Starting the interview, the founder of Mr.Smith David Justin says that for a brand owner, the print becomes so much more valuable. Print gives recognition because I feel when I read something in print, even about another brands, it has more merit to it due to the thought process behind. It’s a long lead that needs to be prepared, as it is not just instantaneous. The Creative Director Freda Rossidis calls herself “an ever magazine buyer”. And we are diving into the world of Mr.Smith to speak about the brand, its products and life around it.
Do you guys work together, or did you use to work together? How did it start?
David: I have a background in Business and Commerce. My mother has always had a salon, so when I was a kid, I was always there sweeping hair. On Thursday night I was there making coffee for the clients. I also travelled a lot with my mother when she was going to fashion week. After my university studies, I worked for an Australian hair care company a number of years. After that I developed Mr. Smith and with professional help of Frida created and launched balancing shampoo conditioner. We worked on the product for 15-18 months and finally made it absolutely perfect. We never release any of our products until they reach our level of perfection. Freda works with the product as such, concentrating on quality and professional need and imagery, while I deal with marketing. Such division of duties, constitutes, I suppose, the concept of the brand.
Did you try it on people at the salon first?
Freda: Yeah, it was all salon tested. I was doing all the testing and it went on for quite some time.
David: We tested it in Australia and America on different hair types and at salons with different price points. I think we achieved an amazing result with the balancing shampoo conditioner, and I still consider the latter as my favourite product today.
What made you think that there was a need for (this sound really bad) but another hair product in this world?
David: I don't think there is a product on the market that stands for what we - an Australian owned brand - are offering. It is an Australian made product which is sulfene and paraben free, PETA-certified and also packed in an aesthetically pleasing way, adding a luxury feeling to it.
Freda: The product is not available online, as we do not just want to sell. We believe that it is a premium performing product and the client needs that professional knowledge and guidance we could provide in store. It is not just a cookie-cutter product but a customised commodity. Thus, when customers come in we ask about their hair, how often they wash it, how they like it to feel etc. Then, we can adjust the product specifically to a customer’s hair. Possibility to do it online is rather limited and a customer usually ends up with buying a product for a wrong hair type, what changes the effect of the product and consequently, the customer’s experience as such. Therefore, we put a lot of effort in educating our hairdressers about the products and how to use them. Like David says, we want to support the salons and we do not ever want to be presented online.
Oh, that is nice, like going back to how it used to be. Freda, how involved are you within Mr. Smith, is it your brand?
Freda: I do the creative direction for the brand, what means all the imagery that you see, work with the fashion week and putting teams together. Furthermore, I do all the testing of all the products, because I do not just want to know how to use the product, when putting it on the market, but also to know how the product feels. I know exactly what we need because I’m in the industry, working from inside and reaching out to the customer. However, I am not physically at the salon anymore but attending shows, photo shoots and working with different celebrity clients. I am not engaged in the packaging process, as it is David’s area.
The name, Mr. Smith, where does it come from and why Mr. Smith?
David: We wanted something chic, minimal, clean and that reflected the packaging. We didn't want anything ego driven. I didn't want my name on the bottle because my aim was to avoid the product to be associated with a certain person. We were looking for something that reflected what we stand for as a brand and fit in as a premium product. Our idea is to let the product speak for itself, rather than have a spokesperson on behalf of the product, advocating for it. Thus, it is a fictitious name. Mr. Smith really does reflect ambiguousness and it is androgynous as well. It also allows the consumer to ask questions about the brand.
A lot of beauty brands which are coming from Australia, promoting healthy organic life and are not tested on animals. Why do you think that is?
David: I think at the moment we are probably the only professional brand that actually is manufactured in Australia. Many brands are based in Australia but not produced there, so we are one of the few that physically produce in Australia. Our factory is situated in the vicinity of our office in Melbourne. Hence, everything is locally sourced and produced. This is how we try to support our own network, our own community and also help with the QC [quality control]. It gives us an opportunity to just dash down to the factory, check the production process and control the quality before it's filled. Hence, before the product goes out, we know that is has been tested and we also make sure that the consumer actually gets a premium product that is really made in Australia. We also confirm that the product lives up to the “PETA-Approved Vegan” logo.
Freda: I think we are all pretty conscious of what we use on our bodies all the time. I have always been very aware of having organic vegetables and cleaning products at home. And we have always loved animals, even before we had Mr.Smith, therefore we are against testing products on animals.
David: The clients and the price point expect that these days.
Freda: We are wiser now, ready to pay more for the product that is made in Italy, because we know people have been paid fairly.
If you didn't do this, what do think you would do?
David: I would probably have done skincare. Yeah, if I hadn't done haircare I would have done skincare, cosmetics, grooming or fashion.
Freda: It would have been skincare for sure. David has always been meticulous, even as a child. Whenever he would draw something, it had to be perfect. If the paper had a mark on it, he wouldn't use that piece of paper.
David: I think you need to be like that to create a brand.
Freda: Yes, you do. Everything is meticulous and I think that is why David is successful. He really cares about and loves his brand and is really detailed with everything, which goes in the products, even what concerns product placement and distribution.
David: We feel absolutely blessed here in Sweden.
Were the products made, thinking of the Australian woman or were they made for women worldwide?
Freda: No not really…
David: There is no Australian woman, because everybody has this idea about the Australian blond woman, but she doesn't exist. It is so universal and that is why we have specific products for different women, men, hair types, whatever it may be. The product is completely unisex, universal. We don't have a specific woman in Australia, as it is so multicultural. The product is very universal and I think that is why I have had so much success in such a short time. It works for any clientele.
You feel that you can build it. It's light. I think that people have been sick of the heaviness in other brands. Has that been a focal point as well?
Freda: One thing that I always say with an editorial brand is that when I test the products I test them like I would use them for a shoot or on a show. I like to mix the products and if I have used a few products at the same time, I still want you to wear your hair tomorrow without having to wash it. Therefore our products are light, they are not heavy. I had a girl for an educational day last time I was here and I did about six different looks and I layered and layered so many products and the next day we had a show and it was a model that called in sick and I said to the coordinator, “Get the girl we had here yesterday, her hair was perfect I can use her again today”. When she came to the show, I asked her “Did you wash your hair” and she said, “No!” I felt her hair, it was perfect, and I used her again on stage and reworked everything, using more products. And it didn't look heavy. I'm sure if you talked to all of the sellers, they would say the same thing. The products are really easy to work with. They don't build up any heaviness in the hair and they are water soluble and colour-safe, what means using the shampoo does not wash all the colour out.
Do you ever get sick of working with each other?
David: We don't work together all the time, otherwise we would kill each other.
Freda: I work at fashion week, so I go to New York and we see each other then but after I go to Milan and Paris. I am the Creative Director, he is the CEO and then we have a lot of other stuff as well. The funny thing is that, on the show that we did in Norway David could be in one room and I would be in another, but when we had to style someone, our aesthetics would be very similar. David has a really good eye.
David: Freda can do what I am thinking about with hair and I can basically do what she is thinking with packaging.
Freda: I do my job and he does his job but we often think alike.
What shows do you do?
Freda: We have Mr.Smith shows.
David: We did Noon BY Noor in New York. We did Rachel Comey. We always get four or five shows every fashion week period, so we try to do it for brands that reflect our aesthetics rather than just choosing any mass marketing brand. Usually we go with the younger cool brands, as long as we stay true to us.
So what is the must-have? What is the product that everybody needs in their hair?
David: The Foundation, I feel like there is nothing comparable to it on the market.
Freda: The Foundation, if we talk about styling. If I styled your hair, I would use the dry foundation what would make your hair feel really gutsy. It provides heat protection and gives the hair substance, what makes it stay the way it originally was styled. If you have fine and curly hair, I would use the foundation mixed with some of the cremé, because it would give your curls hold and softness. So that is probably our most popular styling product around the world. Not just here. I think the dry foundation is our biggest seller. It is not a shiny hair product, but a bit more matt. It is a cool product. Again, you need to know how to use it in order to get the most out of the product.
What inspires you the most? Where do you get your inspiration?
David: Creating new products.
Freda: I am fortunate to get to work on the biggest shows in the world, because I do that as well as working with Mr.Smith, so I assist some amazing talents. I have worked on every show from Givenchy to Chanel, from Fendi to Hermés and Marc Jacobs. Thus, I just feel blessed that I get to assist these amazing artists. When I am backstage I look at the fashion, so I can see what is happening next season so I am always there, seeing what we are going to be doing, and I am able to bring that back to Mr.Smith. I get my inspiration from fashion week and venues that I attend. And travelling, and just meeting new people, getting inspired by the people and the environment around you. Like other hairdressers. I am inspired by people we have met in Stockholm just the last few days and by talking to them and seeing the way they dress.
David: I think our inspiration comes from the effortlessly cool, it is about not overdressing it or overstyle it. We are not about the sexy or sexy type of hair. We are about minimal and chic. I feel that people that use our brand are more self-aware and self-confident. They don't need to be in your face or over the top. They are understated and self-confident.
Are all of the products organic?
David: All of the products use organic ingredients. However, to say that they are 100 percent organic all the way through is not true, because it is so hard to do that. We just state facts and as a brand, we think we are honest and we tell the truth. We use organic ingredients and botanicals, but not completely organic. All the products except for the three tubs product are “PETA-Approved Vegan”. We have a lanolin and bees wax, an animal extract in the three tubs, what means it is not vegan but it is still PETA-certified and absolutely not animal tested.