‘I am a man of rituals. I was brought up with the notion that small things matter.’
A Dutch magazine named you Mr. Perfect, American Vanity Fair profiled you as the Dutch version of James Bond. Quite some shoes you have to fill. How perfect are you in real life?
Pretty perfect, if you ask me (laughs out loud). Ask my wife the same question and you’ll get a very different answer I’m afraid. It’s very flattering indeed but nobody’s perfect. If anything I should be called Mr. Perfectionist. When you’re building a global brand like Rituals you have to strive for perfection: all the way, every day. And you have to do that with passion and a healthy dose of obsession. That is how I see it, anyway. At Rituals we love creating beautiful things that help change everyday routines into special rituals. But really, it all has to add up: the perfumes, the products, the designs, the stores, the service, and the experience. If we can achieve all that and keep up with it, our mission is successful.
How important is appearance for you?
Appearance is important to me, but it isn’t everything. I like to dress well and look good, surely. And wearing that new suit does give me a touch of extra confidence. But appearance is so much more than only physical traits. It is what someone radiates. I am naturally drawn to people who are optimistic and creative because they literally energize me. At the end of the day the only thing that matters is what’s on the inside. But it never hurts to make a great impression with your appearance.
Where do you actually find inspiration to fuel your creativity?
I find inspiration in travelling as well as exploring other cultures, meeting new people and visiting retail shops in every corner of the world. I am probably one of the few guys out there who actually likes to go shopping. Which is in fact an important part of my job; to recognize what people like and what is going on trend wise. To stay on top I have to understand, better than anyone else, what our customers want. And the best part of my job is that I am able to realise this with a team of very talented people.
Say, you launch a new ritual like Laughing Buddha.
Where do you begin and how do you arrive at the end result?
The majority of our products is inspired by ancient eastern rituals. When we discover a new ritual that we feel is worth sharing with people, we start extensively researching every aspect. Which ingredients did they use and why? How did they go about their routines? And so forth. We then introduce these ingredients to our perfumers. Together we translate this into a modern range of luxury products.
But we also get motivated by modern times. For instance we realised that people spend a great amount of time and money on picking and designing a new kitchen and then purchase a not so great looking supermarket hand soap, which gets hastily thrown in a cabinet when friends visit. We felt we could do better and we did. By designing an elegant range of products that do not look out of place on your kitchen counter.
How closely are you involved with the development of new products and Rituals?
We have a strong team of people working in our innovation department and I am very much involved because it is one of my favourite aspects in my job: helping to create and design products and stores. I work passionately for Rituals and for all the people who believe in it, trying to make a difference with special products and experiences. I know we are not changing the world, but I’d like to believe we contribute by making a difference in the industry.
Speaking of making a difference, sustainability is a major factor for many companies in the industry. How is Rituals answering this call?
Sustainability is a very important topic for us, and we’ve made some significant strides in this area. We are truly committed to finding new ways to reduce our impact on the planet, which is why we’ve asked the LCA Centre to conduct Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) studies on all our product packaging. In this way, we’re informed of the environmental impact of every single packaging item. We turn this information into action, making changes that support sustainability.
For example, we offer refills for our body and face creams as well as for our hand wash. With our eco-chic refill system, you can save up to 70% on CO2, 65% on energy and use 45% less water. In order to reduce our carbon footprint, we produce our products as close to home as possible—currently 98% of finished products are made in Europe. Alongside this, we only use FSC-certified paper for secondary packaging (when functionality allows, we choose recycled paper) and are currently putting all our efforts into reaching a goal of 100% recyclable packaging by 2023.
So, as you can see, we’ve taken quite a few steps towards a more sustainable approach and we learn from our journey to greener practices every day.
As the creative force behind the brand you must have a set of rituals you follow yourself. Care to name a few?
I am a man of rituals. I was brought up with the notion that small things matter. So I practice the everyday rituals most people do: shaving, my cup of Earl Grey in the morning, a relaxing bath from time to time and I always drink a glass of white wine when I come home from work. On a more spiritual level when we travel abroad with the family, we always try to find an old church somewhere to light a candle for someone. It is a small moment of reflection; to be grateful for what we have and to realise what we have to give.
‘We always try to find an old church somewhere to light a candle for someone.’
The Rituals philosophy is focused on relaxation and taking a step back to enjoy the little things in life. Do you actually practice what you preach?
I have to admit, this one hits close to home. We are currently working very hard to further expand the brand into new territories, which means new countries and possibly even new continents. You can imagine that I have an overloaded schedule right now that can be best compared to a high speed train moving at maximum capacity. Slowing it down is near to impossible. So yes, there is always room for improvement. And no, I haven’t quite mastered the art of practicing what I preach, just yet. But I learn and strive every day to balance things better.
Signature fragrances are a critical success factor for the brand. How important is scent for you personally?
Scent is very important to me. How couldn’t it be, it is such an amazing sense. It can transport you back to places and times in your childhood or help you remember and relive special moments in your life, just like music does and I am a lover of music too. And let’s be honest, we all try to avoid places with an awkward smell. On the other hand we start feeling very comfortable when a fragrance is appealing. Personally, I never leave home without wearing some perfume and I alternate my three favourite fragrances, depending on mood and occasion. They range from sporty and spicy to a classic fragrance that resembles cologne.
The ultimate way for you to relax would be?
I relax with a glass of good wine by the fireplace in the company of friends, watching a movie on the big screen in a dark cinema and of course visiting our house in Knokke by the sea. The drive up there is only one and a half hours, but I find myself in a completely different world.
All Rituals products are centered on authentic and ancient routines from the Far East. What was it that made you decide to build your brand on the roots of Asian practices and rituals?
People all over the world are living life in the fast lane, doing things on autopilot, so I decided that I wanted to change that by transforming mundane routines into more meaningful moments. In practice that meant that I wanted to reinvent ordinary products like shower gels and shaving foams into something really special. I had worked in the industry for over 15 years and going out on my own was my one shot at changing the rules and doing things differently. Instead of moving full throttle forward I decided it would be best to research, look around and take a step back to nourish inspiration. I traveled and realised that in the western world we overlook the importance of past practices; we thrive on innovation and never look back. Ancient eastern rituals have an opposite approach and I understood that I had found my niche.
Your favourite holiday destination?
We try to visit many different places in the world with our kids and every journey is different and special in its own right, so I honestly can’t pinpoint one single destination. Our best holiday memories range from climbing and hiking in the mountains to travelling around Thailand and sleeping in little palm tree houses on a lake.
Your favourite city in the world?
I prefer dynamic places like Tokyo, Bangkok, Paris and Barcelona. But New York takes the cake every time. The first time I landed in NY was 15 years ago and it was a decisive moment for starting my Rituals journey. I walked for days; window shopped for hours, took it all in and came back with lots of energy and a final decision. I had to give it a go. Opening our Rituals store in Soho last November was a major personal highlight. I remember looking through the window of the Fresh company 15 years ago, in total awe and admiration of this cosmetics brand. And now we’re located next door. Yes, that’s a big thing for me.
Anything on your bucket list?
I think I started living this “try-before-you-die” concept long before it was called the bucket list. For 25 years now I’ve set myself a goal each year to have at least one “once in a lifetime” experience. So far I have run marathons, did skydiving, bungee jumping and went nature hiking in the middle of nowhere, just to name a few. Still on the list are, but I don’t know if I’ll ever make it, learning to kite-surf before getting too old, helicopter skiing in Canada and taking lessons at Nick Bolletieri’s tennis school to practice a double handed back hand, 20 years too late.
Best Book top 3
I don’t read a lot of books anymore but I found these recent reads very inspiring: Steve Jobs, the biography, Howard Schultz and Mr. Amazon by Brad Stone.
Best moment of my life…
was getting married to my wife Colette and starting a family together.
You’re all time favourite quote
“If you can dream it, you can do it.” by Walt Disney. I think that it is our ability to dream and our determination to follow our dreams that make the difference for a creative entrepreneur. I have various quotes that mean something to me embroidered onto my shirt in a secret place. Call it a ritual if you like. I started doing this in 2000 to motivate me in challenging times and I still do it today.
‘If you can dream it, you can do it!’
I don’t like people who are…
Jealous, judgmental, negative and pessimistic.
What are your most positive traits? What personal traits would you consider negative?
I would say the fact that I’m an optimistic dreamer is quite positive. I’m also creative and a go-getter. On the negative side, I can be impatient and unstoppable — as well as a bit lazy at times.
Name the 3 people you admire most and why
My wife Colette, my mother, and inspirational people like Steve Jobs and Howard Schultz. I admire people who have dreams and a vision, who lead through inspiration but who are also focused on getting every detail right.
Name one event that changed your life
I was 9 years old when my father tragically lost his life in a car accident. This made a huge impact on me. I realised at a young age that life is precious and that it may suddenly end at any given moment. So you owe it to yourself to make the most of it, and to do it now while you still can. And you owe it to yourself to enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realise they were big. Ever since, I take nothing for granted and I live more in the present. The whole experience is an important driver in my work for Rituals.
Do you believe in reincarnation?
No, I don’t. I believe in getting the most out of this life and I believe in leaving the planet a little better than how I found it. Everyone can contribute whether it is by building a business or caring for others.
What is your definition of success?
The definition of success for me is being happy, living a fulfilling life and doing something positive with your talents. Because everybody has a talent for something.
Your personal favourite Rituals product: you may only pick one…
That has to be Fujiyama (currently known by the name of Happy Buddha) shower foam. This is the one product that launched it all; it kept us alive in the first years when not all went smoothly. The shower foam embodies our unique philosophy. It was a reinvention of the mainstream shower gel into a never before seen shower foam explosion with an addictive fragrance.
Where will Rituals ideally be in 5 years and 10 years time?
Building a brand often takes a lifetime. We still have a long way to go and many things to learn in a world that changes frighteningly fast. I hope in 25 years the whole world has discovered our beautiful brand. And I hope that you will find us on every street corner in luxury malls and department stores from the Far East to South America.