In the Beauty Disruptors series, BeautyMatter speaks to those breaking the mold of the traditional beauty industry, from shining a light on controversial issues to paving an alternative discourse.
Pinar Akiskalioglu is on a mission to change beauty and business for the better. A former Head of Marketing at Henkel, as well as an alumni of MBA and leadership programs at University of Oxford and Harvard Business School, Akiskalioglu possesses a strong knowledge of business at both educational and corporate levels.
At 40 years old, she left the skyscraper offices behind to found TAKK in 2019. The brand covers a streamlined range of personal care products, and in partnership with the Hygiene Bank, donates one bottle of product to someone in need with every purchase in a bid to tackle hygiene poverty. According to recent statistics, 16% of 18- to 24-year-olds in the UK have had to forgo hygiene products because of budget restraints, while 69% of 500 UK schoolteachers agree that hygiene poverty is a visible issue in schools. As a Living Wage Employer with Equal Pay structure that prioritizes local sourcing, vegan formulas, and recyclable packaging, the company is not just looking out for its consumers but also employees, animals, and the planet. With an adjustable subscription-based model of only essential products in minimalist packaging, the brand aims to take the guesswork, unnecessary prestige pricing, and excessive consumerism out of beauty.
Akiskalioglu’s mission doesn’t end there. As the former Global Director of Strategy for global youth-run organization AIESEC (Association Internationale des Étudiants en Sciences Économiques et Commerciales), which aims to champion the young leaders of tomorrow, Akiskalioglu is now maturing those insights, with an unconventional twist. Started this year, Punk Business School wants to champion unorthodox leadership practices that prioritize empathy and intuition, or in its own words, aims to “put humanity at the heart of business education.” The Punk Business School’s Self-Education Box, Issue 1, employs the philosophical teachings of Alain de Botton and Marcus Aurelius, alongside Punk Business School guiding notes and Harvard Business School case studies, to ask consumers to question their inner values and learn how to incorporate more humanity into the boardroom. One-to-one sessions are offered on subject matter like how to lead more inclusively and to live with integrity. The Punk Business School also brings its offering to larger settings with group sessions for corporate clients.
Amidst this innovative new chapter, Akiskalioglu spoke to BeautyMatter about her business epiphany.
What began your interest in the beauty industry?
I got into the industry quite by chance. I got my first job working for a youth NGO, AIESEC, in the middle of my degree so I’d delayed finishing it. When I eventually went back to complete the course seven years later, I felt like I was in a rush to catch up with my peers who had all graduated before me. I spotted a job in marketing at the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) beauty giant Henkel. It was a different challenge to the NGO, but I’d always wanted to work in the corporate world and knew it was a way to get up the career ladder fast. In seven years of my career, I took various leadership roles in the Middle East and Turkey.
And this is when I had an epiphany. A few years into my career I stumbled on a TED Talk by psychologist Barry Schwartz called “Paradox of Choice” in which he talks about the negative consequences of too much choice and how constant overwhelm can affect your well-being. It really struck a chord. I suddenly realized how my industry was solely geared around making consumers buy more beauty products than they actually needed. I realized that in marketing these products I was playing a part.
I also saw how all this mass production needlessly adds to landfill. Zero Waste Europe estimates 120 billion units of packaging is created every year in the beauty industry. As little as 9 percent of plastic waste ever produced by any industry has been recycled, according to the UN.
All this made me question whether my job was actually making people happy as I’d always told myself, and whether it was actually worthwhile to society. That’s essentially why I started TAKK, a stripped-back collection of bathroom essentials which offers one of everything you need in personal care—one shampoo, one shower gel, and so on. I wanted to play my part in setting an example to the industry and showing how it is possible to create a business that puts purpose over profit.
How is choice overload a detriment to not just the industry but consumers as well?
Apparently psychologists have found that the average person makes up to 35,000 micro decisions a day—things like when to get up, what to wear, and what to have on your toast. Most of these decisions should be effortless, but when a customer goes to a shop to buy shampoo and is faced with 50 different versions of the same thing, the problems begin.
Beauty companies bombard the customer for attention. They constantly find new ways to entice the customer to buy what is essentially the same product. And they invent more things the customer has to buy—so you don’t just need one shampoo, you need to buy a hair primer, mask, and scalp serum too. All of it leads to decision fatigue and frustration. Customers can’t see the wood from the trees.
This is how I see it: the industry is ruled by an oligopoly of big conglomerates which are all trapped in an endless cycle of consumerism. In order to sell more shampoo than their competitors, they add a new “miracle ingredient” and turn it around quickly to race to reach the shelves first. But in doing that they often have to add other ingredients to stabilize the mix, creating more waste, more expense, and a formulation full of chemicals. I don’t call that innovation, I call that selling for selling’s sake.
What are your thoughts on skinimalism or minimalist beauty?
Skinimalism, or paring back of our skincare and makeup routines in favor of a more minimalist approach is a reaction to beauty consumerism and to the climate emergency. It can mean anything from reducing the number of products you buy to simply wearing less foundation to allow your real skin to show through. I welcome it—TAKK’s products help the consumer to buy less while using the most effective formulations.
TAKK is genderless. Currently there is no impetus for the industry to make one product as it makes more profit by selling two—one for men, one for women. Not only is this terrible for the environment, it doesn’t reflect the more inclusive society we’re now living in.
Razors are a classic example of this. And that’s before you count the “pink tax,” which is still prevalent in some products. In fact the US Government Accountability Office confirmed that underarm and body deodorants, shaving cream, designer perfume, and body sprays marketed at women cost more.
I also believe it’s a myth that face cream needs to be gender specific—the only difference is the perfume. Men’s skin does have a tendency to be oilier than women’s, but not always. But in the grand scheme of things, no cream will perform miracles anyway.
What were the biggest lessons you had during your time at Henkel?
Henkel taught me how the business world runs. It is a powerful company, so I was afforded the chance of being subjected to some intensive experience. It also gave me leadership responsibility where I learnt that by being a nice manager you have a happy and productive workforce. It’s not rocket science, but it’s something that so many people forget.
I would also say that since Henkel, I have learnt how to be more collaborative, something large corporations don’t like to do but is so important as we move into these shaky financial times. Teaming up makes you stronger, too, and it can be much more cost-effective. TAKK’s co-collaborators have also been chosen for their integrity: British beauty manufacturers Reabrook, which is employee-owned; dentistry specialist CosmoLab, which retrain former steelworkers, and Diamond Logistics, who have an equal gender ratio.
In a world of lessening brand loyalty and increased product experimentation, what made you want to launch a beauty subscription service?
Not everyone wants to spend their time scanning through thousands of different products. Many people want to reduce their footprint, too. At TAKK, we want to be the conscious choice for those people.
I’ve made my subscription service as simple and as flexible as possible and we make a point of not bombarding the customer with pop-ups and alternative product suggestions when going through the checkout process. Our promise is to deliver just what our customers really need and make it the most climate-conscious, humanitarian way possible.
How did you fund and organize the launch of TAKK and Punk Business School?
I started with TAKK and then founded Punk Business School afterwards. When I left corporate life and before I got TAKK off the ground, I enrolled at Oxford University to do an Executive MBA. In our final year we pitched our business ideas to the class, and I was lucky to find four of my fellow students—all brilliant and established leaders in their own right—who were willing to work on my idea with me. By the time I had graduated, I had a brilliant and fully formed business plan to go out and raise funding.
Who are the top three punks that redefined your approach to work and life, and that you recommend every reader check out?
Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard. He has just announced that he is giving away his company and any profits would be used to fight climate change. This is the kind of courage and leadership our world needs today, not space travelers. I would suggest following him and his fellow managers but also buy from Patagonia. It feels good to be part of the movement.
Ellen MacArthur is inspiring. She promotes the idea of a “circular economy” and encourages the world to rethink all our industries from scratch. She ultimately wants to recreate an economy that takes earth as a stakeholder to serve the whole of humanity. Her foundation has become one of the most respected voices in the climate arena today.
I would also choose US Senator Bernie Sanders. Bernie asks questions such as if it is normal for a CEO to make $20 million a year while workers can not afford a single day of sick leave. And he is asking these questions at the heart of capitalism. We need more politicians like him.
What made the time right to launch Punk Business School?
I recently launched Punk Business School for a similar reason as I did with TAKK—to encourage the business world to become more humanitarian. After years in the corporate world I can tell that putting profits over people and the planet can be an effective business strategy in the short term. And following an effective strategy and changing jobs at the right time can help you rise up the corporate ladder. But then what? Why do we have so many professionals actively seeking happiness and endless activities targeting them?
My time studying at Harvard Business School and Oxford University opened my eyes to the fact that many successful people are trying to find their purpose in life but too many are stuck into what corporations are able to offer them. Getting out of the trap and being truly yourself requires great courage. But who can give these people the fortitude they need? Only themselves.
At Punk Business School, we help business leaders at all levels to find who they really are, think creatively to build a better economy and find the inspiration to do so within. We do this with the help of the greatest thinkers of all time—philosophers. Climate emergency, deeping social injustice, we need more hands to solve all of these. If we don’t launch Punk Business School now, then when?
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