While the Muijses had put the word out that they were looking for a strategic partner to help scale Grown Alchemist internationally, they didn’t want to relinquish control over their brand, and L’Occitane was set on taking a majority stake.
“Our view was you get into business, you own the majority, you run your company, you have complete control on every level, and the moment you don’t, you exit. I would have said that any other way was a disaster,” Jeremy said.
Carving 20 years off the journey
But Harrington was persistent. The co-founder and CEO of luxury skincare brand Elemis, which L’Occitane bought in 2019, had moved to Western Australia during the Covid pandemic, so he eventually flew to Melbourne and pitched the brothers in person.
“He told us that L’Occitane had the ability to carve 20 years off our journey, and we would get to focus on the bits that we really love – product creation and brand mission – and not worry about setting up the company in other markets or employing people,” Jeremy recalled. “That could all be managed through the group.”
It was an attractive offer, especially for a small but successful brand like Grown Alchemist, which couldn’t always take advantage of the growth opportunities that came its way.
“Growing fast is sometimes dangerous. You make lots of revenue, but you don’t make enough profit, so you run out of cash,” Jeremy said.
But with the resources of a multi-billion-dollar company behind it, that wouldn’t be a problem.
Courting each other – with a chaperone
After meeting L’Occitane Group’s vice chairman and CEO André Hoffmann, the Muijses became convinced that selling a majority stake to the French retailer was the right move.
“Every other large group that we looked at over the years had a way of doing business that you had to join, whereas when L’Occitane bought brands, each one of them remained very much its own entity,” Jeremy said.
But it would still be another year before they agreed to make the acquisition official.
“We decided to take it super slow. We thought we should court each other a little bit,” he explained. Although with the bankers constantly checking in to make sure the deal was still on the table, “it was like courting each other with a chaperone.”
This period gave both parties time to get to know each other and make sure they were really in alignment on key issues.
“By the time we actually signed the document, there were very few things that weren’t known,” he said.
Growing headcount and retail presence
L’Occitane announced its acquisition of Grown Alchemist for an undisclosed sum at the end of March. So far, the biggest change has been to the brand’s headcount.
“We’ve hired 20 people in two months, and it will just continue to go up,” Jeremy said.
As the team expands to include senior leaders with industry experience, the business will finally have the bandwidth to take advantage of exciting opportunities that come its way, such as supplying lip balm and lotion for Delta Air Lines’ new amenity kits.
Launched in January, the kits will introduce Grown Alchemist to millions of potential new customers a year. Pre-acquisition, it probably wouldn’t have been able to keep up with that level of demand.
“We’ve had a lot of opportunities over the years that we haven’t made the most of either because we didn’t have the manpower to really get behind them, or because we’ve had to say, ‘We’d like to do that, but could we do it in 12 months or two years?’” Jeremy said. “Now we can say, ‘Wow, that’s an amazing opportunity, let’s do it’.”
The same goes for retail partnerships. Grown Alchemist is already stocked in major global department stores, including David Jones, Harrods, Nordstrom, Holt Renfrew and Takashimaya, but the Muijses see a lot of room for growth.
“In California, we have half a dozen retailers in a market that’s substantially bigger than Australia. We kept it really tight so we could support them, but there’s a bunch of other retailers we’d love to work with – like Credo – and now we can,” Jeremy said.
For him, the beauty of being part of L’Occitane Group is that he no longer has to decide which market or project to prioritise: “Now, we get to say, ‘Why don’t we do it all?’”
Communicating the brand mission
Jeremy’s main focus at the moment is communicating Grown Alchemist’s mission to more people.
“A lot of consumers might not know why we exist, but we have a very strong philosophy around making your skin work,” he said.
“We find that a lot of brands focus on the ‘magic potion’ moment, but you put [the product] on the skin and it doesn’t work. Our raison d’etre is to figure out how to improve cell function.”
Early on, the Muijses hired a human biologist to help develop their organic product formulations, and when they opened their first standalone store, the Retail Lab, in Melbourne in 2020, they made sure to include treatment rooms for facials, anti-ageing drip therapy and light therapy, alongside shelves for products.
“We don’t care whether it’s a cream, a digestible tablet, food advice, atmosphere, lights or drip therapy, if you can change the health equation and function of the skin, then we’re into it,” Jeremy said.
He noted that this holistic approach is why L’Occitane wanted to buy Grown Alchemist in the first place, so opening more Retail Labs is a big part of the brand’s growth strategy. But he’s not working towards a specific store count.
“Rather than saying we’re going to open 50 retail stores, it’s really more about what’s the best way to serve the customer,” Jeremy said.
Ultimately, he said this will involve a mix of standalone stores, retail partnerships and e-commerce: “I think you have to combine all three.”