With a doctorate in chemical and biological engineering and over 12 years of experience, Hans Drouin is an expert in the art of creating products that contain natural and worry-free ingredients.
You’re the Vice-President of Research and Development at ATTITUDE. When you were beginning your career, did you ever hope to have a job like that?
To tell you the truth, not really! But I certainly had a real interest in the environment and I’ve always been very aware of environmental issues. That’s been a concern of mine for many years. But way back then I couldn’t have predicted that I’d be doing what I’m doing today!
I remember a conversation back in 2005, when I was finishing up my Ph.D. A childhood friend, Jean-François Bernier, called me up and asked if I knew anyone who could help him develop a line of environmentally friendly products. I replied, "I sure do - and that someone is me!"
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced?
For us, challenges are a daily occurrence (laughs)
This was actually the first challenge: how do we develop products that are healthy and environmentally friendly, as well as being effective and appealing to consumers? Back in the day, everything that was labeled organic was actually brown and boring or it didn’t work. So I must admit that starting from that point, bucking the trend, was a huge challenge!
As our company kept on growing, we faced a major communication challenge: how do we sum up in a few words what we do, not only in terms of selecting ingredients and evaluating the life cycle of our products, but also as far as our manufacturing approach and social involvement are concerned? How do we communicate all of that succinctly in the space of two seconds to someone who sees our products on a grocery store shelf? That was a big challenge for us. At the time, we decided to obtain certification for all our products. We were also the first company to do so for all of its product lines.
How do you imagine the creative process for a product? What steps are involved? How do you select the ingredients?
The first step involves asking ourselves the following questions: What do we want to develop? And what do we need? For instance, we started designing surface cleaners because we thought it didn’t make much sense to be cleaning and polluting at the same time. And then when our children were born, we didn’t want to wash them with products that contained carcinogenic contaminants or endocrine disruptors. That’s how we came to develop products for children and babies. We wanted to extend our philosophy to cover everything we do.
The second step involves the creative process itself. We have so many restrictions that we simply can’t use many ingredients. But that just pushes us to be more innovative and creative.
- We try to understand the context. What do we want to clean? What are the characteristics of the dirt involved? In what context is the product used?
- We search for the ingredients. What ingredients might get the job done? We do prior research on each ingredient to ensure that it is worry-free. We take a look at scientific databases and also focus on the raw materials used to produce the ingredient. We then analyze the manufacturing process and the byproducts used. Once we have the theoretical version of our product in place, we go back to the lab to create our formulas.
- We manufacture our product. We assess performance, together with stability over time. Using all-natural vegetable and mineral-based raw materials brings more challenges than if we used synthetic materials. For example, a thousand years from now, polymers will still be around, whereas natural materials will have decomposed.
- Once we’ve come up with the right prototype, we test it on ourselves first. Depending on the product, we then bring in an external panel to try it out. We collect data and analyze it so we produce the highest-performing product possible.
- Finally, we scale things up to see what the process will look like before we fully launch the production run (always under controlled conditions).
What does a typical day look like at ATTITUDE?
A typical day is always filled with unexpected things (laughs)
. Let’s just say that a day at ATTITUDE is never boring! We work hard and since we have an on-site gym, we like to work out for 30 minutes a day to stay in shape!
How does the lab operate at ATTITUDE?
The lab is made up of various areas:
- The analytical area, where all our products are quantified (pH, viscosity, refractive index, density, etc.).
- The central area, where all of our mixers are kept.
- The storage area, including large cupboards for storing ingredients.
- The stability and performance analytical area, including a freezer, a fridge and various ovens at different temperatures so we can run accelerated stability tests.
Do you have any lab stories you’d like to share?
Lots of amusing things happen! For me, the most fascinating part is looking at where we started out and where we are today. In the beginning, we were in an industrial garage in St-Eustache. There was a mezzanine above us with a room about as big as a closet—and that was our lab! To ventilate it, we put fans in the doorway (laughs).
Also, the first mixer we used was a kitchen blender that I’d modified. I kept it so I’d always remember our beginnings and where we came from. It’s become my museum piece!
What’s your favorite ATTITUDE product?
Our Super leaves 2-in-1 Natural Shampoo and Body Wash for Men, which I use every day. Yes, we finally have products just for men!
What’s the biggest mess you’ve ever had to clean up in the lab?
We’ve had to clean up foam and cream mishaps a few times. Those aren’t really out of the ordinary for us. But like they say, if you don’t try, nothing happens! (laughs)
What aspect of your work are you most proud of?
Our team! When we began in January 2006, there were only three of us. Today, we have a team of 30 people just in the office. I also take pride in seeing the quality of people who have joined the team and the things we’re accomplishing together. We’re quite a passionate bunch! It’s really stimulating and it makes me very proud.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done at work?
For me, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at work is routine. But for lots of other people, that would be quite strange (laughs)
Hans offers three tips on choosing natural products for day-to-day use:
Pay attention to the marketing. It’s easy to get confused with all the "X-free" and "no Y". Always ask yourself, what those things replaced with?
Trust independent certifications such as EWG Verified or ECOLOGO.
Use the Skin Deep cosmetics database. Simply enter the name of an ingredient and you’ll discover the related health risks. If you’re even geekier, you can even read the supplementary studies and references.