For Dion Nash, founder of grooming brand Triumph & Disaster, his moisturiser education started with a stolen bottle of Oil of Ulay, pilfered from his mum’s bathroom cabinet. This was back in the Nineties, when he was playing cricket for New Zealand and slapping on sunscreen for 12 hours a day. ‘I remember putting it on after a long day in the sun, and just feeling this relief.’ It was only when he finished his cricketing career in 2002 when he decided to do something about the disparity of choice for men and women when it came to something as simple as moisturiser. ‘I had an idea to make a product that, if it fell out of my gym bag I’d be proud of it, and that appealed to my version of masculinity.’
Dion Nash, founder of Triumph & Disaster
Fast forward nine years and, after a spell heading up the marketing team at Bacardi, Nash founded his own grooming brand, Triumph & Disaster, in 2011. As a Kiwi, he prides himself on his country’s reputation of being clean and green, and decided he wanted his company to follow suit. ‘I set about recreating what I already used naturally,’ he explains. ‘The nasty synthetics aren’t usually used to better products, but as cheap substitutes to prolong shelf life or to bind something. The best science out there now is in the green products.’
Crucial to each of Triumph & Disaster’s formulations are indigenous ingredients native to New Zealand, many of which are central to local Maori medicines, as well as some found in the Australian and South Pacific regions. These include things like Horopito, one of the world’s oldest flowering plants, which is used for toning and condition in its eye serum, and Ponga, a New Zealand fern that has natural properties proven to lift and reduce wrinkles.
But, more than using just natural ingredients, Triumph & Disaster wants to create the best products possible – and to do that, you have to be at the cutting edge of science. ‘The reason we started doing green products is because we believed they were better for humans. So we’ve always been about how to create the best products that aren’t toxic or that use unproven science,’ says Nash. ‘We’ve always said “derived from nature, engineered by science”, and that’s because some of the best green science out there is clean, but not actually derived from nature.’
Triumph & Disaster’s in-house laboratory, headed by chemist Sam Loader, is tasked with completing this complex task; bringing together the best that nature has to offer, while ensuring the science behind it stands up to scrutiny. The result is formulations with combinations of ingredients that you won’t find anywhere else, all of which are carefully examined and tested for their safety and efficacy. ‘The science and performance of the products always have to win over. It’s all very well doing a natural or organic product, but if it doesn’t perform better than the synthetic then what’s the point?’ says Nash.
One thing that really upsets him, though, is greenwashing – the modern phenomenon that the beauty and grooming industry is particularly guilty of. At the moment, despite huge growth in this area, there is currently very little regulation as to what ‘natural’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘organic’ actually means when it comes to products, resulting in a muddied arena of indecipherable packaging, confused customers and brands that are getting away with a lot more than they let on to. ‘We try to play by the rules because we really believe in it,’ says Nash. ‘But you see some brands that say “100 per cent natural” on the front, and the first thing on the ingredient list is acetic acid, which you don’t get from squeezing lemons.’
Saying that, Nash does see the positivities of greenwashing. ‘Whenever you’ve got people being more aware, that’s got to be a good thing,’ he says. ‘In the end, it doesn’t matter if companies are trying to cash in on the green wave. If they’re making better, safer, cleaner products with less pollution that has to be good.’
After all, producing ‘green’ products is never an open and shut case. Nash admits, for example, that Triumph & Disaster uses palm oil in its bar soap, because otherwise they would have to use an alternative like coconut oil, which requires at least four times the amount of deforestation. ‘The best thing is to use an existing farm that’s producing palm oil in a sustainable way, that’s not cutting down forests. Just stopping using palm isn’t necessarily the solution,’ argues Nash.
For him, maintaining transparency and traceability is key to staying environmentally aware, and the ethos behind Triumph & Disaster’s approach to sustainability. ‘The best you can do is limit everything, clean up everything, and do your research. And also being open to the science,’ he says. ‘No matter what we’re polluting the earth, and we’ve got to bring it under control. And any small way you can do that has to be good.’