a teenager. It took years for his skin to clear, and he found the process of finding the ‘right’ products very arduous and intimidating.
This prompted him to start his own skincare line – he wanted to empower people with fuss-free products that are concentrated, multi-tasking nutrient reservoirs.
And the fact that he wanted to pursue a dream in a female-dominated industry did not daunt him.
Nicolas feels that there is a lot of unnecessary gendering in the beauty industry, when in fact the fundamental needs of our skin are very similar. The parameters for good skin is the same regardless of gender – there is no male or female skin.
Skin is skin.
So back in business school, the now 30-year-old wrote a detailed business plan for a skincare startup as part of his Master’s thesis.
After graduating in 2012, he went on to work at Ogilvy & Mather to manage social media accounts for brands such as Nestlé, Guinness and Singapore Red Cross. But he quit the job after a mere eight months because he felt like he wasn’t cut out for the agency life.
He hasn’t looked back since, and emphasised that he had “absolutely no regrets leaving”.
Creating The World’s First Day Mask
Nicolas then revisited the business plan he wrote – based on an infusion of $1 million – which was an astronomical amount to him.
So he decided to scale back and start small with just one product. After all, since he already had all the information and contacts at hand, he figured that the venture was worth a go.
Putting his prior biomedical and pharmaceutical studies to good use (he holds a degree in Pharmaceutical Management), he plunged into creating his own products, which are made and tested by third-party testing laboratories in the United States.
“I founded Allies of Skin in 2013 and spent two and a half years doing research and development, creating every formula from scratch. The early days were filled with formulation uncertainty and multiple revisions,” said Nicolas.
It took him 12 revisions and extensive testing to finally arrive at his debut product, the 1A All-Day Mask.
According to Nicolas, it is the “world’s first day mask”, which is a leave-on treatment designed to work under makeup and sunblock.
He then went on to formulate two more products – the Molecular Saviour Toner Mist and 1A Overnight Mask – in hopes of completing his skincare line.
The three products were launched last March and quickly became cult favourites.
Together, the trio generated more than half a million in Singapore sales alone.
“Everyone loved the time-saving, fuss-free concept of what we had to offer. They found that to be a refreshing contrast to the arduous, 15-step Korean regimen that has been popular the past couple of years,” said Nicolas.
“We believe that taking care of your skin while you take on life should never feel like a chore. Your products should work hard for you and not the other way around,” he added.
Quality Versus Quantity
When asked if three products are too lean for a product line, especially when compared to the gamut of products from other skincare brands, Nicolas said that he only wants to create products that would make a difference and “not add to the already noisy marketplace.”
“Every product we release will be unique and will be what we think is missing in the market right now,” he added.
When it comes to beauty, consumers are often spoilt for choice and Allies of Skin aims to cut through all the ‘noise’ with its honest and concentrated formulas.
In other words, he believes that the quality of his products will shine through.
“We create concentrated nutrient reservoirs that are adaptogenic. They are designed to adapt to the changing needs of your skin. Every formula is filled to the brim with actives; all added at percentages that will actually make a difference to the skin.”
“Our strict formulation ethos sets us apart [from our competitors] – we formulate without sulfates, silicones, PEGs, fragrances, synthetic colours and even drying alcohol,” said Nicolas.
Going Global With Only Three Products
“In the beginning, cashflow was always an issue as I have been bootstrapping this startup from the very first day,” said Nicolas.
He kickstarted the business with his own savings and additional loans from his siblings. The endeavour set him back a “mid six-figure sum”, but the company broke even in a matter of just seven months.
Allies of Skin is reaching the 12-month mark soon, and Nicolas said they will be closing the year “at around $700,000”.
The startup also recently closed two rounds of funding, and received $450,000 from its investors to aid its international expansion.
Though fairly new to the game, Allies of Skin has been making major waves in the beauty industry. It is the first local skincare label to be listed on international high-end e-commerce sites such as Mr Porter, Net-A-Porter, and Farfetch.
It’s also stocked at the physical stores of luxury retailers such as Space NK and Bloomingdale’s in the United States.
It will soon hit Barneys New York’s shelves in April, as well as Sephora online stores in Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand in May this year.
“We’ll enter the Sephora physical stores later. We are currently in talks with Sephora USA to launch later this year,” said Nicolas.
With the brand’s exponential growth, it’s clear that good products know no borders and that local brands can be on par, if not better, than its Western counterparts.
Commenting on this, Nicolas strongly feels that there is room for local beauty brands to grow and pushes for more government support to help them flourish in this competitive landscape.
“If the beauty industry had the same support the tech or app development industry, there will be more of us. There are not many of us right now, but I think we have the ability to stand next to the beauty giants in the best stores globally.”
He also proposes the expansion of SPRING’s startup grant: “Currently, they offer $50K for startups 6 months old and younger. However, when creating formulas from scratch, it takes more than 6 months – so how is a new beauty startup supposed to qualify for this grant if they have no unique formulas to show?”
Featured Image Credit: The Honeycombers