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TBG Interview: Suzanne Santos, Aesop co-founder and general manager

FEW places in a mall or shopping street make you feel like you’re in an oasis of calm, like an Aesop store.

The warm and soothing essential oils that fill the air, interiors carefully designed by world-class architects (like the stylish Aesop Midtown store in Tokyo by Torafu Architects, pictured above), the unpretentious brown pharmacy bottles with monochromatic labels, to the refreshing licorice tea served, take shoppers away from the harried rhythms of the city.

Each store is different but still unified in theme – an authenticity.

And Suzanne Santos has a hand to play in every little detail of the the Aesop brand.

The general manager and brand advocate has been with the label for more than two decades. Right from its inception, through to its recent full acquisition by Brazilian cosmetics manufacturer Natura Cosmeticos.

Today, Aesop marks its 30th Anniversary in the business. It operates 177 stores, and another 84 department counters, across 20 countries.

Suzanne shares with The Beauty Gazette on how Aesop stays true in a busy marketplace.

It has been 30 years since Aesop was launched. What do you think contributes the most to its success? We aimed from the outset to shift and evolve expectations of what great service and beautiful products could be. For over 30 years, we have celebrated and respected individuality rather than conforming to conventional media notions of how beauty and wellness should look and feel. We created a genuine reason for our skin care products to exist in an over-saturated market. Our products are efficacious and distinctive, and for many customers have become a trusted friend that is not easily superseded.

What led to that first Aesop product 30 years ago? No market place is too crowded for high quality and authentic products, and our founder Dennis Paphitis felt there was an opportunity to create exceptional hair, skin and body products. In 1987, our first products were a range of four hair care products free of artificial fragrance and colour. These products sold well as there was simply nothing like it available from traditional beauty brands. From its inception, Aesop product was an exception in the beauty industry, and customers welcomed the high-quality alternative.

In this fickle global beauty retail market, how does Aesop manage to keep the integrity of its brand? Our core philosophy has remained unwavering for 30 years; to deliver products of the finest quality, speak honestly and intelligently to our customers, and never prey on their weaknesses or insecurities. This difference is our fuel and distinction in a crowded marketplace of uniformity.

In this age of technological disruption, how has the global retail landscape changed for premium beauty brands like Aesop? And with online shopping becoming more prevalent, why does Aesop continue to invest so much in its physical stores? We had a strong belief in the quality of our products and how customer service should be delivered so we chose to grow Aesop through investment in retail stores. We opened our first store in 2004 and now have retail stores in 20 countries around the world. Each Aesop store has a distinct architectural design, and provides a calm and inviting environment for customers to experience our product and receive genuine service. The one-to-one conversation between customers and our consultants instore delivers first-hand experience of the products, a personal product prescription and a human connection to our stores.
Our online business is an extension of our retail stores, not a substitution.

 

The cosy Aesop Shibuya store was designed in collaboration with Torafu Architects. 

 

Aesop Shibuya

 

“[We] speak honestly and intelligently to our customers, and never prey on their weaknesses or insecurities…” – Suzanne Santos

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Aesop Minamiaoyama store, created in collaboration with Shinichiro Ogata. The bold lines and order contrasts with the busy streets of Aoyama.

The Aesop Tokyo store in Nakameguro, designed by Shinichiro Ogata. Inspired by the flowing Meguro River just outside the store, it features polished copper with a vintage patina, teak, and woven washi paper. It also features a facial treatment room.

Aesop Tokyo store

Which are your favourite Aesop products? A personal favourite is Aesop Perfect Facial Hydrating Cream, which is part of our Skin Care+ Range. This is an exceptional product rich in essential oils and Vitamin C to restore dehydrated or mature skin.

ยฉThe Beauty Gazette

Suzanne Santos portrait, Aesop

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