Last month, Australian luxury skincare brand Rationale launched its first two international boutiques in Singapore, under the wing of South Korean beauty giant Amorepacific, which invested in the company in 2020. Here, we chat with CEO Shamini Rajarethnam about the challenges of going global during a pandemic and the brand’s recent partnership with The Australian Ballet. Inside Retail: How has the business evolved in the past 18 months? Shamini Rajarethnam: Rationale’s performance over
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over the past 18 months is really a testament to the strength of our unique omnichannel distribution network. With constant lockdowns and shifting consumer confidence levels, our omnichannel distribution allowed us to prioritise specific channels while others were down. For example, while our flagship doors were closed, we were able to refocus our resources onto our online and agency channels. Besides that, the past 18 months have seen us introduce new agents to our agency network, a new industry partner in Amorepacific, new international doors, new formulations and treatment experiences, the build of a new, state-of-the-art HQ…what haven’t we done? We decided that we were going to open our first international footprint last year, so we were navigating that in a complex global market. We were changing tack every week, as regulations and travel were changing. Setting up a whole business that needs a retail space and doing that remotely was incredibly challenging, but I’m happy to say that last month, we launched our first two international sites in Singapore [at Tang Plaza and Raffles City Shopping Centre], which has been a fantastic coup for us. I’m so proud of the team. It’s been a challenging year, but we’ve really taken on the big and small wins. IR: Can you tell me the story behind Rationale and its offering? What does personalised skincare mean and what does it involve? SR: After having experienced his own skin problems as a young adult, our founder, Richard Parker, wanted to create a skincare offering that bridged the gap between medicine and beauty – something that delivered both efficacy and elegance. At Rationale, our focus is on the personalisation of skincare, and tailoring each client’s individual pathway to luminous skin for life. That’s why we encourage every client to begin with a consultation, so that our expert skin therapists can look at a person’s unique needs and develop a tailored, targeted plan just for them. This can involve introducing different formulations at different times according to how their skin is presenting and progressing, alongside specific treatment modalities to help realise their skin goals. We also offer the platinum experience, a sophisticated, two-phase consultation experience, which includes a non-invasive DNA test, allowing us to tailor an epigenetic skincare ritual based on their skin’s genetic strengths and weaknesses. We’re a luxury skincare brand and we focus very much on efficacy, but on the elegance of using products as well. The complete focus from Richard has always been on optimal skin health. We’re not a trend-based company, we have a research lab that this all comes from. It’s Australian-based, everything is manufactured here as well and we’re proud of that Australian heritage. Next year, we’ll be celebrating our 30-year anniversary, which will be very exciting. IR: What are some interesting beauty trends you’ve got your eye on right now? SR: I’ve never really been one to focus on trends; I know it might be seen as controversial for someone in my position not to keep an eye on the trends, but I prefer to focus my attention on education instead. Our aim is to educate a wider demographic of clients about the vital importance of skin health, and of course the sense of confidence that comes with having healthy, radiant skin. IR: How have beauty customers evolved in recent years? SR: I think the beauty consumer has always been very discerning and savvy. The main shift I’ve seen is that consumers are willing to invest in it – both time and money. There’s a greater recognition of the importance of skincare in particular, as more people are realising that your skin health is something you carry with you throughout your whole life, so you need to look after it. The beauty consumer also places a lot of value (and so they should) on genuine connections, engagement and great service experiences. IR: Can you tell me about Rationale’s local and international expansion plans? SR: Domestically, we have 14 flagship locations around Australia. As is the case in many service-based industries, we will continue to focus our attention on creating and delivering the best luxury experiences we can – the ones that our clients deserve. From an international perspective, our focus moves towards Korea and the US as our next stages of global entry. IR: From my conversations with retailers, it’s apparent that an important part of success overseas lies in choosing the right partners to help you enter a new market. What insights have you gathered since joining Amorepacific? SR: We were so thrilled to secure that partnership last year. It really gave us that renewed sense of purpose, which was to bring Rationale into the global marketplace. I’ve had a super positive experience working with Amorepacific in the past year, and I think that comes down to the fact that our values and ethos are very well aligned. The partnership with Amorepacific was very strategic in nature, they weren’t there to come in and tell us exactly what to do. It was almost like having an older sibling who helped us circumnavigate the hard challenges; we’ve been able to avoid very expensive mistakes. We know this industry and the brand really well, but there are nuances in every new region you enter, and they’ve really helped us with things like understanding timelines, whom to go to, what we need to do more from a regulation point of view. The main insights I’ve personally gathered from this whole process is you really don’t know what you don’t know and you won’t know it until you hit that point. Everything takes 10 times as long, then you throw a global pandemic into it with no travel and it takes 30 times longer on top of that. As much as we have successfully launched these international Singapore flagships remotely, it was so tough. You can’t really replace having someone on the ground and pounding the pavement. That’s something we’re focused on for the next sites – to get someone on a plane to get them on the ground over there. IR: How have you developed the brand so that it’s ready for an Asian consumer? SR: Our main focus is not on adapting for a specific consumer, but bringing it back to human skin – that’s our guiding light. Human skin is global in its appeal. What we’ve done in adaptation is around environmental protection. That is how the brand has really evolved in adding to the depth and breadth of what we’ve introduced into our collections. We’re seeing more emerging skin sensitivities based on climate and environmental changes. It’s quite humid in Singapore and having environmental protection products that are lighter in texture goes a long way, but in saying that, it helps Australians in Western Australia or Queensland that have humidity coming through, too. We’ve still stayed true to ourselves. We haven’t tailored the brand to an Asian client, because human skin is global in what it needs in order to remain healthy. IR: Tell me about Rationale’s recent partnership with The Australian Ballet and why you decided to collaborate with them. SR: Rationale has always had a strong affinity with the arts and cultural sector, and this particular partnership with The Australian Ballet was spearheaded by our founder, who was an accomplished musician and performer before his entry into the world of skincare. This multi-year partnership focuses on the Ballet Ambassador Program and its vision for building a legacy of philanthropy. After the challenging events of 2020, and 2021, we decided it was more important than ever to support the arts meaningfully and play what role we could in fostering the future of philanthropy. We recognised that, not only can we support the company today, but also we can help protect the future of arts and culture in Australia. IR: Tell me about recently moving HQ to Kyneton, in regional Victoria, and what that involved. SR: We are still in the build phase at the moment, with a practical completion date of November 2021. It’s been an exponential journey for us so far and it’s pretty incredible to see this monolithic structure coming to life. I did a walk-through a couple of weeks ago and was awestruck by the vastness of the site. We have invested a lot into this new HQ, particularly our production arm, as we will be bringing all manufacturing in-house for the first time. IR: You began your career at Rationale as a marketing co-ordinator. Four years later, you’re CEO. What has that journey been like for you and what have been some of the highlights and challenges? SR: Challenging, exciting and rewarding! There really are too many highlights to name, but of course it has been an immense privilege to help grow and build the team, and to be a part of Rationale history time and time again, through milestones like our industry partnership and first international flagships. A main highlight, though, will always be working with the founders of the business, and the team of incredible superstars we have at Rationale. The biggest challenges certainly came in the last year, when we were navigating the pandemic while trying to secure our partnership, and I was also pregnant at the time. Of course, the relentlessness of the continued lockdowns around Australia became wearisome and an enormous challenge for everyone. IR: What are your plans for Rationale in the next 12 months? SR: A continued focus on our international expansion, an emphasis on delivering best-in-class client experiences and, of course, a continued effort to deepen our research discipline and foster many new innovations for the years to come.