Updated on Feb. 22 at 11:30 a.m.
Cult beauty products are nothing new, but a less common thing is a Canadian cult beauty product that rings in at $6.70. That’s what The Ordinary pulled off last year when it launched its Serum Foundation, which reportedly has a current wait list of 75,000. It’s the topic of forums like Bunz Makeup Zone and threads on Reddit, too. Even Kim Kardashian is a fan, and shared on her app earlier this year that she uses the brand’s Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion daily. But what’s started to overshadow this homegrown success story is the recent social media activity of the CEO, Brandon Truaxe.
Truaxe founded Toronto-based Deciem in 2013 with ten sub-brands, including The Ordinary, keeping prices low by sourcing high-quality but still accessible ingredients. Deciem does all of its formulating and production in-house, which is part of what has caused the massive back orders for the foundation and other products.
Nicola Kilner, Deciem’s co-CEO, told Allure in December that business quadrupled over the previous 18 months, rising from two million units sold in the first three years to eight million units last year alone. The company has also grown from a team of 100 to 500, and recently acquired Estée Lauder as a minority investor. This past year was clearly a busy one for Deciem, but Truaxe has started to lead the brand down quite a different path in 2018 thanks to his social media activity.
It started in January when Truaxe took over Deciem’s Instagram account and things got… weird. Followers noticed something was up when he made a not-so-veiled jab at competitor brand, Drunk Elephant, saying “one would have to be drunk to overpay for Marula.” (Drunk Elephant sells a similar marula oil product to The Ordinary, but charges almost ten times as much.) That led to a rambling, confusing apology along with a pledge to donate $25,000 to an elephant charity. ‘Cause, sure, why not.
Hi 🙂 You have often asked us why we refer to our team as monkeys. Our lovey @nicolalkilner used to be a buyer at @bootsuk. She once told me that a major beauty brand always hired sales representatives who looked like models because their presence in meetings was impactful. I can’t think of anything dumber than choosing people who are to represent your values based largely on their appearance. So I decided that we are going to very specifically not care about our team looking like models (if some of us do, then we are doubly lucky), and instead be so humble to say we are symbolically monkeys, because monkeys are the origin of all of us, whether or not we are models. But I also don’t think monkeys are better than any other animal. Animals and us are all together working on this beautiful small planet we call Earth. I fell in love with all animals during my fortunate visits to Africa and South East Asia. I particularly love elephants because my very good friend Gill Sinclair of our caring and patient retailer, @victoriahealth, loves them and because an elephant once let me ride his loving back in Java, Indonesia, near the Borobudur Temple. Lastly, speaking of elephants, I once wrote that one would have to be drunk to overpay for Marula oil which was a distasteful joke that arose from my familiarity with the beautiful brand, @drunkelephantskincare. @tiffanymasterson: I’m sorry. When I met you at the WWD breakfast, I saw a beautiful soul. And you have worked hard to build a beautiful brand. Please forgive me. I have now adjusted that distasteful post and we will donate $25,000 to the peaceful elephant charity that your brand supports: @savetheelephants. Our super-fast and loving @smjr2000 will arrange for this donation to be made this week. Hug, Brandon (Update: the donation has been made and elephants are smiling)
Then, things got even weirder. Truaxe started using Instagram to send out what in any normal world would have been internal company memos, announcing that he was severing ties with one of his UK-based partners, Dr. Tijon Esho (allegedly without notifying Esho first), and began posting a series of pictures of garbage and dead animals while on a trip through Africa.
Amidst this insanity, people began to dig up Glassdoor reviews of bullying, harassment and nepotism within the company. As followers posted about this and other concerns in the company’s Instagram comments, Truaxe took it upon himself to reply, often with confusing and insulting responses.
Here’s where it gets really ugly: Over the weekend, one user, @supermormongirl, commented “Brandon, are you okay??” to which Truaxe, using the company handle, replied, “@supermormongirl Yes but you don’t seem so well. Please use Modulating Glucosides when it’s out. Goodbye.”
This would be considered harsh under any circumstances, but because the commenter is a woman of colour, Truaxe is now facing allegations of racism for suggesting she use the forthcoming product, which some followers speculated contains the skin-lightening ingredient Ascorbyl Glucoside. (Deciem has responded to say that it doesn’t, in fact, contain this ingredient.)
In the early hours this morning, Truaxe posted a picture of himself feeding a gazelle (’cause, again, sure why not), with another long-winded caption that attempted to excuse his comment, claiming “Modulating Glucosides calms things down and does not ‘bleach’ the skin. I’m sorry that I may have caused confusion about its function.” Note, he didn’t actually apologize for insulting a customer.
Then later in the afternoon, Truaxe doubled down on his insistence on being “real” on the company’s social accounts, claiming “Manicured reality isn’t reality at all.” Clearly this shitstorm is far from over.
On February 22, the plot thickened when reports emerged that Truaxe’s co-CEO, Nicola Kilner, was no longer with the company. According to Racked, Kilner, who had been with Deciem “since almost its inception,” confirmed this news via text message writing, “Sadly yes. I’m too heartbroken to talk about it at the moment.” Racked reports that while they received a tip that Kilner had been let go, a PR rep for the company said this was “unconfirmed.”
FLARE reached out to Deciem for a statement prior to Kilner’s departure, but the brand declined to comment.