Conversations: Lev Glazman & Alina Roytberg, The Founders of Fresh
How did a little apothecary in Boston grow into one of the most popular and loved skincare brands the world over? We got the two geniuses to spill the beans.| February 22, 2018
Behind every phenomenally successful beauty company is a humble backstory. Well, that and geniuses. In the case of the ragingly, nay, universally popular skincare brand Fresh, it is the founders Lev Glazman and Alina Roytberg, and a little apothecary in Boston way back in the 1990s. Lev and Alina began their business as a couple, selling naturally-made, hand-wrapped scented soap bars topped with little semi-precious stones – a practice that still continues today, almost three decades on.
Of course, a whole myriad of products have been added to their range since, but despite the growing product collections, fame and legions of fans, one thing remains constant: Fresh’s dedication to quality, pristine, no-gimmick products. That rising natural skincare movement? Fresh came first. There is a sense of honesty in their products in that you know what you’re putting on your face, whether it’s sugar, or rose petals, or a mad luxurious honey cream made by monks in Czech.
We met Lev and Alina on their recent trip to Singapore to launch the new Black Tea Kombucha Essence and let me tell you – they are so humble, so nice and so kind. A conversation with them, one that we had over Italian food by Marina Bay, just to set the scene, feels like one with old friends. These two are also a wealth of skincare knowledge, so much so that I couldn’t not pick at their brains on the subject. Fresh fans, take notes. Everyone else, prepare to be converted.
Fresh’s success didn’t happen overnight. How did it all begin? How did you go from a couple to business partners?
Lev: When Alina and I started Fresh back in 1991 – quite soon after we met – as a small apothecary store in Boston, every moment of our existence with Fresh was all about innovation. We always tried to look forward to the future to see what new innovation we could bring to the market. I think we have always been business partners!
Alina: We brought passion, necessity, but also excitement about what it means to really use a good product and what that really means in your life. We loved the idea of transforming everyday routines into sensorial rituals that are as indulgent as they are effective. It’s amazing to think that 26 years later, we’ve grown from one shop in Boston to being present in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, UK, France, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and South Korea.
How does one go about building such a wildly popular skincare brand?
Alina: When we opened the apothecary store in Boston, we focused on curating natural, upscale personal care products from around the world. This inspired us to create our own line with products that are as indulgent as they are effective. Travelling the world, we seek out natural ingredients to incorporate into our products, introducing new, highly innovative formulations into the market, keeping Fresh at the forefront of the beauty industry. What began as a small set of hand-wrapped, soaps has now evolved into a full line of lifestyle products spanning skincare, bodycare, fragrance, haircare and home.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned?
Alina: One of the best lessons we’ve learned is to trust your instincts and stay consistent with your vision and message. From the beginning, we had a clear vision of what we wanted Fresh to be and that has not changed. We consistently stay true to our core values in developing products that people find fit into their lives. We still strive to make innovative products with the most exciting and high quality ingredients that are as sensorial as they are effective.
Lev: Fresh has integrity. The one thing that never changes is the quality approach we have to each and every product. We stay true to our heritage and core values by creating a welcoming environment in our shops and training our alchemists to be the most educated and evolved as far as customer service is concerned. Our personal passion lives in our products. We are lucky to have people in our company who are as passionate about it as we, the founders, are.
Was the beauty industry something that both of you wanted to do or something that just happened and you rolled along with it?
Alina: Growing up in Ukraine, I dreamed about being a fashion designer. When my family immigrated to the U.S., I was able to make that dream come true, I went to Parsons School of Design and subsequently worked in the fashion industry. In 1990 a design job moved me to Boston where I met Lev, who shared his dream with me of opening a beauty store. Fresh was created from a place of personal necessity, trying to find products we ourselves needed. We saw there was a lack of naturally based effective products that people can connect to and understand on an emotional and cultural level and we set out to fill that void.
Lev: Growing up in Russia, the only fragrance available was Red Moscow. Only the bravest women would find a way to get their hands on a forbidden French fragrance, my mother included. When I was just six years old, I remember going with my mother to the black market so she could get this fragrance. It amazed me how much she was willing to risk to buy the perfume. This was a defining moment in my life. I realized the importance that fragrance plays in people’s lives and how it can instantly make them happy and feel special. That is when I developed a love for fragrance and became infatuated with the world of scent.
What were the first few products ever created that are still the top sellers today?
Alina: Our mantra has always been “good skin starts with clean skin,” so one of our first skincare products we introduced was our iconic Soy Face Cleanser, which is still a number-one seller globally. After the Soy Collection, we launched our very special face masks to optimise the treatment aspect of that experience. It was important for us to build expertise on the first steps of skincare ritual before we developed the more advanced steps like serums and moisturisers. We also pioneered the use of sugar in beauty products, most notably the Brown Sugar Body Polish and our iconic Sugar Lip Treatment.
Fresh’s products are unique in that they are inspired by everyday ingredients, like rose, clay, sugar, soy, honey and citrus. How do the ideas for products happen?
Alina: In the early years of the brand, we had so many innovations and so many exciting firsts. We had a passion for creating authentic products with effective ingredients that carried their own stories. As children growing up in Russia, our medicine cabinets were filled with Western medicine, and Eastern natural ingredients. So, often our ingredient inspirations came from a time-honoured ritual – for example, our grandmothers using sugar on scrapes and burns.
Lev: From there, what Alina and I like to call “boundless curiosity” kicks in. We’d have a hunch that there was a reason behind this ritual, so I would begin researching the ingredients with my teams. We’ve uncovered some incredible curative and scientific properties behind these ingredients. In the case of sugar, it’s a natural humectant that helps retain moisture. I truly believe all the answers lie in nature. When we take natural ingredients, and apply modern science to them, that’s when we really bring revolutionary ideas to the forefront.
Many of your products are tied to edibles. If you could pick any food in the world to turn into a beauty product at the moment, what would it be?
Alina: More roots and vegetables.
What do you think is the one thing that sets Fresh apart from the other brands? What are some of the ingredients that you personally believe in for great skin?
Alina: Whether we are inspired by a cultural beauty ritual or the potential power of a certain plant, this curiosity fuels our constant drive to find the highest quality of natural ingredients. We pioneered using brown sugar with the launch of the Sugar Collection. Brown Sugar Body Polish was the first sugar based scrub on the market. Sake Bath was the creation of the most incredible bathing experience that is made with 40 percent pure sake. In the Rose Face Mask, we use real rose petals. Soy Face Cleanser is an iconic product because the texture is incredible and the soap-free formula is so effective. Sugar Lip Treatment SPF 15 utilizes the moisture-preserving power of sugar and was introduced over ten years ago. It works so well and the world is crazy about it. The Crème Ancienne Ultimate Nourishing Honey Mask uses nearly 40 percent pure honey.
I’ve realized that your products are often tied to locations, like the Creme Ancienne to Czech. The Umbrian Clay to Umbria. The Black Tea Kombucha to Japan. How has travel influenced your creative process?
Lev: Alina and I have always had a passion for travelling, especially for experiencing the world around us through our senses. Touching, smelling, eating, walking in interesting places around the world. We realized that there are so many unique ingredients that have been used for centuries in different cultures. Our proprietary Umbrian Clay is a perfect example. The clay has actually been used since the 6th Century B.C. by the Etruscans. I think that’s how these products gain a cult status. They’re rooted in time-honored rituals, and stories people can relate to – but they’re amplified through modern science so they’re incredibly effective.
Crème Ancienne is a historical formula revived by Fresh, and because it is made by hand in a monastery in Czech republic, it is connected to the place. Kombucha was invented in China almost as long ago as the tea existed, but then it was lost and revived in Europe in the middle of 20th century. The destinations for us are as important as the elements we are inspired by, since it is the culture that leads the invention of remedies. We are fascinated by many cultures, thus the travel is the key.
If I wake up to a bad skin day, what is the Fresh way to deal with it? What are the steps you would prescribe to me?
First, I would recommend gently cleansing your skin with the right cleanser. A good cleanser is the building blocks of a good skincare routine. Look for a formula like our gentle Soy Face Cleanser that will cleanse your skin without stripping away all of the skin’s essential nutrients.
The most common skincare complaints we receive are how to deal with breakouts and unbalanced skin that is oily in some parts while dry in others. I always recommend the Umbrian Clay Mask. The mask is powered by Umbrian Clay, a mineral-rich “miracle” clay that is designed to naturally address these concerns and can be used as a multi-tasking treatment. To use the formula as a deep cleanser, apply a small amount to damp skin and rinse off. To use the treatment as an instant purifying mask, leave on for three to five minutes and rinse off. To use the mask as a spot treatment to minimise small imperfections, dab the formula on an affected area and allow it to fully dry before rinsing. At night, after doing the quick Umbrian Clay mask, apply the Seaberry Oil instead of a cream, for nourishment and balancing.
What about your personal skincare routines, in a nutshell?
Alina: For me, my morning routine is extremely efficient and effective. The essential steps are Soy Face Cleanser in the shower followed by an exfoliant, Umbrian Clay Face Exfoliant or Vitamin Nectar mask in the morning or Sugar Face Polish in the winter when I need extra nourishment. My body cleansing ritual includes one of my favorite Fresh soaps, and perhaps Brown Sugar Body Polish or whatever new body product we are testing at the time. When I step out of the shower, I do my moisturising steps: Lotus Youth Preserve Eye Cream followed with Crème Ancienne Eye Cream, then a serum, followed by a face oil, either Seaberry Moisturising Face Oil or Elixir Ancien. If I have evening plans, I wash my face when I get home and apply a mask. I always end with my favorite Sugar Lip Treatment shade for my lips.
Lev: Every morning, I wash my face with ice water. I know this is odd but, first of all, it wakes me up, and second, it increases circulation, so it helps the skin decongest. A lot of times when I wake up, my skin is puffy, and the ice water helps correct that. I use Soy Face Cleanser morning and night, and I also do a mask daily. The first step in my skincare routine is the Black Tea Kombucha Essence – it’s a must-have for protection. Next, I turn to the Rose Collection when it is warmer outside to ensure my skins stays hydrated. I am addicted to the Rose Hydrating Eye Gel Cream, as it delivers an unbelievable level of hydration, especially for the warmer time of year. For the day, I pair the Rose Deep Hydration Face Serum with the Lotus Youth Preserve Face Cream. For an extra boost of nourishment at night, I apply Crème Ancienne on top.
Since we’re in the spirit of the new year, what are your personal mantras or resolutions for this year?
Alina: I like to say, “Live every day like it is New Year’s day!” You must set goals every day, but it is important to have achievable goals to reinforce the enthusiasm for more reaching goals.
Lev: I like to quote Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken!”
What To Read Next: We Found A Silky Facial Treatment Essence For The Tea-Obsessed, The Best of Beauty: Our January Favourites and If You Don’t Like The Word “Peel” In Your Exfoliants | Cover Image: Courtesy of Fresh; This interview has been condensed and edited.