Succession in family-run companies can be quite a rollercoaster ride for the company – and for its customers. Rings even more true for ethical pioneer companies. An interview with Malvin Richard.

Farfalla founders, archival image
From the Farfalla archives: the chill founders

Generational change is an intense topic for any family-run business. But for the ethical pioneer companies, the matters may be even more frantic, for there is even more than family and company legacy to pass on. Swiss natural cosmetics pioneer Farfalla is a company currently undergoing such a transition – combining it with a complete rebranding and redesign of the product range. We sat down for an interview with the son and godson of the founders, Farfalla’s new GM Malvin Richard, prior to the Berlin night of the Farfalla road show.

The Farfalla event was hosted in the restaurant of Biosphäre Potsdam, a fantastic indoor tropical botanical garden known for their outstanding landscape (one that includes articicial lakes, a mangrove swamp, an orchid garden and a waterfall, among other things) as well as for their butterfly house, home to dozens of different species. We talked about the process of generational change, about what rebellion means in a hippie family, and about the company’s best ambassador.

Biosphäre Potsdam impressions: orchid garden, tropical gardenBiosphäre Potsdam impressions: Urwaldblick restaurantMalvin Richard speaking at Farfalla road show Biosphäre Potsdam Biosphäre Potsdam impressions: Farfalla road show

Malvin Richard Interview:
How Farfalla Manages Generational Change

BEAUTYCALYPSE: I’ll briefly explain it to the readers first – this change of generations progress at Farfalla has taken ten years so far. Ten years of planning, and talking to other entrepreneurs. Malvin, can you share how it’s been for you?

MALVIN RICHARD: Initially I wasn’t at the heart of the project, it’s the Farfalla founders who have started the process ten years ago. I’ve been on it for five years now. It’s not only about the successor challenge, and it’s good that they have chosen to do a harmonious transition.

Sure, they have spoken to many other founders and entrepreneurs, as have I at some point. I’ve also had advanced trainings and what’s also really great is that there is a Swiss association for family business successors, an opportunity to meet regularly and to discuss. The topic is complex and emotional, it has many components, the parents, the siblings, and can get super complicated. My own situation was complex as well even though my parents hold 50% of the company and I am an only child. Good thing for me, I was never pressured or influenced to be their successor, it’s never been an issue. They have this hippie past, rooted in freedom, do what you like, that kind of thing. It’s in our family culture. So what I chose was a completely different path. I was in the finance industry, working with PWC, studying economics.

Malvin Richard Interview: How Farfalla Manages Generational Change

BC: Is it a “come to the dark side, we have cookies” thing? 🙂

MR: As a kid to a hippie family – if you like – I enjoyed many freedoms, and as I use to say, for me the rebellion was to have structure. 🙂 And so I was looking for structure, looking for the challenge to prove myself within this structure, because this wasn’t part of my upbringing. Today I’m very glad that I did that, and equally glad that I have now found a way to strike a balance. Such a pioneer company can do with a bit of a structure these days.

BC: Speaking of which, how do you bring in the fresh ideas? Does it take long to avoid hurt feelings?

MR: Depends on how much or how little conflict you can endure… 🙂 I’ve got to say we had a very smooth process. Before I came to Farfalla, I have launched and managed a natural perfume company with two friends. [Richard Lüscher Britos natural terroir perfumes, editor’s note] And this was a very important experience for me, to learn it from scratch, to understand the market, to develop a product, to stand for something, to attract customers. I gained a lot more understanding for Farfalla during this time.

At Farfalla we also had a phase when we discussed our common vision for the future. This in particular was not always only harmonious. I will say, I have benefitted from seeing some of my maybe more far reaching or unrealistic ideas being slowed down, and I enjoyed adding a modern twist to the more old-school ideas.

BC: An exchange of ideas truly is vital, as many sustainable and responsible brands can tend to stay in a “bubble of like-mindedness” or stick to the must haves and forget the nice-to-haves which make all the difference…

MR: It’s really been a mutual process. There is a lot of value in finding a good middle ground. And I think we did really well, really to the point. I think none of us could’ve done as well on our own. The transition is so smooth for all of us.

BC: Let’s address the rebranding. Was this your project alone or a joint project?

MR: The rebranding was perfectly collaborative.

Rebranding was for me fuelled by the idea “we need to do something, together”. Whereas the founders were thinking that it should be a successor project and they would slow down in their last active year. But then what I think is so typical for the hippie generation, is that their journey has always been about enjoying it. Eventually, this has driven them to agree to do the rebranding together. And there’s so much left to do and the whole process is not at all about slowing down, everybody seems to have more to do than ever.

BC: As far as rebranding goes, Farfalla might be the best one of the recent years: not just mere repackaging, there is a vibe of consistency and beauty to it. Also giving the company name, Farfalla, its meaning back by using these lovely butterfly illustrations…

Malvin Richard, FarfallaMR: Thank you. For us it was vital to not just change it for the sake of the change but to highlight something authentic. And the butterfly has a lot to do with our values, it’s in fact our best ambassador. It represents what we stand for: the nativeness, the individuality; even our longest standing customers have embraced it.

We were a bit anxious in the beginning. Sure, the redesign is loved by young people, and I think that the longstanding customers value the quality that doesn’t change above all. It’s all about the core values. And the process was not always super smooth, we had detours, we built focus groups, we talked to our customers, we wanted to stay as truthful as possible to the Farfalla brand. It was a beautiful process for us in the end.

BC: Speaking of process and learning, what was your start at Farfalla like? How did you immerse yourself in such a personal business after years in finance?

MR: Actually I was really lucky. When I just had started at Farfalla, we had the opportunity to acquire one of our contract manufacturers, and I was in charge of the company. So it was zero to hero for me in terms of skincare industry and skincare development, as I had to manage a team that included two skincare chemists. Which was a great experience, especially when you’re new to the industry. Of course I had learned a lot from starting the natural perfume company, but this was different, a whole new world. In addition to running the manufacturer business I worked in Farfalla marketing, which has ultimately led to me looking into all the departments. And I’ve got to say, the rebranding project too was a big learning experience as we’ve turned each element of Farfalla around and examined it – be it formulation, scent, production, packaging, or sales. You know the company in the end. The transition feels fairly natural. There is a lot of mutual trust, which is vital, also because the founders will stay with Farfalla on the board of directors.

BC: You mentioned earlier that perfume will play an important role for Farfalla in the future. There is not much real greatness in natural scents these days yet – when you speak of great, niche, relevant perfumes and not just blends of fragrant essential oils.

MR: When creating a natural perfume, new ideas and innovation oftentimes come from what you might perceive as restriction, and I think it’s really fascinating. By now we have gathered quite some expertise in this field. And if you’re working with somebody who hasn’t the same knowledge, they may think they are constrained. Whereas one of my chemists has worked with us for fifteen years and she knows a time then there was no good quality natural skincare, and when the raw materials were not as good. Also, raw materials get better and better these days.

Malvin Richard, Farfalla, BEAUTYCALYPSE interviewBC: Speaking of raw materials, does Farfalla invest in direct ethical trade?

MR: We have direct cooperatives with the farmers across forty-five countries, and there are amazing bio-diverse farms that look nothing like farms, more like jungle, like primeval forest. We run tree nurseries to promote bio-diversity. Also, because the standards of organic farming are not enough for us sometimes, we even launched our own Grand Cru label for essential oil farming – since organic can still come from monoculture, and we want to protect the bio-diversity. We have now rolled out 20-30 Grand Cru projects. It’s really important for us. It’s part of our story, we have always been very close to the farmers, even back in my childhood which was quite formative, and such a great inspiration. So when I said earlier I wasn’t influenced, of course there was an influence when you consider the travels 🙂 and the encounters with those farmers that were truly formative for us as kids. Those farmers were people who exuded so much joy of living, so much beauty and simplicity. In terms of social and environmental influence, this has been a great experience and it has kept us very engaged in the field. Of course there is a lot of cultural inspiration as well. In particular speaking of essential oils which were used for thousands of years for their healing benefits.

Farfalla recipe cards and samples Close-up of the new Farfalla skin care DIY recipes

By the way, we have decided to share this knowledge in recipe card format. Our recipe cards were made to help find a personal skincare path, because skincare should be unique and each of us has to find hers or his. And of course recipes are a great way to share skincare ideas, because recipes, as we all know, can be tweaked to your needs. It’s an important communications tool, largely influenced by the ethno-botanical context. Recipes are a means of information transfer, and you will find them both online at farfalla.ch and on our Farfalla shelf in stores.

BC: So what’s next further down the line for Farfalla fans?

MR: Next year we’ll see the launch of new products, of three more product lines. Aromatherapy is another important segment, although mostly in Switzerland, and our aromatherapy range will be relaunched this October. The aromatherapy workshops will be intensified and used for promotion. The blending carts – one of which was presented on our Vivaness stand – will travel with us, as they are ideal for experiencing the recipes and for hosting the aromatherapy lessons. The next two years will be intense. It’s a beginning of a new era, and we’re pretty much looking forward to the next twenty-five years.

Thank you Malvin!

Farfalla blending cart, 2018 road show