Sam Farmer – Pure And Simple
Written by Kate Williams
Photography by Matt Austin, supplied by Sam Farmer
Most entrepreneurs have a business plan, have an idea and do their research before thinking about launching a business. Not Sam Farmer. The stay-at-home dad was so incensed at the sexualised products when attempting to buy his teenage daughter a deodorant, that he went straight home and decided to launch his own unisex brand without the ‘labelling’…
An assistant television producer, Sam Farmer was never destined to be a businessman. His career in television production led him in many directions – meeting his actress wife Caroline Quentin being one – but never did he think he would be running his own cosmetics company.
“I met Caroline on the set of Men Behaving Badly and it was almost instant. We lived in Suffolk and we both had very busy careers but, when our second child was born, we had some decisions to make. We had to decide where we should live and how we would care for the children. So, we decided to move to Devon and I would be a stay-at-home dad.
“Caroline’s sister lived in Taunton, so there was a bit of a connection and my family used to go to Cornwall on holiday but I’d only every passed through Devon – I’d never even stopped here! But, we found this house, a farm in Tiverton, which we fell in love with and that was it.”
Having enjoyed a career in the media, Sam’s life took a complete U-turn when he stopped working to be at home with his two children, but he relished it. “I just loved it, I fell in love with childcare and our children come first,” he said.
And he wanted for nothing more, it seemed, particularly not his own business. Until one day in 2012 in a supermarket.
“It was when my daughter was 11 and she was experiencing some difficulties at school – you know what girls at that age can be like. And then she had become an adolescent with all the things that brings as well. She asked me to buy her a deodorant. She came to me and said she was already having some issues, she didn’t need any other problems. So, I went to the supermarket and found the deodorants which are aimed for that age range and I was horrified. I was dumbfounded. At this time when young adults are developing physically and emotionally, it just made no sense to market personal care products to them in this way. The outdated sexual stereotyping felt as though I had been transported back to the locker room in the 1970s”.
“Taking products called Minx, Tease, Be Sinful, Submissive, or Play it Sexy back for my daughter or Power, Control, Force, Adrenalin for my son seemed absurd when all they wanted was a deodorant, so they didn’t have to worry about smelling at school. And, if you have Submissive and Control next to each other – well, it was all wrong. These were very personal products which they would keep in the most personal of places in the home – their bedrooms and bathroom. They wouldn’t have seen the issue with it, but subconsciously it would have had an effect.” I was so angry that, by the time I’d driven home, I’d decided to make my own deodorant that was not telling my daughter how to behave. I just wanted to give her something that did the job it was supposed to do.”
This anger drove Sam to undertake some immediate research. He found the Society of Cosmetic Scientists who put him in touch with, not only cosmetic scientists, but also the education team for a diploma course. He realised that he needed to know more about the ingredients for what he wanted to create, so he enrolled in a long-distance learning programme – Dip SCS – Diploma in cosmetic science.
“It was a two-year course, but I managed to complete it in a year with some extra tuition. I was in contact with some people from the industry through networking and I was drawn to the people who had a science background, as opposed to the ones who didn’t. I loved learning, I love science, something I missed at school really as I thought I wasn’t clever enough. But now I am so interested in it. Someone from the industry suggested I launch a body wash and face wash as well because there was the same issue with all those products.”
Then came the fragrance, the design and the name.
“The design was easy,” says Sam. “I knew what I wanted – just as simple as possible. The complete opposite to everything else on the shelves. I thought of a few different names, but everything seemed to have the wrong meaning. And you get all these copies of products out there, don’t you? I thought, what’s the one thing that only I have? Me. So I decided to just use my name – Sam Farmer. And ‘Sam’ is a unisex name too.”
Sam said that he hadn’t really done much planning for a business – he just wanted to give his daughter a deodorant with no message on it.
“Then, one day, I found myself standing in a warehouse with a massive lorry full of my products! I didn’t have a business plan or anything. I hadn’t really thought about it. I’d been so focused on what I wanted to create and to be able to give it to my daughter. Suddenly, I had to market this stuff, I was a brand owner and I didn’t know what I was doing! Initially, we put it up on a website and then blogger and mum Caroline Hirons wrote a blog about the product, the story behind it and about why I had made it. The next day I got a call from luxury beauty retailer SpaceNK – I couldn’t believe it! They are massive in the cosmetics industry, but they liked the product and the story behind it all and they launched the products in 2014.”
The Sam Farmer products are now available from Ocado, Morrisons (online), USC, BeautyMart, Mortar & Milk, A Little Find as well as the website. The unisex range now consists of deodorant, body wash, face wash, moisturiser, shampoo and conditioner – each formulated specifically for adolescent skin and hair. When selecting ingredients for the formulations, Sam is focused on the cosmetic science, not ‘marketing misinformation’.
A sincere and straightforward man with principles, Sam is typically British when it comes to talking about his achievements. But, he is proud of standing up for science within the cosmetics industry. He explained,
“I like to challenge things which I think are not right. Some of the brands are using marketing to mislead the public. With regards to marketing misinformation, what I object to is the misappropriation of words like ‘organic’, ‘natural’ and ‘clean’. The understanding of complex chemical formulations (and every cosmetic product ever made is 100 per cent chemical) is difficult, but using these types of words to manipulate the consumer is duplicitous. There are no definitions of these words in cosmetic legislation, therefore it’s whatever the brand wants it to mean. The certification bodies are all commercially-driven companies with their own agenda and their purpose is to make money out of this area so they can push their beliefs onto the consumer and leverage their importance as a business.
“I challenge these claims and I am proud of that.”
So, what is next for Sam Farmer?
“The problem with getting on the shelves is that you need to have four or five types of the same product – five different shampoos or body wash products to stand out on the shelves. And that’s the complete opposite of what I’m doing! So, I am looking at packaging and marketing ‘sets’ of the products. Also, I’ll be launching a new product – razor gel – which will be next year.”
It has been an unconventional business journey for Sam, but he is such an inspiration; to have set his goal and achieved it.
Of the highs and lows, he said:
“It has been difficult to separate the business from family life as it’s the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thing I think about at night. But nothing must come before my children and I’ve relaxed about the business much more than in the beginning. The best part is helping young people. They are asking the industry for some help and it’s good to be able to give it.”
His swift move into business has been positive for Sam. He said:
“It may have been a bit naïve, but it was probably the best thing. Just to do it. If I’d listened to everyone else, I would never have done it. So, just do it, get on with it. Keep going, you can always go back and alter things after, but just get on and do it.”
Sam Farmer BSc (Hons) SCS Dip MSCS now sits on the council of the Society of Cosmetic Scientists and is a member of both the Education Committee and the Schools Education Committee (Scrub Up on Science) – all of which has happened in the past five years.
Not bad for someone who admits to making some mistakes and being a bit “naive” when it comes to business!