When most people hear the words “skincare products” their assumption is likely to be that the reference is products for women. Because, by and large, wellness and beauty are female-dominated industries in terms of core customers.
Women have skincare routines; men have a bar of soap, some shaving cream and a razor blade.
Or at least that is what the stereotypes would have us believe — but Oars + Alps Co-Founder Mia Duchnowski found that in this case stereotypes were just off the mark. Upon getting married to a man she described as “very much your guy’s guy,” she noticed something strange was happening — her skincare products were disappearing. And then she realized they weren’t disappearing so much as her manly man of a husband was using them.
Harvard Business School educated, Duchnowski realized that there was a business opportunity in this experience. And so with friend and Co-Founder Laura Cox she started Oars + Alps, a line of skincare and grooming products created for active men interested in using natural and premium products. The firm launched in 2016 with three products — natural deodorant, moisturizer and solid face wash — all sold online, direct-to-consumer.
The products quickly found an audience with what Duchnowski called a man hitting “a certain point in his life.”
“We do really well with this guy who is on the arc of adulting. He is getting rid of his Ikea furniture. He’s upgrading his life, and so he’s also upgrading his skin,” she told The Chicago Tribune.
While two women starting a beauty and wellness brand has not been unheard of in the last decade, Duchnowski and Cox have raised some eyebrows since founding the firm. “What do two women know about men’s skincare?” is a questions both have gotten used to answering over the last few years. It is a question they used to find infuriating, but now dismiss with a joke. Victoria Secret, they often tell investors, wasn’t actually founded by Victoria.
The reality is that women often do most of the buying of skincare products for men for most of their lives. This isn’t to say that men are basically uninterested in their own care, Duchnowski said, noting that in recent years there has been a huge surge in growth in men looking to build their own skin care routines, and a lot of curiosity about how to better care for their appearance. Wanting to looking good or smell good, she observed, is far from a female-only trait.
But change happens slowly and over time, which means women are still often both the main buyers of skin care products for men and the main source of information on them — meaning a brand started by two women trying to save their husbands’ skin (and their own cache of skin care products) is in many ways a natural fit.
“We find that men trust women [on this] because they've already been having these behind the scenes chats with women on what moisturizer to use — they're not having these chats with guys in the locker room,” Duchnowski told Forbes.
The brand's attempts to reach the female buyers of male products is what led to its expansion into offline sales at Ulta. Oars + Alps products will be going on sale on the shelves of 300 Ulta locations nationwide. That expansion, Duchnowski said, is really an entirely female-centric push, given Ulta’s customer base, and is mainly focused on the female shopper purchasing for a husband or friend — or for the 30 percent of the Oars + Alps customer base that is actually female and buying the products for themselves.
The brand has also expanded on the shelves at Target, after taking part in Target’s Takeoff Accelerator Program in 2018. To celebrate the start of the sale of their products on the shelves, the brand rolled out a new formula of all-natural deodorant made exclusively for Target, called Deep Sea Glacier.
While there are a lot of players in the market for female skincare, the male field is far more open despite containing what Duchnowski called a $10 billion opportunity.
“Within that, the category of moisturizing is actually growing more than shaving. What I have found to be super exciting in the men's skincare space is that men actually care more than ever before,” she said.
Which means for the time being, it is the market the brand is are going after as it looks to capture more men “on the arc of adulting” and help them groom themselves better. It’s not to say Oars + Alps will never go after products for women — but for now, that thought remains on the distant horizon.
“The men’s space is where the biggest opportunity is, and that’s where we’re going to focus.”