Striking Gender-Neutral Skincare Brand Schaf Strikes Out From Canada To Grow Its U.S. Presence
During a nearly two-decade career as a commercial photographer, Peter Schafrick has specialized in high-speed snaps of liquid splashes and crashes. He’s captured fluid whooshing out of razors, whizzing around shampoo bottles and splattering upon the impact of cream cleanser.
Schafrick’s path as a beauty entrepreneur has been sluggish by comparison. He’s expanded his clean skincare brand Schaf carefully over five years in his native Canada at retailers and online shopping destinations such as The Detox Market, Jacob & Sebastian, Kent of Inglewood, Hudson’s Bay and Well.ca. Now, Schaf’s ready to push into the United States, where it recently launched at the e-tailer LeVert Beauty en route to additional outlets stateside.
“I want to take it easy. I don’t want to make mistakes with the brand that will come back to bite me later on,” says Schafrick. “I would like to partner with a particular U.S. retailer, and really spend a lot of time helping the sales staff on the floor, and developing a true partnership to see what we can do with this brand through a true partnership instead of having six, seven or eight retailers and trying to keep up with that type of growth.”
Adhering to a slow-growth trajectory, Schafrick’s goal is for his brand to hit $1 million in annual sales by its 10th year on the market, up from roughly $250,000 today. Currently, business is split evenly between Schaf’s e-commerce and wholesale operations. It’s also divided equally between men and women customers on Schaf’s website. The brand’s tight fragrance-free, vegan product assortment priced from $10 to $65 spans eight items crafted for sensitive skin.
“I would like to partner with a particular U.S. retailer, and really spend a lot of time helping the sales staff on the floor, and developing a true partnership to see what we can do with this brand through a true partnership.”
“I have mixed feelings about e-commerce. Certainly, it’s more profitable because you don’t have to deal with wholesale or distributor margins, but being on the shelf at a retailer adds presence, and a brand can grow faster that way,” says Schafrick, noting the brand has increased its retail reach in Canada via the distributor Koru. “Having your product out there where people can physically see it is important, and the credibility of a retailer is important for a brand.”
At beauty retailers, Schaf has carved out a niche as one of the few clean skincare brands with a significant male audience. It began with products for men and women—its initial lineup consisted of a moisturizer, cleanser, scrub and shave cream—and sported gender-neutral black and white packaging before gender neutral was a common beauty industry descriptor. At one point, Schafrick attempted to gussy up Schaf with colors, but pulled back from them. Executed with designer Nicolas Fuhr, the brand’s bold pared-down look suits his style.
“My wife and I are both visual people. She’s an architect. We have a very modern sensibility in our tastes, the way we live, and the things that we buy,” says Schafrick, continuing, “As a man myself, I’ve always consciously or subconsciously formulated for men because I’ve very selfishly created for myself. That’s why I’ve shied away from fragrances. I didn’t want the scents to interfere with my shave cream, moisturizer, deodorant or cologne.”
“We didn’t want to overcomplicate the brand. Whether you have oily, dry or sensitive skin, we try to have something for everybody to address all their needs with a limited number of products.”
Schafrick was introduced to skincare behind the lens. In his day job, his clients have included the likes of Dove, StriVectin, Neutrogena and Olay. To replicate skincare products for shoots, he’d ring up a local skincare lab and forged a strong relationship with it. “We get really messy on set my crew and I, and we’re always hunting for different types of liquids. The go-to is latex paint, but, if we can’t get the right consistency or it doesn’t match the opacity of the liquid we’re trying to replace, we discovered the nearby lab could provide us with the color, opacity and viscosity we wanted,” says Schafrick. “It was easy to clean up, and you’d walk away with nice soft hands after every shoot.”
Schafrick started experiencing skin issues and noticed the skincare he was regularly slathering on his body contained synthetic preservatives, parabens, sulfates and other ingredients he thought might be the culprits. He requested the local lab whip up skincare formulas without the possible offenders for him personally, not professionally for once. “It was fun testing the stuff,” remembers Schafrick. The formulas soothed his skin issues and, ultimately, led to Schaf. The brand’s products garner the Environmental Working Group’s lowest score for chemicals of concern. It participates in the EWG Verified program to signal its commitment to clean, simple and effective skincare.
Schaf recently released Hemp Oil Lip Balm, but, in general, hasn’t larded up its selection with extraneous products. “We didn’t want to overcomplicate the brand,” says Schafrick. “Whether you have oily, dry or sensitive skin, we try to have something for everybody to address all their needs with a limited number of products. Some people are putting on seven, eight or more products. No wonder their skin can’t keep up. It needs a break to breathe. We believe in the less-is-more philosophy.” Schaf is considering issuing a body wash, but Schafrick underscores constantly improving its current range is his priority.
If and when the brand comes out with a new product, Ana Congdon, founder of LeVert Beauty, would be excited to check it out. She says, “We love how they cut out the crap and decided to build a unique line that allows skin to rebuild strength, heal, provide pH balance, and protect and nurture in a modern way. We knew their healthy price point, modern minimalism and impressive list of ingredients would resonate with the men and women that come to us. They are quickly becoming a bestseller and of interest to our most forward-thinking customers and bloggers.”