Thailand Tatler looks at how four local brands are taking their storied lotions and potions across the world’s oceans to put organic and historic Thai skincare and beauty therapies on the international map
You can’t talk about Thai organic skincare products without mentioning Harnn. It is usually the brand that first comes to mind. Originally founded in 2002 by Vudhichai Harnpanich, better known as Paul Harnn, it has evolved to become renowned for its natural skincare and spa products based on Thai botanicals. So much so that last year lifestyle company Tanachira Retail Corporation acquired the business. Today, under the guidance of CEO Tanapong Chirapanidchakul, Harnn is in good shape.
According to the chief executive, while the aim is always to drive the brand forward and grow the business, it is also important to preserve and strengthen the DNA of Harnn. “It was clear from the very beginning at Harnn that a significant function of my job would be to keep the founder’s legacy alive and champion the brand at the next level,” he says. “Embedded since day one is this philosophy of Asian and Thai well-being and this is still intact today under the new management.”
With a significant presence in countries such as China (a key market), Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam, Harnn has also recently fostered a relationship with a company in Korea, mainly focusing on duty-free platforms. “We are also present in the European markets,” says Tanapong. “But in the West there appears to be a preference for fragrances.” A sub-brand of Harnn, Vuudh, an Asian-inspired lifestyle interior fragrance, is doing very well in Switzerland and the Czech Republic, he adds.
Since its establishment, Harnn has become widely recognised for its commitment to Asia’s botanical heritage and a holistic approach to well-being through the use of some of nature’s finest ingredients. It is a theme that has worked well to date but Tanapong underlines the importance of staying relevant and evolving, which is why Harnn has been revamping its store design and packaging and looking to add new easy pick-me-up products. The idea, he says, is to better connect with the younger generation of consumers and draw them into the world of Harnn. Expanding the existing spa concept within the region is also on the agenda.
Acquiring Harnn is but a stepping stone to much larger developments envisioned by Tanapong for Tanachira. “We want to be more of a lifestyle-oriented entity, connecting directly with customers, not just a wholesale provider of products. I’m pretty sure we will consider acquiring other businesses down the line—after our public offering next year—perhaps even a company that is strong in overseas distribution and marketing as a way of enhancing our business development outside of Thailand.”
However, the executive adds that what is equally as important as sales and revenue is that everyone in the business understands what they are doing and how they fit in with the company’s growth plans. “After 2020 I would like to take on a lesser role, in part to give others the opportunity to experience more responsibility,” Tanapong says. While he hasn’t tried every single Harnn product, he admits to liking the White Mulberry sunscreen. “Actually, I fell in love with it even before I bought the company. I also like the recently launched facial mist, which is a wonderfully refreshing organic rose water.”
Another force to be reckoned with in the industry is Panpuri. As a student Vorravit Siripark, its CEO and founder, majored in economics and a career in finance consultancy followed. So how did Panpuri come about? Vorravit smiles. “My interest in skincare began when I moved to Canada to study. It was so bloody cold I was forced to use a skin moisturiser. The habit stuck but when I returned to Thailand I couldn’t find any similar local quality products—Western creams dominated the market back then. A light bulb went off in my head and I decided I could change that.”
Since 2003 Panpuri has grown exponentially. In 2006 the brand became the first in Thailand to introduce certified organic ingredients to the local skincare world. In addition to having more than 40 counters nationwide, it is also present in over 20 countries, in most cases sold through a distributor, although the brand has a flagship outlet in Tokyo’s Ginza district. Overseas sales account for approximately 20 per cent of annual income.
Result-driven skincare is important but more essential currently for Vorravit is achieving a newly implement standard of clean beauty. Going beyond the natural and organic, his latest endeavour is transforming the entirety of Panpuri’s products and the company’s framework to embrace and reflect this concept. “To maintain a competitive edge and lead in the market is something we always strive for and with the evolution of the industry, natural and organic is not enough anymore,” says Vorravit. “Clean beauty means a non-toxic product. We want to make sure that all of our formulations have no questionable or harmful ingredients.” To this end, Panpuri products are made following a strict ZeroList comprising over 2,300 banned ingredients as listed by FDAs around the world, including Europe, the US and Japan. Without short cuts this can make the research and development cycle long, sometimes taking up to two years. It is a challenge, but Vorravit is adamant that doing things right to procure beauty and wellness solutions is more than skin-deep.
Furthering its position as a local leader in the industry, the company recently opened the Panpuri Wellness Retreat & Onsen at Gaysorn Village. Boasting a luxurious organic spa and onsen facility, this is the first of its kind in Thailand. “I think what I am most proud of is being able to create a name for Thailand and to contribute to the industry,” says Vorravit. “Looking ahead, I want to see Panpuri as a reference point, as a brand that is not only good for people but also the environment—clean and honest—based on something pure. I hope it succeeds on an international level and lasts long beyond my lifetime,” he smiles.
The brand is famous for its jasmine and lotus based products. “I always travel with our Lotus defense skincare set, one oil and one serum,” Vorravit says.
“I can go anywhere—hot or cold—with it and know I have good protection.” Not one to shy away from challenges, his plate is full with the launch of new products and also the conversion of production to clean beauty and the commitment to reducing unnecessary plastic packaging. Like its evergreen CEO, the brand wants to maintain a refreshed look that appeals to the younger generation.
A veteran of the Thai wellness and beauty product scene is Erb, which has been around for almost two decades now. The inspiration behind its establishment was born from the personal convictions of founder-owner Pattree Bhakdibutr and her faith in the power of local organic ingredients. In fact, Erb differentiates itself from the rest in its homage to traditional Thai remedies and concoctions that have been used for hundreds of years. But it also embraces modernity. As is the case with many of her compatriots, Pattree was introduced to the medicinal benefits of Thai botanicals at a young age. “In that way, all our products tell a story,” she says. “What we have done is basically revamp the old remedies, with the help of in-depth research and the latest scientific innovations, to make them more modern and appealing to people of today’s world.”
Erb’s products range from skincare solutions to home fragrance and spa products based on meticulously blended pure essential oils and other certified organic ingredients. Take the jasmine flower for instance, known for its soothing fragrance. “Jasmine has been used throughout history in applications ranging from religious offerings to a refreshing agent in dishes such as khao chae,” says Pattree. “Tamarind is another that has been used for centuries to exfoliate and nourish the skin. I remember my grandmother using it on me. Today we use tamarind with an added touch of cosmetic grade honey, ginger and marigold.”
There are currently 15 Erb outlets in Thailand and another 10 spanning countries such as Japan, China and Dubai. The business came into existence in 2000 and the fact that it is still going strong is testament to its uniqueness in the sector. It certainly dances to its own tune—in addition to its bespoke reinterpretations of traditional Siamese wellness solutions, Pattree has implemented a spiritual aspect to the company. “We have a Reiki therapist who can produce the perfect fragrance for you according to your needs,” she says. “Our store and spa concept is a harmonious blend of spirituality, energy and positivity, with a young and fresh outlook.” While the concoctions may be rooted in the old, Pattree projects a young-at-heart vibe, a feeling she wants to imbue in all her products, stores and spas.
Much of Erb’s success, she says, boils down to knowledge and experience. Embarking on something she is familiar with, that is embedded in her culture, was a big boost in the beginning. She loves what she does and enjoys creating new things and travelling to exotic places in her quest for ingredients. Her latest trip saw her exploring rose farms in Kenya where their roses, for example, are known for their potent scent.
A relative newcomer to the competitive world of local health and wellness products is Organika, the brainchild of actress-turned-entrepreneur Sririta Jensen. Established five years ago, it has received great feedback from Thais and foreigners alike and its ambitious CEO is set on building a brand that can one day become a leading player on the international stage. “Organika really emerged out of my passion for organic products,” she says. “Moreover, I wanted to create a Thai luxury spa and aromatherapy brand that is recognised here and around the world.” As the name suggests, the focus at Organika is on products using natural ingredients and zero chemicals. For Sririta that doesn’t mean quality can be compromised. “My aim is for the best and our research team works very hard to achieve this,” she explains. What Organika promises are products that are as natural as possible, free from toxins or anything that might be harmful to you.
“We also want to be the leader in terms of fragrance,” Sririta says. Reaping the benefits of the power of aromatherapy, Organika prides itself on what it calls the journey through the world of scents. “When life gets stressful, I truly believe that like music, the right scent or combination of scents, can help with relaxation and rejuvenation,” she opines. “In some cases, essential oils have been found to alleviate and even cure illnesses.”
In addition to its beautiful flagship store, Organika House in Sukhumvit 49, which combines shop, spa and café, you can also find the brand at leading malls such as Siam Paragon and Emporium. The latest opening is a second flagship store at IconSiam. Designed to be a haven of tranquillity and relaxation, Sririta says the store’s concept was inspired by the idea that all things bloom and grow from water. “I want people to escape the hectic and stressful world the moment they walk through the door of our flagship stores,” she says.
Organika is also taking its first steps abroad with an arrangement to retail its products through Marriott hotels in Taiwan. “We still have many products that we want to launch,” says Sririta. “But frankly, we don’t want to expand for the sake of quantity. Our focus will always be on the quality of our offerings. In the future, I just want us to keep learning and growing and to be strong enough to compete in the international market. I intend to keep on creating because that’s my favourite aspect of the job. Of course, I’m happy we are helping to raise the profile of Thai products and that we are doing our bit for the Thai economy. I don’t see why Thailand can’t dominate as a leading global hub for spa and wellness therapies and the organic products they use.”
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