Supermood is a holistic natural beauty brand from Finland, founded by Anne and Joni Kukkohovi, a charismatic duo and life partners. Both have background working in advertising and were settled in the bustling media industry until a few years back, when Anne, a former model and current TV host, was bidding adieu to her rewarding career, to set a base for something more close to heart — beauty with holistic approach.
Anne’s Nordic, but uncharacteristically lively character is a measured yin to Joni’s soft-spoken, calculated yang, whereas the couple is a living proof to the statement 'team work makes the dream work'. The duo essentially represents the core values of its brand — as I should know first-hand, being Scandinavian calls for a reserved, demure nature, which they bring to the table with an unusual, whimsical twist.
I shared a friendly coffee and a chat with the couple at Maison Assouline, my favourite secret hideaway in London, and explored the way they think — although the duo still adamantly insists I avoid the O-word — organic beauty and its role in the cosmetics industry today…
Anne (A), what’s your personal relationship with the beauty industry?
I’ve been breathing fashion and beauty since I was a teenager. First time, I was 12 and I saw ELLE magazine, that’s where it hit me. For years, I was a well-know model in Finland, and then I got into the advertising business. I have also been working as a TV host for many famous shows, such as ‘Finland’s Next Top Model’, and I’ve been an ambassador for different beauty brands before. Supermood is where everything combines — the communication, art direction, and my passion for beauty. I always knew I wanted to have my own brand at some point.
Joni (J), what does your role as a Marketing Director at Supermood incorporate?
First of all, we are married, so it’s a family affair! We both have a background in advertising and we also met through the industry. Then, we worked at the same agency for a while, which wasn’t such a great idea. Soon after, Anne decided to go for the entrepreneur route. She is taking care of the product concepts and the vision of the brand, and understanding of what sort of beauty trends there are, and how to approach it. Therefore, my job is to interpret her vision and then execute, so I am in charge of the branding and marketing, but I still do work as a ECD (Executive Creative Director) at an advertising agency.
You started in 2014 from scratch.
Both nod in agreement.
J: I think one of the things that really helped is our agency background in advertising. You’re used to story-telling, you have an idea [of what you want to produce], and then you just have to find the right people, brief them and direct the final outcome.
How does the whole process work with product concepts?
J: Firstly, Anne briefs the chemist at the factory, with some references and desired ingredients. Then what follows is that our chemists make samples and she gives feedback — this is too rich, too heavy, too intense, and so forth and so forth. The testing and trial-and-error lasts 4-6 rounds, until you find that product you’ve imagined.
A: For me it is important that they understand, how I want the products to feel, what are the ingredients, expected texture, and time it takes to show effects. They also ask, if we want to have a long INCI (ingredient) list. Of course not, because the cosmetics we are doing are very pure and transparent, so we try to avoid anything extra.
The direction you have chosen with Supermood is (excuse me for the categorisation) organic or green beauty. How does it resonate with our cultural climate and the current beauty industry trends?
A: This is the present and future already ingrained in any other field, it’s in cars, in textiles, in design— it’s everywhere — so I don’t even emphasise the green aspect so much.
J: People often ask, what’s the one thing that sets us apart, but it’s never just that, it’s more about our approach to beauty. It’s not about some compound or secret ingredient. We wanted to build a brand for women who love prestige brands, and are accustomed to using premium luxury brands, but are conscious about green beauty and also the fact that most of the established beauty brands are synthetic.
A: Unfortunately, there was not any kind of alternative for these women at the time, because most of the green beauty looks to be kind of home-made to an extent.
How do you see the industry change in the future?
J: We feel that in 10 years, it’s not about green beauty, it’s about just beauty. We have to be something else as a brand, not just organic beauty.
A: The way we see it, in 10 years, all production will have a greener approach and a more conscious impact. What we do emphasise on, is the holistic approach.
Could you elaborate on the concept of ‘holistic beauty’?
A: Holistic beauty means that you have edible things, then we have a range of ‘therapeutic’ products, we aim to bring together a ‘holistic triangle’ of beauty, so it’s not merely one-dimensional. The world around us inspired us for such approach — you see people and they want to eat well and they want to take care of themselves in a 360-degree way.
J: In the beginning it is about your skincare — what kind of things you put on your skin, whether it is artificial or organic, what gets into your system. That’s one part. Then it is about the edibles, what you put into your body as nutrition. Then the last part is, how do you sleep, how do you give your body time to recover.
So that’s the holistic, conceptual approach. I saw a pillow in your range and then the moist for it…what’s the beauty pillow about?
A, J: This is also a part of the therapeutic aspect of the ‘holy triangle of beauty’, which comes with a scent for the pillow or bed linen.
A: Coming up with product concepts doesn’t need to be always led by one way of thinking — calming herbs and florals, they have been used for years and years, but you wouldn’t think of featuring a pillow in a beauty range.
What inspired you?
A: The idea came, when we were once staying at a hotel with huge and, by what they looked like, comfortable pillows, but when I woke up, I had deep ‘pillow lines’ (Anne illustrates theatrically, with bold gestures) all over my face. So the pillow I invented helps to avoid those lines and doesn’t give you any puffiness at all. When you think about it, you spend one third of your life in bed, so it is crucial to have special beauty equipment for bedtime.
J: We got the idea when we read about this surgeon, who developed a pillow for post-surgery patients. Obviously when you’ve had something done, you cannot sleep on a regular pillow, because otherwise your face will become disfigured. He had designed this kind of pillow that distributes the pressure differently; it doesn’t impact on your face, or leave any lines on your face, as it does with your regular pillow. It was based on a study about how blood circulation goes into your face.
Who is the buyer the pillow is meant for?
A: These niche items are for ‘beautyholics’, like me. I can make out the kind of people by looking in their eyes, sometimes they just grab the pillow and they don’t even talk to me, and then the others ask, ‘Why would you do this?’, and I would think, maybe it’s not exactly for you.
"We aim to bring together a ‘holistic triangle’ of beauty, so it’s not merely one-dimensional. The world around us inspired us for such approach — you see people and they want to eat well and they want to take care of themselves in a 360-degree way."
Who is that person who lives and breathes Supermood?
A: It is somebody who is in the radar of the new things, takes care of themselves; someone who is conscious about the natural environment and wants to do something about it, but also wants to look good and wants to look fashionable at the same time. I call it like the ‘W Hotel and Wholefoods person, or Net-A-Porter user, so this person is present all over the world. It’s not about age. It’s not about what ethnicity you represent. It’s not about where you live. It’s more about the way you think about things.
When it comes to working with your partner… do you experience any creative clashes at all?
A: It hasn’t always been easy, to be honest. But I think the vision we have is the same. We are a young brand, so it always comes down to those big decisions and projects. But vision-wise we don’t have so many differences —
J: Artistic differences!
A: But it’s more about, how to use time more efficiently and find the right deals.
J: We are both hands-on engaged in our other projects, like TV and advertising, so time is our biggest challenge. When we do have a lot on the table, we always consider all the options and priorities. Often Anne says adamantly, ‘this is more important, and we have to go forward with it!’. They’re not exactly arguments, but a way of making out what’s actually important.
And what saves you in those moments?
A: We are really passionate about the whole thing.
Meanwhile Anne tells a story about presenting to a bunch of male investors in a fancy, formal setting, whereas Anne, keeping her enthusiastic spirit, had invested a great deal of inner passion in storytelling. The reaction was the men going, ‘It’s just a beauty brand. Why are you so passionate about it?’, whilst Anne lost her temper explaining the passion comes from the fact that it’s her vision, and she has invested a lot of time and energy in it, ‘Of course I am passionate about it,’ Anne tells full of spark.
What brought you to London?
A: We are going to have a Space N K launch in December, which will be our biggest UK distributor. It’s a huge thing for us, as you have all the best boutique brands in there, so we are exploring the possibilities of publicising the launch and PR with them.
J: Other markets that we’ve been working with so far have had an incredible response. We are hoping that UK follows the same route, because it is such a big and important market. It is a priority for us to break through here.
Anne boasts such a radiant, youthful glow that I unapologetically turn to her, asking whether she uses her own products. Her confident smile reveals there shouldn’t be a degree of doubt.
What’s the absolute must-have product from your range?
A: 1-minute facelift. It’s one of our key products, although we think that there is no one main product on the importance scale. It does exactly what it says effectively — it really tightens your face and skin up. We also sell it in the States.
J: It’s the most effective sculpting and lifting serum, which also happens to be everyone’s favourite.
A: We also have an eye serum, ‘Eyes Wide Open’. [To illustrate its effectiveness], first showing it to Joni, I put it on one eye and I said, ’compare it to my other eye’, — he is really suspicious about everything — and he said: ‘It’s really bigger than the other one!’. So it is very effective. For that we used a local Finnish ingredient called Chaga [immune-boosting medicinal mushroom]. That’s one of the main ingredients we use.
J: We do all the testing with Anne. As she said, I am fairly suspicious about claims of products. When we started, I wasn’t a big believer in organic cosmetics, so I told her strictly that it is adamant that our products are effective, it is not enough that we do great branding. That was like the first penny drop for me.
A: It’s still very few people, who want everything to be super clean, without any extra additives. We are not aiming for that, but the actual effectiveness.
Where do you produce?
A: We found a local Finnish factory — despite exploring opportunities as far as up to Italy — but I wanted it to be closer to me to learn, too. They are the first Eco-Certified factory in Finland, so they know about that sort of [organic] cosmetics.
It is, of course, very difficult to get those 100% pure components. Where do the ingredients come from?
A: Chaga comes from a city called Kauhava in Finland, and it is handpicked. The other ingredients are the produce of organic farming in different places around the world. It does depend on the climate a lot — when you have monsoon rain somewhere, it might affect some ingredients. They cannot assure the stability of the supply country, but therefore they make sure it at least feels the same.
J: Chaga is basically forged — it grows wild on the trees and that’s the main reason why products with it cannot get eco-certified, because it’s not controlled by any agency, so it remains the type of product that you cannot classify as ‘certified or organic’, even though, in theory, it is found in its purest form. The EU legislation hasn’t quite figured it out, whether its a pharmaceutical, but through clinical tests it has been proven to be super effective.
A: Chaga has been used in folk medicine for thousands of years and also in Eastern countries, because it makes your skin really even. Also, when you consume it, it is really good for your immune system. It has a very strong effect — say, when you are taking antibiotics, then I would recommend using or consuming it.
J: We feature it in some of the skincare products — we have a collagen and Chaga powder, which is a nutritional supplement that you can blend into your milkshake or smoothies, and also with collagen we have beauty chocolate, which is a raw chocolate.
I saw it! Yes, it is the most interesting product. What’s it about?
A: Everybody says that. Whispers to Joni, ‘now you hear it’.
Laughter. Anne, it was your idea, of course.
A: It’s raw chocolate, so we are not talking about organic chocolate, which is heated up. Raw chocolate is cold-pressed, and it’s really expensive to produce. Often the issue is that the price and quality of cocoa varies seasonally.
J: When it comes to chocolate or coffee, it reacts to weather changes, which right away affects the price of chocolate. A lot of things are very expensive to produce, because you cannot have such volumes, where you could leverage the buying power. That’s why green beauty, as well as green fashion, is still highly priced.
"Brands have to evolve over time, but at the moment, I think the more layers and perspective you have as a brand, it becomes actually more interesting rather than having this Bauhaus-aesthetic approach."
In today’s visual culture, branding is very important. Advertising background and knowing you target audience well surely works in your favour…
A: People usually want to categorise into either ‘organic’ or ‘normal’, meaning synthetic cosmetics category. We are organic, but that is secondary. On the ferries that are going between Finland and Estonia, they’ve put us next to Dior. That’s exactly the perfect way to explain it, ‘just place it where the good brands are’.
J: It is less to do with the fact that it is green and more to do with communication and how we build the story and tell it, but it doesn’t have to scream ‘green’ at the display. It has to look nice on your bathroom shelf or nightstand. It has to fit in with your other luxury cosmetics.
I have even gone for some beauty stuff only for the packaging, then found out later, ‘oh, it’s 98% bio-organic, too’.
A: I remember one retailer telling me ‘I don’t care what’s in it, I take it!’, when they saw those pictures of what Joni did — illustrative mockup in 3D of all the range.
J: The first question is, ‘Is it appealing?’, when you see it in the store. Then the next question is, if it something that I would actually use for its utility.
I am totally in love with the packaging!
J: The appearance is a bit whimsical, we felt that green beauty is often strictly about the environment, using green hues. With such personal product that should reflect the user’s values, we wanted to give ourselves that permission to be funny.
A: [It is] a little bit bold. Also flirty, because when you see all those lines that we have hidden in the packaging — if you find them, you find them. Those little messages.
J: If we would have chosen kind of a minimalistic and clean, too rigid, approach, I am not sure that would be as much fun to do, it just wouldn’t be entirely ‘us’. If we don’t get that first reaction that it looks good, then it’s a lost case.
There is this standard Scandinavian minimalism style and approach. Are these the end days?
A: There are so many brands doing this, so it’s already too repetitive.
J: I think this [Maison Assouline] coffee shop is a good concept — the new and the old meets. The age of ultra design and ultra clean is getting old, in my opinion. In that sense, brands have to evolve over time, but at the moment, I think the more layers and perspective you have as a brand, it becomes actually more interesting rather than having this Bauhaus-aesthetic approach.
Tell us an interesting story.
A: There was an online beauty retailer in California looking to buy our beauty chocolate — 2 pieces, which is a very small quantity. The argument was going on and on, because that comes without saying, sending them to California would have been much more expensive than the chocolate itself (8.00 euros per small chocolate bar). We were having this argument with her, because we couldn’t lose the money, when sending the package that far. It went on and on, and then we just told her to order the chocolate directly from our web store, if she really wants it, but we cannot sell 2 pieces of chocolate and pay for it ourselves. That’s how it goes, when you have a really small business and you don’t want to take the risk of losing the profit.
J: The comfortable things for us are to work on the brand and on the products, but what we didn’t have experience with, when we got into advertising or out of advertising, is how to handle logistics worldwide. The fact that we are based in Finland, Helsinki, doesn’t make handling international shipping any easier. I think that’s a crucial part of starting your own brand — that it’s a learning curve every day.
What is on hold for the near future?
J: Hopefully, what this UK opportunity brings is that we get more exposure and find new partners to work with, that way we can also grow the business and a bigger audience.
What are you missing?
A: We need some rest! I wouldn’t mind a nice holiday together…
That leaves Joni reminiscing about a personal father and son road trip in the States with their teenage son few years back, whilst Anne was working at the other end of the country in the midst of mid-summer blizzard. Both admit they haven’t gone on a holiday for long time.
All goes slowly, step-by-step.
A: Yes, because we’re still very young. Well, we’re not young, but at least the company is…
Anne says in her confident tone of wit. We then burst into laughter and finish off the — when so much effort goes into conversation — already cold cappuccinos.
I hug them goodbye, and rushing through the city’s marvellous Mayfair district, baby pink Supermood goodie bag loosely waving in hand, I soon find myself comfortably in a relaxed super mood.