The launch of the Legendary Amazon Oil marks the brand’s 10th Anniversary. We sat down with founder Fabian LLiguin to talk about hair care, skincare standards and saving the rainforest… with shampoo?
Rahua Amazon Beauty.
The NY-based, Amazon-rooted hair care brand have such a loyal following and such a presence in the sector, it’s almost hard to believe they’ve been around for “just” ten years. On the other hand: wow. Ten years is quite an achievement in the — now — highly competitive green beauty industry.
Discover now how shampoo can save pristine rainforests, why it’s time for new product standards, and how ideas you’re stubbornly after can grow into miracles over time.
It’s a warm and sunny morning in August as I head to the hip neighbourhood of Berlin Mitte to meet Rahua Amazon Beauty founder Fabian Lliguin. It’s our second meeting after the German market presentation of the Hydration range, and this time he’s here to launch the Legendary Amazon Oil. The meetings with beauty writers take place in the beauty shop/ café of the local Soho House — putting on your Most Unimpressed face expression before entering is highly recommended. The Rahua table however stands out with beaming faces and quiet laughter.
The early bird journalist before me leaves, and we — Fabian, German PR officer Andrea, and myself — engage in a little small talk. Eventually I share that I’m honestly in love with Hydration, and admit that it wasn’t until the launch of the Body range that I actually have entered the Rahua world. I was and still am not a huge fan of the original shampoo and conditioner, even though I appreciated the formula and the idea behind the brand. To me, the Body range, the Enchanted Island Salt Spray, and the Hydration range have been each truly outdoing their respective precursor. Fabian nods and explains that the secret of a good salt spray is not in drying out the hair but in opening up the cuticles, and that Rahua add natural sugars to moisturise and condition the salt-treated hair; that the spray’s name comes from the nickname of the Galapagos Island; and that he’s proud of the shallow water cleaning Rahua were able to provide. “But today,” he adds, grinning ear to ear, “We came here to introduce the new oil.”
The slim bottle finally gets some attention. The light golden oil inside has a mild, powdery Gardenia smell; the texture is silky, and I dare dabbing just a bit onto the tips of my freshly washed hair, twisting the ends for a sleek and slightly spiky look.
“A hundred, two hundred years ago our ancestors, our grandmothers used natural ingredients, they used plants for their beauty,” Fabian continues, “And then the chemical industry came and reproduced nature. They reproduced naturals with synthetics. And they did it in such a successful way that they were able to create standards we face now. They have created standards, so now what I do the other way round. I mimic synthetics with naturals. So for example Hydration successfully mimics any conventional, silicone-packed high end product — but it’s natural. It’s a new breed of beauty products.
And this oil [was made] the same way. Any good oil for the hair out there is based on silicones but through our R&D we have created the same effect with naturals.
Because what happens when you give pure oils to the hair? It becomes shiny — but also heavy, oily. So what we did, we removed the heavy waxes and the blocks of fat from the oil, so the natural oils can flatten the cuticle and make the hair shine. And I’m not going to stop there! I want to make it even better, so people favour plants instead of petroleum. Thats the goal.”
If he looked back ten years, I want to know, what would he see. Did his story up to today turn out the way he thought it would?
“Oh, I was very naive ten years ago! When i created my first shampoo and conditioner, I [knew I] need to save the rainforest, I had this obsession about that. And i thought if I’ll just continue working in my salon, and the shampoo and conditioner will be great, people will love it — and that’s it. [I thought] I wouldn’t need to do anything more, just take the money from the sales and, well, help. But then I realised to sell enough product you need to create newness. So that was pretty naive.” Fabian stops here and grins, nodding. “Also I was thinking I was going to save a “little bit” of rainforest… now my goal is to preserve the entire rainforest!”
Saving the rainforest by selling shampoo sounds a bit bold, but of course the product here is the means to both funding the mission and to raising awareness. There is a lot of determination, passion, even pride, as I ask Fabian about his work.
“I have achieved something this past February… myself and a few non-profits, we achieved something unthinkable, something so huge! So large, I can die in peace now.
In Ecuador there was a referendum — the government were having a referendum anyway — and we were able to convince the president to put one extra point to the referendum. And 6.5 millions people voted to save a part of the pristine jungle, the Yasuni National Park [save from oil drilling, editor’s remark: read more here and here]. It’s a virgin jungle, home to several indigenous tribes, and the oil companies were going their direction. And when you see the number you understand why I say I can die in peace: it’s fifty thousand hectars of pristine jungle, believed to be the only part that did not freeze during the ice age and has been the heart of America’s rainforest.
So I’m thinking now, I can save the whole rainforest, I am working on it. It would be for the benefit of the entire world.”
For a little while now, Rahua products carry a new seal: SymBIOtic. I ask Fabian to tell me more about it.
“Symbiotic is our seal, and it’s well ahead of its time. It means just what is says: in order for an ingredient to be called symbiotic it has to have these three things: one, any plant — or fruit, leaf, nut whatever it is it’s been extracted from — needs to be grown in a virgin forest, in the middle of the jungle, far away from everything. Second, the ingredient needs to be obtained in a traditional way, nothing industrial. That’s where the magic happens.”
As he mentions magic I recall the story of traditional rahua nut grinding in the moonlight, a story Fabian shared earlier this year at the Hydration launch — the molecules of the rahua oil are ultra-small, and the light of a full moon has helped the artisans evaluate their work’s progress for centuries; a process explained by science today. Go figure the magic of staying close to Nature’s gifts. So, what’s the third Symbiotic value?
“The third part is: whoever buys this ingredient needs to pay way above fair trade to the indigious tribes, so they can sustain themselves and stay in their habitat.”
Would he give the seal out to other companies, Andrea interposes.
“Oh, I’m more than happy to give the seal, but they have to fulfill these [conditions]. If i know that a company has [otherwise] industrial products, they can’t certify one ingredient as symbiotic.”
Would he fancy looking ten years into the future, I wonder.
“I’m an eternal optimist.” Fabian laughs. “I come from Ecuador, from a small neighbourhood — all my friends are still there — I’m ambitious, and where I went from there is already amazing. And now with [all] I want to achieve… I don’t now how, but it will happen. I may not be alive to see the change, but i have a daughter, my wife Anna is pregnant. I am optimistic it will continue.”
When I ask for the brand’s future, he adds:
“I want every shower in the world to have my shampoo. That way I’ll have the funds to hire lawyers, you know. There is a lot of work we need to do, and we need to maintain the faith that it will happen. I know it will happen somehow.”
Before I leave, we discuss the value of work and the importance of working with women in the rural communities; I take photos; we shake hands, there’s greeting other writers and bloggers, all of whom are women, and then it’s time for me to go.
As I turn to leave, the amazon from the Rahua logo flashes golden in the light.
Gracing something as simple as shampoo and shower gel and hair oil bottles, she can be your daily reminder that every woman has an inner amazon warrior to rely on.