Like a modern day apothecary, the brand delivers simple yet effective formulas that preach the cardinal rules of a great skin routine: Cleanse and moisturise. Together, the two have built a brand that’s synonymous with luxury and efficacy. Malin + Goetz is found all over the world, from retailers to swanky hotels and now, it’s cementing its reputation in Singapore as the newest star at escentials.
Over a video call with Matthew, Andrew and their pet pooch Mr Greenberg, we find out the enduring magic behind Malin+Goetz and how it’s managed to stay modern despite nearly two decades in the business.
How did the brand get started?
Matthew: Our brand launched in March of 2004, and we’re celebrating our 17th anniversary now. It was a combination of the two of our respective careers. We had known each other personally for about 10 years before we started this business. Andrew came from the design world, and I came from the beauty world. At the time, small, independent luxury, niche businesses were being bought up by large corporations. Andrew turned to me and said that there’s an opportunity for us to do something that feels special and authentic and we can pick up where those companies have left off.
It was a little bit of a now-or-never moment. We thought that if we don’t do it now, would we ever do it? So we took the leap and merged our experiences from the design and the beauty world.
What was the gap that Malin & Goetz filled?
Andrew: When I would visit Matthew at a beauty brand he was working for, I would walk in and see so many products. Packaging was all over the place, there was no sense of organisation and the experience was ultimately quite intimidating for somebody who isn’t a skincare person. When you walk in, you’re just overwhelmed. When we started Malin & Goetz, we had this idea of fusing our experiences and creating something that was really minimalist and modern. Not only from a packaging and architecture point of view, but also from formulation and protocol, because there was just too much out there. And we were really the first to tackle that.
17 years ago, most of the brands were traditional brands owned by the big corporations and they had thousands of products with traditional over-packaged packaging. There was this opportunity to do something that was small and family-owned that made things uncomplicated.
What was the overall concept?
Matthew: We thought back to years ago to when our own grandparents would have shopped in local apothecaries. It would have been this simple experience that would have been unisex. There would only be one or two products that you’d use, because you were treating an issue. We were kind of going back to our roots, in a way.
Andrew: The whole idea was to take a traditional approach to an apothecary, and make it contemporary and modern. In some ways going forward, but also going backwards simultaneously.
What were some major setbacks you faced?
Andrew: First of all, we were self-funded. We couldn’t buy our way into the marketplace, in advertising or get ourselves into department store. I think that that’s actually an advantage for us because that kind of tension breeds incredible creativity. And that’s what what we did.
Our concept was the antithesis of everything out there. The whole protocol of beauty was to tell you more and more and more. Our concept was this two-step concept of less is more. People loved it but then they didn’t really understand. Everyone thought, “great concept, but I need all these things”. There were hurdles of convincing people that if you really pare things down, you would eliminate a lot of irritation and your routine would be much more effective.
Matthew: From a packaging perspective, our products were not super graphic and were really modern-looking. Everything about the concept was the opposite of where the beauty industry was at the time. While that was refreshing, especially to the editorial community who loved it and wanted to talk about it, it was a very long process to get the customer over that hump to really understand that and accept it.
How do you stay ahead in a market so saturated with independent beauty brands?
Andrew: One of the things that’s always been incredible about our brand and our products is that the more we stay true to who we are, the more we grow. We’re not chasing trends. We’re not looking for the latest, greatest thing, which will be here today and gone tomorrow. We just keep on doing what we do and preaching what we preach. That builds so much trust, and it just grows and grows and grows.
Matthew: One of the reasons why we’ve had some success in various parts of the world is that we’ve stayed really focused. We’ve offered an alternative to traditional beauty in the marketplace and, again, people find this refreshing. They’re excited to hear about it, they want to understand what that means and why we’re doing it.
Andrew: That doesn’t diminish or assuage innovation or new products, because we’re obviously always developing new things. But it’s always been within the context and umbrella of what we always do. We don’t have crazy formulas that are going to promise a miracle, that you’re going to wake up the next day 10 years younger. That’s not our marketing, it’s not our formulation.
Tell us more about this two-step concept.
Matthew: If you think about the history of how people have used beauty products in the past, it’s really not uncommon. Whether it’s a chemist, pharmacist, or apothecary, you would have gone in – it wouldn’t have mattered if you’re a man or a woman or what your skin type was – and you would state your problem and the chemist would make something up for you, put a label on it, and handed it to you. Conceptually, there is this idea of doing what’s essential, what’s necessary. That really came down to the foundation of taking care of your skin: cleansing it gently and effectively and moisturising it so that there’s a perfect balance or pH balance to the skin.
Two of the biggest skincare companies in the world are doing something not so dissimilar. Neutrogena started with a singular bar glycerin soap, and Clinique really modernised the idea of a three-step regimen.
Andrew: I know this sounds counterintuitive, particularly in Asia, where everything is always has a long protocol or is very ceremonious. But in some ways, we are a little bit more Asian than those other companies. We embrace the yin and yang concept of balance, although our concept is not about this roadmap of 100 different products to use to get to your destination. We use natural ingredients, with technological ingredients. It’s a cleanser, it’s a moisturiser. It’s for women, it’s for men.
How have you innovated over the years?
Matthew: When you start with really two steps or two products, you leave a lot of white space. Innovation has come in a variety of forms. It’s always been our intent not to create products just for the sake of creating them but to really fill the voids within the space. We’ve done this originally amongst three categories of face, body and hair, for treating the skin on the scalp and the face in the body very similarly, with two steps of a great cleanser and moisturiser for pH balance. We’ve extended that to fragrances and candles. So five categories, which creates more of a lifestyle opportunity of how there’s a world of Malin & Goetz. What fragrances and candles do is highlights the fact that all of our skincare products are appropriate for sensitive skin. We don’t use things like perfumes in our treatment products so it’s allowed us to extend the idea in a different way.
Skincare is really what we’re known for. Two steps might be right for everybody as an essential foundation. For me, if a problem arises along the way, such as if I have a pimple, or I’m noticing lines and wrinkles, or I have real dryness around my nose, it requires a specialty product, sometimes to address it or to complement your foundation of two steps. Innovation has come around those kinds of things. As science advances, it allows us to manipulate natural ingredients to be more effective, more efficacious, more productive and positive in some way.
What are your grooming rituals?
Andrew: Just cleansing and moisturising. Every morning, we wash our face with our Grapefruit Face Cleanser, and moisturise with our vitamin E face moisturiser.
Matthew: It might sound really boring. But when customers ask what they should do, my responses is that you should ask yourself if you love your cleanser. If you hesitate or say no, you don’t. You should love your cleanser, and make sure that it’s effective and gentle enough every day, twice a day. If you were going to do one thing, and only one thing, wash your face every day, twice a day without fail, and that’s really hard for people to do. People get into these habits of not washing or not taking off their makeup or too much washing. The hardest thing is sticking with that really simple, basic routine.
Lots of people don’t think about their cleanser at all.
Matthew: I agree. I think it’s taken for granted. This is probably one of the biggest challenges to skincare. People come in to a store and they want a quick fix to a problem. But when you really start to get to the root of what they do and how they do it, and you really listen to them, and you ask the pertinent questions like if they love their cleanser, you start to wonder.
If they’re not even starting in the right spot, how can you fix a problem? Because you don’t know where it’s coming from. Do they wear too much makeup? Are they washing their face every day? Are they over-moisturising or under-moisturising? Are they applying too many things throughout the day that are bad for them? Are they using ingredients that are too harsh or irritating to the skin creating problems? As as you start to try to fix something, you buy the next product and the next one. By the time you’re on step number eight, you need step number nine to take away the irritation from step number eight, because they shouldn’t have used it in the first place.
That’s the whole concept. Get back to what’s essential, and really stick with it. Like sticking to your diet to live the healthy lifestyle, to exercise and eat well, every single day.
Andrew: I always like to remind people that your skincare is not your fragrance. So if you’re using a skincare regimen that’s loaded with fragrance, you’re asking for irritation, which is why you then have to go find another product to counteract the irritation. We don’t use any artificial fragrance in our skincare. If you want to use a fragrance, we make some beautiful fragrances and eau de parfums. You can use those. Skincare should not make you a human diffuser. That’s not the concept of skincare.
What products are the most personal to you?
Matthew: They’re all personal to us because they they came out of our careers, our lifestyle, We created the brand because we were living together in a small New York City bathroom with limited space. We wanted things to look beautiful on our shelf and to be effective
Andrew: I love all my children equally. Each product has a little bit of a different story. Some were more difficult births than others, but I use most of them over the course of a year. Depending on the season, my regimen and protocol does change but it allows me to use every single product. I think the one thing that I don’t use is our dandruff shampoo because I don’t have dandruff.
Right now my favourite is is our Advanced Renewal Moisturiser, just because it’s really dry in New York right now and I need that extra hydration.
Matthew: If I was going to pick something that’s not so basic and so commonplace, I would say it is the detox face mask. It’s been in our brand for more than 10 years, probably 12 or 14 years. It’s a beautiful product that gives immediate results. It takes only five minutes and replaces your facial cleanser. It’s just a pleasure to use.
Is there something you’d recommend for Singapore weather which is hot and humid all the time?
Andrew: I would say our serums are particularly good in hot and humid weather, because they absorb so quickly. They’re hydrating, but they’re not going to clog your pores in any way. Also, our Advanced Renewal Moisturizer is great. So again, just because you’re living in a humid climate doesn’t mean you shouldn’t moisturise, you just don’t want to use something that’s going to clog your pores and then produce acne. So it’s about the quality of the moisturiser.
Matthew: Probably more of the same. It’s been a very slow build for us exactly the way that we sort of planned it and we like it. We feel that there is still a wonderful opportunity for our own retail channel that has migrated to digital. We’re expanding our own store footprint, whether it be our digital stores, or our physical brick and mortar stores. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for us to really plant this seed down in key spots around the world, and showcase the brand in our own way, the way we do best.
Andrew: We haven’t had a huge footprint in Singapore for a long time as we didn’t have the resources. But we are now bringing our brand to Asia and it is a real opportunity and challenge, and hopefully a lot of fun as well. But what we’ll be doing is just really the same , just that we are preaching in a different culture. We love Singapore, by the way, we’ve been several times. We were floating around the idea of a durian body wash. Do you think that would do well? *laughs*
All images are courtesy of Malin + Goetz.