Nuria Val and Gabriela Salord share a love and fascination for plants, which propelled them to start ROWSE when they first met in 2018. Approaching nature through beauty, the plant-based brand use only raw, organic, vegan and sustainably sourced ingredients, which are formulated into exclusive skincare blends by their in-house pharmacist Lamia El Khadiri. Their visionary products are accentuated by an equally intriguing artistic image – gathering an ever-growing community of artists, creatives and plant-lovers from all over the world to realise their mission.
Caroline Berner Kühl: I believe VSN and ROWSE share many of the same values even though we are in completely different industries.
Nuria Val: We do feel like our products and our approach to beauty is very similar to natural wine compared to the traditional wine industry.
Gabriela Salord: Going with the seasons, choosing what nature gives you.
N: There’s no perfume. Floral water smells exactly like floral water should smell.
C: So, why did you found ROWSE?
N: I am from Barcelona, and I met Gabriella four years ago in Paris. I used to work in Creative Direction and Photography. And Gabriella was working in a company investing in brands. A friend of us told us that we should meet; he had a vision of us together. We found out we share a love for plants, and we wanted to explore what we could do with plants to take care of our skin. Not long after, we launched our first product, which was the winter body oil. Our approach to this product was working with plants that go with the season. To help the skin during the colder seasons.
G: It was a side project. A weekend project, we called it.
N: Night, weekend.
"In the food industry, people want fresh, organic produce, so why don’t you want to apply the same to your skin?"
G: Until it took off. Even though many people think it is very crowded, we saw a space in the beauty landscape. Not enough brands were offering plant-based solutions, and that has been our Northern Star since day one. We knew from the start that we wouldn’t use synthetic additives, because you don’t need it to make a really nice texture or give it a really nice colour or that really nice scent. That’s also why we relate so much to natural wine. And in the food industry, people want fresh, organic produce, so why don’t you want to apply the same to your skin? That has been guiding us. As Nuria said, we started with the winter body oil, inspired by ingredients that grow in the Arctic regions, like Rhodiola extract, which is an adaptogenic plant native to the mountains of Siberia, also used as an anti-depressant. It just made so much sense for us to play with the seasons, so we did that oil, and then we created the summer body oil, which is more suited to your skin after sun exposure, with ingredients like buriti and carrot that gives it that orange colour. It is full of beta-carotene. So little by little it started growing.
C: You did everything yourselves?
G: True story is we did a Squarespace on the weekend, the logo was maybe the Futura font, we did it ourselves. We just wanted to get it out there and see if people were interested in our product and organically start gathering a community of creative minds, so people in the art space, journalists, writers, authors, ceramicists, illustrators. We realised that the brand identity and the brand universe were very appealing to creatives, and they soon became brand ambassadors, so until last year our growth has been organic, and we are very proud of that.
N: We continue growing our product collection. We have a wonderful woman, Lamia (El Kadiri), who joined us as product developer. She is a pharmacist, so she has been able to interpret our vision to make it reality. She is from Morocco originally, and she has been working with oils since she was a kid. She has an amazing sense for perfumes, and everything she does is made with essential oils, which is super difficult to do without additives. She's amazing. And she only likes premium plants.
G: Which is always a balance for us, because we have a quite accessible and affordable price point compared to other very premium brands. The packaging is glass, the brand universe is very exquisite, but we still want it to be affordable. We are not a luxury brand. That is also sustainable for us.
C: It like the idea that you can make efficient natural products that don’t have to cost a fortune. Taking things from nature that people have always used. Your shared interest in plants, where did that come from?
G: In my case it was very personal. My sister had eczema her whole life. And after meeting with a lot of doctors, and using steroid creams, my parents decided to look for alternative treatments. It was actually an osteopath that healed her. And having a good diet, and treating with plants, and clays. My mom is Mexican, and my dad is French. I was born in Paris, and I've lived more in France, but I did live in some other countries. It’s part of my mom’s culture; in Latin America you use a lot of oils. I've always seen her using oils. So, seeing how eating good fresh products, having a healthy diet, working with alternative medicine, taking herbal supplements and using plant oils, can improve your life so much. That was my input, but I had never found a way to express it. And when I met Nuria, it suddenly made sense.
N: For me, it comes from a more inspirational source. When I was 17, I started traveling, working as a model. And I didn't really like to be a model, but it was a way for me to travel and take pictures. I would go to nature, discovering different landscape colours and taking pictures. It was a way for me to escape and be creative. And I became kind of addicted to being in nature and exploring; going to places that people are not normally going. At some point, I wanted to do a project to thank nature and everything that I got from it. I think all my work expresses my love for nature. My love for plants comes from all this exploration. This project is also a way to thank nature.
C: We’ve touched upon this already, but maybe you can elaborate a bit. You mentioned sustainability, how do you work with sustainability?
G: It's very interesting, because depending on who you ask, they have different versions of what it means. And it's so new still. That's why everyone is allowed to have their own interpretations.
In our case, we knew we wanted to work with organic ingredients. So that was the first thing. And we tried to source them as close as possible to home. In some cases, we have to source in other places, like matcha from Japan and baobab from Senegal. Some ingredients you simply cannot grow in Europe. But being in Spain, with the weather, you can grow basically anything. Lavender, rosemary, rose, neroli, so many of our ingredients are sourced in Spain. We prioritize small family-owned producers in Spain. Everything is formulated in Spain by Lamia and manufactured in Spain in one of two laboratories that we work with. Everything is centralised. That's the supply chain.
N: With our solid cosmetics for example, like shampoo and body soaps and cleansers, they are not only good because they don't have packaging, it's also the process of making them. We use much less water compared to a normal shampoo. It makes a huge difference to the product.
G: And it's biodegradable. You're not jumping any chemical waste into nature. It’s really good ingredients. We love knowing who our customers are, so this year we decided to call our 20 best customers; people who’ve bought our products 20-30 times. One of them, a woman who lives in Greece, got hooked because of our sustainable approach. She is someone who cares so much that she reuses her shower water, and especially when she washes her hair. And she said that our products are so good that she's reusing the water from her shampoo to water her plants. And they've never grown so much.
C: Wow, I love that! So not only not doing any harm but helping nature. I was actually going to ask who your customer is.
N: We have many different types of customers; they are attracted because of different things. Some come in because of the collaborations we do with artists. Others because we are making a holistic lifestyle brand that can go in many directions, not only beauty. So, we definitely have some customers who were not interested in beauty, but they got hooked because we have a different approach; more simple, more minimal. In the beginning, people would be buying the oil, and only after, ask how to use it. They bought it because they loved the image and the universe.
"You pay attention to what you eat, you're interested in natural wines because you've read how it plays with nature, you're not forcing anything, it has good ingredients, nothing disgusting added. You care about your mental health and body. And the next natural step was beauty."
G: But more and more, we've seen people who transition to healthier habits in their lives, and they really pay attention to everything. And it's us, you know. We live like that. It's people who really got into a different way of life. You pay attention to what you eat, you're interested in natural wines because you've read how it plays with nature, you're not forcing anything, it has good ingredients, nothing disgusting added. You care about your mental health and body, doing yoga and meditation. And the next natural step was beauty. And that's when we realised that a lot of these women, they didn't have a beauty routine that matched that lifestyle.
N: With time, we gained more and more knowledge about beauty. We needed time to understand and formulate what people desired. I would say that more and more we are developing specific products for treating the skin, but always keeping the raw ingredients as the focus.
C: What I find very clever about your brand, and what attracted me, is exactly that combination of natural ingredients and aesthetics. Many other natural brands had that health store vibe, a little bit too green almost. It wasn't presented to me in a way that felt like it matched, as you said, the rest of my lifestyle. How did you create that aesthetic universe?
N: It was very intuitive. I would be traveling and bringing all these glass bottles with me, taking pictures. It was always linked to nature. It was easy to create ROWSE’s universe, because it’s just part of who we are. Not only did we not have money to pay anyone to do it; it was important to us to do it ourselves. It’s been amazing, because I could fully dedicate myself to creating a story, and both Gabriela and I understand how important it is. And Lamia too; we can ask her to create a product based on a story; like something summery, a sunset, a picture. Now, we also work with other artists and their interpretations of the brand. It is nice with a fresh point of view, and it inspires me.
G: I was just going to add that we hope people think it's authentic. We’ve put ourselves and everything we believe in into this project: our guts, our heart, our blood, our sweat. And that's why it's been easy. We are not trying to make something because we think it's going to sell. The way we work with producers, the way we work with creatives, the way we shoot the photos, the content, the packaging, the product itself. Everything is just a consecration of our vision. We were two people with the same vision that happened to meet by chance.