Creating a modern men’s beauty brand
We sit down with Gregor Jaspers, founder of Dutch skincare and wellness brand THE GREY, who has followed the development in men’s consumer behaviour first-hand for almost ten years.
18 Mar 2024

Jaspers has a background as a buyer at a department store. As a buying director, he had to buy books, womenswear, menswear, and a large variety of products. So, he travelled a lot.

— Around 40 weeks a year, I was away living in hotel rooms and using the products in my wash bag. When I was in Milan at a trade show looking at my wash bag, I realised that it was all female-oriented products inside, with golden jars, blue lids, and spatulas. And I asked myself, why isn’t nothing in my wash bag tailored for men? This was around 10 years ago and of course, there were products for men from, for instance, Clinique. So I went out and bought everything from Clinique realising that the formulations they used were not what I expected and was using from the other female-oriented brands, he remembers, adding,

— This made me think that there’s nothing out there as good as what women can use that is tailored for men. So I said to myself, let’s see if there is a possibility to create something which I as a man like, feel comfortable using, and with the same ingredient focus. And that’s when I realised that I had to make it myself. 

However, being from fashion, he had no idea where to go. After googling and researching, he came across a medical lab in the north of the Netherlands, who were willing to start small with an unexperienced guy and not enough money to do big volumes.

We started with the 3-in-1 Cream. The idea behind it is to take everything I was using in that wash bag into one cream. They (the lab, Ed’s note) asked me why I would do it, instead of selling one night cream, one eye cream, and one day cream. I said that as a men’s brand, the importance is to convince guys to use even a single product. It became my mission to give advice and hand out products that are easy to use. In the 3-in-1, there are ingredients that are anti edema for puffiness under the eyes, there’s Retinol but just enough to be active in the night. There are vitamin E’s and all the other ingredients you use during the day. It is your easy ’one-step-go’, fully focused on skin improvement and anti aging. Combined with our Charcoal Face Wash, which we also launched back then, it’s all you need to have for a proper regime, Jaspers explains. He adds:

— Now, I’m the most proud of my SPF, which is delicate, thin, and without any residue. It doesn’t smell overly perfumed, it’s light but still rich, and it’s SPF 50 which was quite a difficult development. As soon as we got it, we won prizes with it. My idea behind this brand is to convince guys — the majority are not informed. Speaking with people in our own environment, everybody is informed. I’ve got enough people asking me, ’why would you need a specific men’s brand?’ You may forget that there’s a whole world out there who has no idea. Outside of our informed bubble, guys have no idea what they’re doing.

You launched around five years ago. What has it been like since?

— I see quite a rapid development, you do see a visible change. If you only see social media, you would think that any guy is comfortable enough to go into a department store and choose his seven-step routine plan, knowing how to use Retinol, which is not the truth. But I’m happy that there is this shift towards self-consciousness and well-being which we also see in ’self-care’. 

— I’ve been writing my plans for the coming years. The title is. ’From Skin Care to Self-care’. That’s what it’s about; skin care is also about self-care. Soon after we started, we also launched a supplement range. When COVID came, a lot of men were insecure because work was paused — and life was paused. A lot of guys identify who they are by the work they do. When those things fall away, they get insecure, so we saw a huge trend in guys adding supplements to their daily routine. We then realised that this is also a part of taking care of yourself, both with skincare and supplements. I don’t like the word ’holistic’ — we call it 360. Only using a cream won’t give you great skin — it’s about food, mental health, and everything around it. So, we’re doing probiotics, adaptogens for stress relief, and have a Focus and Support product for clarity. All those things help you to become the best version of yourself.

What has been the hardest part since launching?

— You learn every day. You fall. It is two steps forward, one step back. From these five years, we’ve had three years of COVID and when the retailers opened again, there were production issues when raw materials were not there. 

— We managed to survive that. Now, we’re growing, and then, even growth is difficult. How do you manage your growth? Every time it is something different and every time you learn, you fall, you learn, and you won’t make the same mistake. And then you make a new mistake. I think if you embrace that, it’s part of the work. It’s so glamorous from the outside but still, when we launch a new product, everybody in the office needs to go to the office and help out. When you become bigger, getting bigger is a problem, but loving what you do will always be the saviour for what you’re doing.

And if you’ve managed these years, you can handle everything, right?

— I hope so. It’s a difficult world we live in at the moment. When I would only work in the Netherlands, we would have financial issues when rents were high and economics was going down. So we’re happy to work worldwide. But when you work worldwide, you have worldwide problems. Everything that’s going on will influence what we’re doing right now. Problems are everywhere but so are the solutions.

You’ve touched upon it but what are the keys in order to become a modern, male-oriented brand?

— Consistency. Stick to the core. We are not the only men’s brand out there, and we are not the only skincare brand doing men’s products. There are big players with huge ranges of products doing a small section of men’s. If you as a guy would go to their website, you would see female communication, female issues, female colours — and the ’men’s’ is somewhere behind, five clicks away, Jaspers says, continuing,

— As a guy, you have different problems than your girlfriend, your mother, your niece, or your sister. When you come on our platform, everything is focused on your problems, your issues, your skin type, the problems you focus on… your work, getting bald, getting male diseases, testosterone levels — we address it. Being able to communicate 100% men is our strength. 

— In the first pitch I did, I was explaining to the buyer that when a couple comes into your store and she wants to buy something nice for herself, her options are all over the place. When the guy wanted to buy a men’s product, the only thing he could buy — at least at that time — was in orange-blue packaging, small range, a bad selection of ingredients. We wanted to open that. And there is enough in the barber area, the grooming area is huge. Skincare for men isn’t that big. It might look big but it’s all grooming and not focused on proper skin improvement. That’s what we try to do.

— When I started out, everything which was tailored for men smelled like Cool Water from Davidoff. It was all the same fragrance. So that’s the first thing we wanted to change. Then, I have a three-day beard. If I were to wear a very rich cream, I would end up having a white shimmer. We have other issues. If you shave close every day, it means damaging your skin in a certain way every day. You need protection for that. 

— I get the same question every time I have interviews; ’can’t men get away with women’s products?’ Yes and no. I would say no, because we have a different approach. We don’t buy a big jar with a spatula and warm a cream in our hands and put it on our face. Even if we would love to, it’s not in our DNA to do that. And we of course have different skin and we need different products for that. So, for me, heavy fragrance is a no-go, shine and shimmer is a no-go, and overly big jars with little volume inside are a no-go. A guy doesn’t know how much he needs to use us. So we use pumps; ’One pump is enough for this, two pumps for that…’ We’re there to guide you and to explain to you how to use it.

It’s a lot about education.

— It’s only about education. Every other week we have a newsletter going out, called The Read, where we explain everything from skincare routine to anything that is important for a guy. It can be about getting back into your sports routine after your holiday. And do you need an SPF in winter? Yes, you do. We all know that. No, nobody knows that, only you and I, and the small bubble around us. That’s education.

For consumer behaviour, do you have higher hopes for the younger audience?

— The youth is our future and they will do great. However, for a younger consumer, the influence of social media is so strong. And if it doesn’t change, they will not change. We’re removing stigmas, but also creating stigmas. It’s a very ’zoomed-in’ reality where stigmas are taken away at one part of the community, but with the same devices of social media, stigmas are placed, and strengthened, again. If the power of social media is not controlled, I think the new generation will encounter difficulties, says Jaspers. He continues:

— However, we do see the product use per male consumer rising. 10 years ago, the average male would use three skincare products — including shampoo and shaving cream! This now has gone to 9 products. We also see this in our own online orders; the average product count per order keeps growing showing that men are taking skincare more seriously and are willing to step into an actual skincare routine.

Do you have any other key takeaways from growing a brand? 

— Believe in yourselfIt’s corny, but being alone, you will ask advice from your close friends, maybe financial investors, and friends in the business. In the end, it’s up to you. Recently, I didn’t trust my gut feeling and it immediately went bad.

What happened?

— We were talking with a distributor in a region and I think the financial aspect overtook my gut feeling. The moment I signed, I literally felt sick. I had to throw up. This is my gut telling me it’s not the right decision. I managed to straighten things out. But I learned that even if you want to go quicker than you can, take it slow and make well-thought-through decisions on that.

Lastly, are you still working with the same lab in the Netherlands? 

— Yes, the same medical lab, Jaspers shares. They also push me to think further. When we started, it was more about me handing out other brand’s products and saying what I wanted to have. Now, I don’t write the formulation because I’m not a chemist, but I do write the whole list of ingredients I want to have and they make the formulation for me with that. So, everything we do is tailor-made, based on our formulation.

And they’re gonna be happy with your growth.

— Yeah! Definitely!