An oasis for wellness

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December 19, 2011
By: Michelle Bruch
Michelle Bruch

Horst Rechelbacher’s organic beauty business is in a growth spurt

Even after selling off the Aveda brand he founded in Minneapolis, Horst Rechelbacher is still in town and expanding his new company’s Northeast headquarters.

“I love Minneapolis,” said Rechelbacher, who sold Aveda in 2003 and developed a beauty line called Intelligent Nutrients when his non-compete agreement expired. “It was natural to start my new company here.”

The IN headquarters at 983 E. Hennepin Ave. is now expanding into a full-fledged wellness center. The production of IN products — previously done behind the beaded curtain at the salon and store — can no longer keep up with global demand, so it’s moving off-site this month. The remaining center will be remodeled in early 2012 to accommodate new educational seminars.

“Clients from all over the world will get training with our products,” Rechelbacher said, noting that sales are expanding to countries including Thailand, Singapore and England.

It is likely that the headquarters will also have more face time with its founder. Rechelbacher recently paid nearly $7 million to combine three condo units at the top of Phoenix on the River, adding a third home to his New York penthouse and his 600-acre organic farm in Osceola, Wis.

“I’m getting tired of the hour commute, particularly in wintertime,” Rechelbacher said.

At the Northeast store, the scent of Evergreen pipes out of a diffuser, and workers in lab coats shuffle through the back rooms. In addition to jasmine body sprays and nontoxic love kits, the store sells bug repellants that double as perfumes, as well as vitamins called Intellimune that combine the antioxidant power of 10 pounds of berries into a couple of teaspoons.  

“It’s a good oasis to come to work here,” said Debra Valentini, who works in sales and education at IN. The company employs 34 people.

The rehabbed headquarters will offer consumer education classes, a new space for shampoo beds and mini-facials, and food — perhaps organic hot chocolate.

New IN products are in development. Rechelbacher is currently testing a hair-growth product made from plant stem cells such as edelweiss and pennywort. Those ingredients also crop up in some of IN’s skin care products, and Rechelbacher said he thinks the same nutrients that aid skin cell growth might help hair growth as well.

IN’s latest product launches include anti-aging lotions made from plant stem cells, and lip gloss you can eat.

“We even recommend cleaning vegetables with our shampoo,” Rechelbacher said.
Rechelbacher’s interest in plant-based products started in childhood. He attended his mother up to the mountains of Austria to help her carry botanicals home for herbal remedies.

When Rechelbacher opened a salon in America, his mother visited and complained of the chemical smell. On one of her visits Rechelbacher fell ill, and he attributed the illness to nothing more than a lifestyle of long work hours and partying. His mother quickly cured him with herbal remedies, however, and it made him take a second look at the chemicals he breathed in all day at work. He learned that the main components in hairsprays and dyes were PVCs and synthetic aromatics, which he found to be harmful to the body. He later studied traditional Ayurvedic medicine at an ashram in India, and he continued learning from doctors and plant scientists around the world.

“Plant species are my teachers,” he said. “They are the best chemists. We humans are never able to live up to plant chemistry, we can only imitate it.”

In his recent work, Rechelbacher is again joining forces with the chemist Prakash Purohit, who worked at Aveda for 17 years.  

Purohit said that in Aveda’s early days, they didn’t have a big budget for product development.

“We created a lab from Horst’s kitchen,” said Purohit, who developed more than 600 products for Aveda and now runs a natural cosmetics company near Dallas, Texas. “It has been a nice journey, you can certainly say that.”

He explained that while most beauty products have synthetic fragrances, the aromas at IN are actually designed to evoke a response from the body. Smelling pure jasmine, for example, can have similar effects to taking Valium. The aromas are absorbed through the nose to the olfactory nerve, traveling to the limbic portion of the brain that houses memory and emotions like hunger and sexual response.

Purohit said it is challenging to find the right combination of raw materials to perform together.
“It’s a very difficult job, and that’s why not too many companies do that,” he said. “But it is achievable.”

Purohit is expanding his Texas center to help manufacture more of its products. IN is opening a new flagship store at the Mall of America next summer, with a second to follow in New York City. IN products are also starting to show up in retail pharmacies, including a pharmacy at the University of Minnesota hospital. IN’s Intellimune tablets are even reaching patients at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, a hospital that offers organic food and a salon.

“Hospitals are becoming our new playground,” Rechelbacher said. “Beauty is practiced in a new way. … It’s a new paradigm.”

Growth at IN means more dollars are going to charities — all of the net profits at IN support environmental and social causes.

“Greed happens when you’re in business,” said Rechelbacher, who sold Aveda to Estée Lauder for a reported $300 million. “You must do things to be of service. … I need to be busy; I need to be a student.”

Michelle Bruch covers Northeast for The Journal. Reach her at michellebruch82@gmail.com.