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Rutgers alumni create socially conscious personal care brand

Commons will offer essential care products with cruelty-free ingredients, sustainable packaging and gender-neutral marketing. – Photo by Getcommonsbehappy.com

Two Rutgers alumni have started a venture called Commons, a personal care brand centered around social impact.

Commons aims to offer premium and affordable essential care products that give back to the community in the process, said co-founder Rohan Gandhi. It is currently in its pre-launch, where the first 300 people to join may donate a dollar to either charity: water or Feeding America.

“Social impact comes day zero at Commons,” said co-founder John El-Maraghy. “From day zero, folks that are interested in the Commons brand are going to have an impact in the global community.”

Their next step, which entails packaging and production, will address sustainability by using packaging that can be flattened to take up less room in landfills than regular soap bottles, he said. In addition, their products will use cruelty-free ingredients.

Their launch will start with a body wash, though Gandhi said they have labeled it as a daily skin cleanser instead.

“It doesn’t rely on a lot of the ingredients that are typically in body washes,” he said. “(Sulfates) are great for scrubbing burnt-on stuff off dishes. It’s really not good for your skin.”

Gandhi said they plan to let consumers guide them on which products to make next based on their needs.

The co-founders discussed the gendered marketing of hygiene products, which El-Maraghy said Commons will address in its own products by marketing them as gender-neutral. This is reflected in the brand’s mild scent, Gandhi said. 

El-Maraghy said skincare marketing campaigns often focus on convincing consumers to use their products so they can become attractive to the other sex. Gandhi said gender might matter when making a particular product’s formula, but not in the case of essential skincare products.

“The ingredients (of essential type products) and the skin chemistry? Eighty to 90 percent the same between genders,” he said. “There’s not a ton of difference, so we probably don’t need to sexualize marketing it either.”

Gandhi also said Commons aims to embody the idea that everyone should have access to personal care products that are not harmful, regardless of their economic background.

“Luxury marketing is all well and good if you’re selling cars or selling purses,” he said. “We’re literally talking about what we use to get clean and take care of our skin. To me, that shouldn’t be socially stratified.”

El-Maraghy said that though Commons may not grow as large as Unilever, it can push the conversation on how corporations can exercise social responsibility in various aspects of operation.

“We can give back, we can build this into our business model because, A, we're not as beholden to as many stakeholders and, B, because it's just important to us,” he said. “It's just part of the equation and part of the bottom line. And you know, if that means making a 1 percent profit versus a 5 percent profit versus a 10 percent profit, that's just what gets baked into the way that we do business.”

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