You know what they say about love; it makes you do crazy or great things, things you never knew you would have thought of doing or even capable of doing.
Like gifting your S.O. a bouquet of yourself, or Sephora vouchers…
Anyway, that’s another story for another day.
In 40-year-old Eric Tan’s case, he created an entire skincare brand for and inspired by his wife.
The ‘Spoil Market’
Before we dive into that, here’s an introduction of Eric.
He is the CEO of Ikeda Group, the founder of Singapore’s first traditional Japanese onsen spa in 2009, and formerly the Assistant Vice President of Barclays Capital Bank.
Eric gave up his high-flying career to pursue his interest in wellness, and it was because of his frequent work travels to Japan while he was at the investment bank that sparked the interest.
His then-colleague had brought him to a Japanese onsen in a ryokan, a natural hot spring in a traditional Japanese inn, and the host’s hospitality was like that “of a kind and caring grandma” that it felt so homely, he described.
“The feeling of being welcomed at the ryokan was so memorable that I wanted to bring the ryokan-concept into Singapore to allow the locals to experience it,” he added.
“I [didn’t] have any prior experience in beauty and wellness, but my finance background gave me a different perspective on how to disrupt the beauty industry.”
Since he established Ikeda, his first business venture, it has accumulated more than 20 acclaimed spa awards, he told me.
The company ventured into education, setting up Kenshu Academy, the first Japanese beauty school here.
Ikeda also collaborated with research agency, A*STAR, and expanded into research and development of cosmetic skin care.
Irén, Hungarian for Irene, was “a tribute” to his wife, he said.
“Irene and I had struggled to conceive a child over our 15 years of marriage. Knowing that the clock was ticking, we decided to try IVF.”
He explained that she “worried constantly” and her skin condition deteriorated, becoming extremely sensitive to the medication and chemicals for the treatment that caused hormonal changes, on top of her busy lifestyle.
“She tried so many non-comedogenic skincare but continued to suffer from breakouts and eczema. It pained me so much when I see her suffer in depression,” Eric said pensively.
“I may not be able to control the outcome of [our] fertility journey, but at least I can make sure she has beautiful, healthy skin naturally.”
The devoted husband then researched and learnt tirelessly about hormones, toxic ingredients, and BPA because he wanted to create a skincare line, for Irene and for the busy women like her, that didn’t have harmful chemical, synthetic fragrances, and BPA.
He reached out to a skincare researcher, a Dr. Loh from A*STAR, whom he learned about from the newspapers, and asked him if he would formulate a serum for Irene’s skin.
Eric later clarified that the scientists he engaged work solely on IRÉN with Dr. Loh and his team in their lab.
They came up with a few test formulations and developed from there. That was how IRÉN came to be.
“After two years of research, our perseverance paid off and we finally got our hands on our first skincare line. We believe that busy women should not take too much time to look beautiful, as they have more important things to be taken care of,” he said.
IRÉN’s concept is ‘less is more’, as Eric believes the lesser the products or steps in a skincare routine, the better it is for the skin.
Now, excuse me while I ask my husband to set up a travel agency for me…
Growing A Thicker Skin
Like every startup or beginning of a business, Eric told me his journey wasn’t easy.
His first problem he had to overcome when he first started Ikeda, was finding an interior designer who could renovate a ryokan – so he did it himself.
“I spent almost a month staying in 18 different famous ryokan in Japan and studied books on Japanese architecture. I hired a freelance drafter to redraw my sketches into the actual floor plans and construction diagrams,” he shared.
“Together with the subcontractors, I constructed the entire spa. I wanted to [create] nothing less than a genuine, authentic ryokan ambience where my guests can feel like they have been transported to Japan.”
But as the renovations cost almost twice the budget, Eric found himself with insufficient funds.
“I had to make an important decision then: either put all my life’s savings into the renovations or shut down the company. The latter wasn’t an option for me, so I sold my home (my wife is still angry with me over this) and put in all the money,” he quipped.
“Lucky for me, Ikeda Spa turned out to be a success.”
The risk-taking businessman went on to say that the spa “hit it off with beauty aficionados here” and they gained a good reputation in the industry quickly for their treatments and service.
“In three years, we hit our full capacity. So we started Ikeda Spa Prestige, a more luxurious Ikeda Spa experience. It houses Singapore’s first Japanese communal bathing facility, Sento Hinoki Onsen,” Eric said.
“We also scooped up more than 20 international and local beauty awards. One of our proudest achievement [was winning] the ‘Best Luxury Day Spa on the Asian Continent’ in the World Luxury Spa Awards 2017, beating many international spa brands.”
Their Facebook page has a following of about 100,000 ‘Likes’ and is ranked second in Tripadvisor Singapore “with over 85% of five-star reviews”, he claimed.
Another one of the problems he faced happened with IRÉN, two months into their serum research.
“We know that different people have different skin concerns, so there isn’t just one skincare solution to fix it all, so we relied on mixing and matching different serums to customise the right answer.”
He further explained, “We first used serum A to address our hyperpigmentation, and followed by serum B to address the moisture loss, and then layer serum C on top to dissolve those dead skin cells and prevent breakouts.”
“Well, it turns out that all this mixing and matching might be not so effective after all. According to our findings, there are specific skincare ingredients that, when combined, actually cancel each other out.”
As they have seven types of serums, he said that it was “too costly and time-consuming to test all 7 x 6 x 5, i.e. 210 different permutations of serum concoctions”.
He held a meeting with the research team to solve this problem, and they developed the Ziplock Encapsulation™ technology.
As Eric explained, “[Each] molecule of the active ingredients is individually wrapped inside a unique biocompatible polymer capsule, solving the dilemma of not being able to mix serums, and also increasing penetration into the skin’s pores by 97%.”
This lets the serum take effect only when it’s applied onto the skin, so that when you mix it, the good stuff in the mixture of serums are still intact, allowing your skin to absorb them effectively.
Together with his innovation in skincare, Eric came up with a facial bar based on a ‘convenience store’ concept.
Face Shower Bar is, of course, inspired by Irene, and its services are complemented with IRÉN.
He noticed that his wife places work and family ahead of her wellbeing. Her behaviour corresponded with feedback he received from his regular customers at Ikeda Spa, who also feel that they are too busy to relax.
His philosophy is that “great skin takes consistent upkeep”.
But really, who has time for that these days? Also, most skin treatments and facials are expensive, and these establishments can get quite pushy convincing you to purchase a package.
Face Shower Bar is a first-come-first-served 30-minute facial service for the busy office ladies who can pop by quickly during lunch time, and costs a flat $90 per session. First-timers can try it out for $48.
Eric thinks it’s cost-effective enough that customers can do this on a regular basis, perhaps weekly or fortnightly.
“We provide the best machines (hydra-dermabrasion, electric muscle stimulation, high-frequency, etc.), products and estheticians,” he said.
“After one visit, your skin will glow. Over time, we want our customers to achieve the cumulative, long-term benefits of a healthy skin care routine, and always put their best face forward.”
His unique facial concept is “very well-received” by the OLs in the Central Business District (CBD), according to him.
Two months since its launch, their signature Quick Shower Facial treatment won the ‘Best Lunchtime Facial’ award by CLEO Clear Skin Awards 2018.
“This quick yet efficient 30-minute facial therapy uses an exfoliation technology called hydra-dermabrasion to give skin a thorough power wash, removing clogged pores and blackheads with no downtime,” he described.
“It follows a three-step patented DermaSOS programme formulated together with our own research team.”
His Best Face Forward
In a recent survey they conducted with IRÉN customers, Eric shared that 80% of them would recommend IRÉN to their colleagues or friends.
“We did not make a big batch of the first order as we wanted to hear from our customers how we can further improve our formulation. I take every customer review seriously – that I think is the secret of success for Ikeda Spa and I want to replicate that in our skincare brand as well,” he said.
“It was not about creating something then trying to sell it to them. We listened to our customers – and then we created. That is our competitive advantage.”
As a self-proclaimed avid reader and speed-reader who would finish a book in one day, he was surprised to learn that there are 16 different skin types, and not the commonly-known four, which are normal, combination, dry, and sensitive.
“The latter principle of skin typing is coined by cosmetic giant Helena Rubinstein dated back to the early 1990s. While that was revolutionary for its time, today we can apply more accurate scientific criteria to the range of skin differences,” he explained.
“Knowing my wife’s new skin type helped me to avoid products and ingredients that are either useless or potentially harmful to her.”
That knowledge also helped him to provide customers “tailor-made solutions” in the form of IRÉN’s seven types of serum, that let users customise their concoction according to their skins’ needs.
Eric is looking forward to May, when he will launch the Skin Vaporizer, which he described as “the world’s first beauty device that works to nebulise skincare of higher viscosity”.
He explained, “When used with our serum, the ingredients get split into nano-sized particles, which optimises absorption to the skin and is evenly applied in a hands-free and bacteria-free manner, avoiding any contamination.”
“The ultra-high pressure from the vaporizer can go up to 85 kPa, enabling the serum to be delivered uniformly on the skin for a more effective application.”
He also shared their plan to expand overseas in conjunction with their overseas partners.
By the way, if you look really closely, you can see the name ‘Eric’ just peeking from behind the brand’s name.
The enterprising family man revealed that he is a follower of Elon Musk’s daily routine, usually skipping breakfast and scheduling his day-to-day activities in five-minute blocks.
Eric said he manages to finish his lunch in five minutes and jokingly boasted about how no one in the office could break his record for ‘fastest eater’.
He doesn’t sleep until 1am and usually sleeps for six hours.
“Now I have a new daily morning routine, where I will reply email while spending time with my baby,” the father-of-one said happily.
Featured Image Credit: Halcyon Media, Eric Tan