The allure of organic beauty came hand in hand with a growing mistrust of chemicals over the last few years.
Vox reported in 2018 that “people are scared of ingredients, and they have made that clear with their dollars. Eventually, the clean beauty industry is going to just become…the beauty industry”.
While it is great that companies are increasingly held accountable for their claims towards going green, clean, and everything in between, the opaque nature of measuring these requirements still leaves most consumers in the dark about the safeness of their skincare routine.
But if you thought you prioritised inviolability, think again. Inna Organic takes the safeness of their products very seriously. Being the first and only dual-certified Taiwanese organic beauty brand, each of their products is made with the 100 percent assurance that they are plant-based, non-toxic, allergen-free, and effective.
The organic skincare brand was conceived in Taiwan by co-founders Jimmy Wang and Cecily Pan. Jimmy has been researching and building the organic road map for over seven years, while Cecily’s firsthand experience stems from her twin sons suffering from atopic dermatitis.
Beyond playing the guardian role for skin concerns, the altruistic brand also has their fingers in various socially-concerned projects, such as the “Pledge 1%” program and working with the Taiwanese NGO “Kids’ Book House” founder, Papa Chen’s, vision to enable children with life skills.
We speak with Jimmy about his journey, the brand’s latest lines, and how self-care comes into the big picture of skincare. With a singular vision of aroma wellness, find out how and why he is changing the conversation around natural beauty.
Have you always been into beauty and/or skincare?
Not at all. If you asked me 15 years ago or right after I had graduated from university, and you tell me that one day I would be in the beauty industry, I would say that you’re full of BS.
My major was in chemical engineering and when I was in the US for my masters, it was for information system management. At that point, every guy wanted to do a fancy Internet-related, high-tech job. When I went back to Taiwan, I went into the semiconductor industry and worked with one of the world’s largest companies, TSMC.
After five years, I started to wonder about where my career would go if I continued to work for such a huge corporation. What kind of positive impact can I bring to the world and to society? Whether I was in the corporation or not, it made no difference. Gradually, my passion for the industry faded and I took an interest in the organic industry.
I asked myself, which part do I see myself working in? Agriculture? Farming? I know I am a city boy because I grew up in Taipei. While I can take a month-long vacation in the countryside, I probably can’t last a year working there. So I quit my job, gave myself a year or two to try, and found that I could sustain my life by working in the organic sector. Now, it is more than 10 years.
Was it challenging to enter an industry dominated by females?
My true passion lies in talking to people. People are generally surprised when they find out that I am the founder behind these companies (Inna Organic and iGzen), rather than, say, a woman or a gay man. But I have been fine because my solution is to keep talking to a myriad of people, people who share the same passion.
We like how we can help people through aromatherapy and other natural ways. When we communicate with our consumers, there are no boundaries. Yes, more than 70 percent of our users may be female, but when we talk about their needs, there are no boundaries. Even in our stores, about 50 percent of our frontline employees are all male.
It’s weird because people still think males are a minority in this industry, but they are all doing good.
What has Inna Organic been up to since we last spoke?
Most of our products from the past year concentrated on facial needs and sheet masks. Listening to our customers made us realise that, besides the face, they have other organic needs. We created the Sweet Orange Shower Gel as a cleansing alternative for our female customers, and even products for other areas, for example in our AROMA line, the Smooth Skin Serum and Abdomen Massage Oil. Our brand also started carrying specialised products for babies and husbands, although, at the end of the day, they can all share the same skincare products!
We are most excited about our SALON line, which consists of the Lemon-scented Tea Tree Shampoo and the Cedarwood Shampoo. We developed it to help with damaged hair and/or dandruff concerns after feedback from our customers, but it was always in our pipeline. The haircare market is quite competitive so we knew if we want to go into it, we had to find the right recipe.
In Taiwan, we found that organic shampoos, while they are good, they do not work as well as the everyday, spa or salon shampoos because of our hot and humid climate. We tested over 20 different brands to fine-tune the product, developing it to be on par with professional salon products, but organic certified.
If someone wants to go natural with their beauty regime, where should they start?
Of course, the easiest way is to go with Inna. (laughs) Actually, I would recommend going for sheet masks to determine which products are right for you. Sheet masks are the easiest things: 10 minutes on your face and you can feel the difference, not just on your skin, but in your every breath. Especially with our masks, you can smell the power of essential oils and enjoy the benefits of aromatherapy. Once you find the right line for your skin, you can start to move on to different facial products.
In the long run, you will also be more inclined to use more natural products. Skincare can definitely affect one’s lifestyle. Once you start using organic or clean label products, you tend to care more about the environment, about things like packaging, straws, takeaway boxes—we change our lifestyle for a better world.
Do you see a change in the consumer perception of clean skincare over the last few years?
A couple of years ago, there was a food safety scandal in Taiwan, regarding the tainted “gutter” cooking oil. After that, consumers not only started to pay more attention to food safety, they were also concerned with the claims made by companies and their operations. This mentality seeped into skincare, and the organic industry was closely scrutinised because what was really organic? People started to look for brands that have organic certifications and clean labels. At Inna, we use ingredients that are devoid of damage concern and obtain certain certifications to gain the consumers’ trust so we can help them choose the right products.
There are certain constraints to formulating products this way, but it is the right way. Rather than focusing on the price, we highlight value: what do we bring to our customers and society? We like consumers to be strict. If they are strict, they help us create the right products. This is a Pavlovian cycle for us. Due to our strict consumer base in Taiwan, we will try to do our job better, and through this process, we become more competitive and expand our brand to a larger audience.
What are some natural, wellness practices that punctuate your day?
We do yoga together at the office, although I am not as flexible as the others! While I cannot cook very well, occasionally I try to prepare a healthy meal or head to a wholefood restaurant in Taipei, such as Plants, a Western vegan spot that also supports the local LGBTQ+ community. I also drink organic tea or make my own kombucha—it’s my hobby.
Where do you think skincare in Asia is heading?
I think there are two directions. K-beauty will still stand out but beyond that, the market will reflect two significant trends. More brands will go derma, which means going professional with more medical claims. The other trend is akin to what we have been doing, which is to go back to nature, focusing on either aromatherapy or Chinese herbs. The two different trends will attract different customers because essentially we are looking at xi yi (Western doctors) and zhong yi (Chinese physicians).
In addition, I believe more brands will focus on their social responsibilities. For us, we focus on children’s education. Every NGO that we work with, we try to be like a seed. We initiate the project and then we attract our consumers or even our partners to work with them as well.
Some of the questions have been edited for brevity and clarity.