explainer

Inside the turbulent life of Brandon Truaxe, the man behind cult skincare brand The Ordinary.

On Tuesday, news broke that Brandon Truaxe, the controversial founder of DECIEM – the skincare company that brought us popular beauty brand The Ordinary – has died aged 40.

Confirmed in a company-wide email from acting CEO Nicola Kilner, Vox reports the entrepreneur passed away over the weekend. A source close to the brand told WWD he died in Toronto, the cause of death is yet to be released.

“I can’t believe I am typing these words. Brandon has passed away over the weekend. Heartbroken doesn’t come close to how I, and how I know many of you will be feeling,” DECIEM staff were told in Kilner’s internal email.

“All offices, warehouses, factories and stores please close today and take the time to cry with sadness, smile at the good times we had, reflect on what his genius built and hug your loved ones that little harder. We are all in disbelief and shock but I will be in touch again very soon. I love you all incredibly much, as did he.”

The brand also shared the tragic news with their fans via the DECIEM Instagram account, writing:

“Brandon, our founder and friend. You touched our hearts, inspired our minds and made us believe that anything is possible. Thank you for every laugh, every learning and every moment of your genius. Whilst we can’t imagine a world without you, we promise to take care of each other and will work hard to continue your vision. May you finally be at peace. Love, (forever) your DECIEM.”

Truaxe’s death comes after a controversial and tumultuous year for DECIEM and the company’s founder. Despite the company having reportedly made upwards of $300 million USD in sales, 2018 was a year of bizarre behaviour from Truaxe which ultimately saw him forcibly removed as CEO of the company he built from the ground up.

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Truaxe achieved so much in his 40 years, much of which is overshadowed by scandals played out in international headlines.

Who was Brandon Truaxe and what is DECIEM?

Brandon Truaxe was the founder and former CEO of DECIEM, aptly self-proclaimed as the ‘Abnormal Beauty Company’. But Google his name and you won’t find so much as a Wikipedia page.

Among the numerous articles exploring the entrepreneur’s many controversies, details of his upbringing are scarce. A 2008 W Magazine article reported Truaxe had a “peripatetic childhood” travelling between Cyprus and Canada, before launching several technology-related ventures.

Truaxe, a computer programmer by trade, founded DECIEM in Tornoto in 2013, and made headlines for launching not one, but 10 beauty brands featuring products from hair care and beauty supplements to a men’s grooming line under the parent company. He reportedly came up with the idea for DECIEM while building software for a skin-care lab, where he noticed the huge difference between the cost of raw ingredients (what’s actually in your skincare) and the price we pay for the finished product.

Herein lies the genius of Truaxe and DECIEM’s most successful beauty brand to date, The Ordinary, launched in August 2016.

While other big name brands were pumping out ‘wonder products’ with exxy price tags, The Ordinary’s scientific-like, distraction-free plain packaging and budget price point stood out. They made the ordinary, everyday customer feel smart and included. At one point, The Ordinary’s Serum Foundation, launched in 2017, had a 25,000-person waitlist, and their retinol serum was one of Kim Kardashian West’s favourites.

Then, at the beginning of 2018, a series of events led to Truaxe being ousted from his own company.

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The controversy that followed Brandon Truaxe.

Between January and October 2018, Brandon Truaxe made headlines for a number of bizarre incidents involving DECIEM.

It all started in January 2018, when many thought the DECIEM Instagram account had been hacked after a series of bizarre social media posts from then-CEO Truaxe. Posts uploaded to the brand’s public Instagram account included seven videos of garbage piles in Morocco, a photo of a dead sheep and a video of Truaxe speaking about his sexuality.

Next came allegations of Truaxe’s workplace conduct.

In February 2018, the company’s page on Glassdoor, a workplace forum, went viral on Reddit after reviews from as early as 2015 criticised Truaxe’s aggressive management. Claims included yelling and bullying, and more serious accusations of sexual harassment, body-shaming, sexism, and racism, Elle reported. In an investigative piece by Racked, a further three employees came froward and spoke on the record about what it was like to work at DECIEM.

Shortly after, Truaxe fired his then co-CEO Nicola Kilner, who had been working with the company for five years. In a statement to WWD, he said, “It’s my company. It’s my house. If someone doesn’t like how I decorate my house it doesn’t matter if they’re my mother or a guest, they have to leave the house.”

On her firing, Kilner told ELLE in a follow up profile, “It’s his choice. His decision. I don’t think you get fired from a job when you’re doing a good job. But with Brandon, it was never [just about] business. It was much more personal.”

Between the end of March and the end of April, Truaxe received further public criticism on a number of sides. Following the sacking of Kilner, Truaxe reportedly fired his entire US team, as Racked confirmed at the time. It was also during this period that he first referenced his support for US President Trump, writing on Instagram:

“Whether you agree or disagree with some or all thoughts of @realdonaldtrump, please respect him as the President of a powerful nation and don’t compare me with him…Please respect presidents of countries and founders of businesses in the same way that you would respect your family.”

At the end of April, Truaxe’s worrying Instagram behaviour continued, with the entrepreneur posting now-deleted videos onto the DECIEM Instagram account calling for his followers to “call 911”, Elle reports. No explanation was ever provided for those videos.

Then came the 3,000-word ‘open letter’ Truaxe posted on the DECIEM website in May 2018.

A post shared by Brandon Truaxe (@btruaxe) on

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According to The Cut, Truaxe’s letter detailed the behind-the-scenes drama within his company from his point of view, including topics such as the financial crimes of one and/or more of DECIEM’s shareholders, his colleagues’ attempts to send him to a “private mental hospital”, how the royal wedding was poorly planned, and why staff were trying to take away his access to the DECIEM Instagram accounts.

Truaxe went quiet for a few months after that. But at the beginning of October, 2018, Truaxe announced DECIEM would be closing immediately in a since-deleted Instagram video.

“Hi everyone, I’m Brandon Truaxe, founder of DECIEM. This is the final post of DECIEM. We will shut down all operations until further notice, which will be about two months. Please take me seriously,” he told viewers, The Evening Standard reported at the time. He also went on to accuse “almost everyone at DECIEM” of being “involved in major criminal activity”, saying “You have no idea what a soldier I’ve been for more than 13 years… It’s all ending now.”

Along with a incoherent caption, Truaxe tagged Donald Trump, Mark Zuckerberg, Brad Pitt and Steven Spielberg, among others. After that, the DECIEM website shut down.

These public controversies were seemingly the last straw for Estée Lauder Companies, a minority investor in the company. In October 2018, a Canadian judge removed Truaxe from his role  – replaced by acting CEO Kilner – and issued with a restraining order preventing him “from taking any actions in relation to the operation of DECIEM’s business including communicating with DECIEM’s employees,” the Financial Post reports.

As Estée Lauder’s legal counsel Mark Gelowitz put it during legal proceedings, his repeated actions had “essentially lit the company on fire”.

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In December 2018, the Financial Post reported Truaxe had been hospitalised multiple times for mental health reasons in Toronto and London. After an episode in which Truaxe had a run in with guards at the military parade ground near the British Prime Minister’s residence in Downing Street, Truaxe was held against his will in St. Thomas’ Hospital. There, he was diagnosed with presumptive bipolar disorder and held for a fortnight under the U.K. Mental Health Act, the publication reported.

Twenty four hours before reports of his death surfaced, Truaxe posted four videos of himself speaking incoherently in his Toronto high-rise apartment on his personal Instagram account.

“I have acquired a taste for Mezcal, the tequila, I have developed a condition associated with being drunk: the condition known as ‘seeing things’. I also hear things,” the late-entrepreneur captioned the first of the four videos, in all of which he gave out his physical address.

“Everything is OK,” he told his followers, “but I want everyone to learn, if they suspect something is strange… tell someone. I love you.”

For a more detailed account of Truaxe and the controversies surrounding DECIEM, check out Elle’s detailed summary.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with their mental health, please seek professional help and contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.

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