An Extremely Detailed Timeline of All the Deciem Drama


Forget the Kardashians—are you keeping up with Deciem? Over the first three months of 2018, the Toronto-based, self-proclaimed “abnormal beauty company” captivated the beauty industry with its series of unpredictable events: messy public firings; Instagram mayhem including photos of garbage dumps, dead sheep, and fights with followers; and alarming accounts of an abusive work environment.

At the helm of the drama is Brandon Truaxe, Deciem’s loose-canon founder and acting CEO (he stripped the official title from himself to be called “worker”—more on that later). In January, he took it upon himself to singlehandedly manage the company’s social media account in the name of transparency. What resulted was chaos.

For the record, the company is wildly successful. Though it was founded in 2013, over the last year it catapulted to popularity across social media and aggressively expanded store opening plans to Melbourne, Sydney, Seoul, the UK, and the US. It is projected to earn $300 million in sales in 2018 and, last summer, Estée Lauder made a minority investment (it owns 28 percent). You likely recognize Deciem’s most popular line, The Ordinary, which has won over skincare enthusiasts with its no-frills, active ingredients-focused, freakishly affordable line of products. It’s so loved that when it launched a foundation in 2017, it earned a 25,000-person waitlist.

Now, fans of the brand have started questioning whether or not the company will still thrive amidst recent happenings. Whether it’s your first time hearing about Deciem or you’ve been following it but feel tangled in all the layers, buckle up. We’re breaking down the insanity piece by piece, ahead.

January 12: The Drunk Elephant Incident

What happened: A Redditor noticed that The Ordinary’s website copy called out fellow popular skincare brand Drunk Elephant over marula oil. The description read, “Referred to as a ‘luxury’ oil by some…It’s a fantastic oil in every sense of the word despite its affordability. One would have to be drunk to overpay for Marula.” It was an obvious jab at Drunk Elephant, which charges $72 for a 30ml bottle (The Ordinary charges $10 for the same size).

The significance: Every beauty brand has competition—but calling out a competitor like this, especially on official website descriptions, is unheard of and kind of unnecessary?

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January 24: Truaxe Announces a Radical Marketing Shift

What happened: Truaxe posted a video on Instagram in which he announced he was cancelling all of Deciem’s “marketing plans.” He wrote that he was going to start using Deciem’s Instagram as his own and that he’d start responding personally to all comments and emails.

The significance: Kudos for celebrating transparency, but how in the world is a CEO supposed to respond personally to every message? (Note: There are 1,228 comments on this single post alone.) This is also right about when selfie-videos from Truaxe started dominating, replacing information about the products.

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January 28: The Drunk Elephant Apology

What happened: In a convoluted Instagram post about his employees and why he calls them “monkeys,” Truaxe decided to apologize directly to Drunk Elephant’s CEO Tiffany Masterson. He called the “drunk” comment “a distasteful joke,” and promised to donate $25,000 to Drunk Elephant’s charity partner, Save the Elephants.

The significance: The apology felt heartfelt, albeit tacked on the end of a meandering and roundabout discussion of animals (“I also don’t think monkeys are better than any other animal”), models (“if some of us do [look like models], then we are doubly lucky), and business.

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January 29: Is Deciem’s Insta Being “Hacked”?

What happened: Truaxe alerted followers of an attempted hack on Deciem’s Instagram. “This could be a past employee, someone who doesn’t like us, a competitor, we don’t really know but we’re going to find out,” he said, fanning the flames.

The significance: We’ll let Reddit user anysize explain it, “I work in social media and my jaw dropped watching his video about their Instagram ‘attempting to be hacked,'” they wrote, “This literally means that they received an email saying, ‘Forgot your password?’ That he published a video declaring he’s barred his social team from doing their jobs while accusing competitors and past staff of ‘hacking’ is unconscionable.”

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February 1: Truaxe Drops “CEO” Title

What happened: The founder claimed he’d be taking on the generic title of “worker” instead of “CEO” because “responsible people don’t need CEOs…and I’ve never liked any of my bosses in my life so I don’t want to be a boss, I want to be a friend. I want people to be my friend and not my employee.”

The significance: Touting internal politics aren’t usually the best way to educate consumers about the efficacy of your products.

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February 4: Spamming Literal Garbage

What happened: Things started to get even more strange when Truaxe posted not one, not two, but seven videos of garbage piles in Morocco. His intention was to announce a new initiative for Deciem to eliminate all plastic in its products. In the caption, he even directly addressed two employees, “Alessandro” and “Hajar,” to “please tell our suppliers that this plan will be complete by the end of 2018.” Then, he broke up with his packaging supplier, Peter of Mong Packaging.

The significance: Deciem’s Instagram started to feel more like an internal communications platform: Truaxe publicly severed ties with his packaging supplier, then proceeded to offer him a job at Deciem and to relocate his family to Canada. Meanwhile, “Alan of Idealpak” was promised more business.

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February 4: …Is That a Dead Sheep?

What happened: A photo of a dead sheep appeared on Deciem’s account, much to many followers’ dismay and confusion. Truaxe took the opportunity to announce that the company will never test on animals.

The significance: To some, this marked Truaxe taking his personal voice on Deciem’s Instagram account too far. “Hey @deciem I think your account has been hacked by a guy who is losing his mind,” @joshthebrand wrote in the comments section. “The posts lately are off-putting and seem to put the founder’s best interest ahead of what followers of the brand care about and want to know,” @leahdelvec added. Not to mention the sheep pictured is outdoors in a field, not in a lab as a victim of animal cruelty in the cosmetics industry.

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February 4: “I’m not gay.”

What happened: While introducing Deciem’s factory manager Riad, Truaxe felt the need to clarify his sexual orientation. “Riad is not my boyfriend (I’m not gay),” he wrote, saying that Riad would be traveling with him through March, “He’s my brother and I love him.” He also told followers he gifted Riad’s family a casual $500,000.

The significance: Where are the skincare products? Who asked if Truaxe was gay?

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February 4: The Madness Continues

What happened: Truaxe posted a photo of soap created by a “gentle old man” in Morocco. In his caption he directed “Prudvi” from Deciem’s team to recreate the soap for customers. He also vaguely promised he’d be creating jobs in Morocco.

The significance: More using Instagram like it’s company email.

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February 5: Truaxe Finally Addresses the Insta Weirdness

What happened: After nonstop posting on Deciem’s Instagram, Truaxe finally directly addressed his behavior. “Many of you love what I did. But a few of you disliked it, criticized it, and even unfollowed us,” he said. “I’ll listen to you and build a social content management team.” In the post he also pledged to donate a total of $200k—including $50k from his own savings—to charity.

The significance: Deciem reportedly lost 5,000 followers amidst these days of Truaxe’s Instagram spree.

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February 6: Truaxe Cuts Ties with TJ Esho

What happened: In a since-deleted Instagram post, Truaxe issued a public apology—and firing, of sorts—to dermatologist Tijon Esho. He worked with Esho on creating Deciem’s lip-care brand Esho, which he claimed suffered from “rushed” formulas and “almost everyone hat[ing] them.” He severed ties and reasoned, “I need to say goodbye to you because we are too busy to love your brand enough.” Esho later said he was not given the news prior to the Instagram post.

The derm offered this statement to Racked: “While I am disappointed to have not been told prior to the public announcement on Deciem’s social media that my line is being discontinued, I do believe that as one door closes another opens. For Esho, this line of products is only the beginning.”

The significance: Severing business ties and discontinuing a brand via social media post is a giant red flag for the wellbeing of a company. Redditors started calling Truaxe’s behavior “messy” and “worrying.” Former Deciem co-CEO Nicola Kilner later told ELLE this Esho predicament was her and Truaxe’s “first disagreement” just days before she was let go.

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Early February: About Those Glassdoor Reviews

What happened: Amidst all the scrutiny over Deciem and its social media channels, the company’s Glassdoor page started getting more attention on Reddit. The reviews go as far back as 2015—and some of them have serious claims of Truaxe’s aggressive management style of yelling and bullying. There are even claims of sexual harassment, body-shaming, sexism, and racism.

The significance: These are serious allegations. Of course, as with all anonymous reviews, the accounts aren’t fact. But, the sheer volume of negative, like-minded reviews are significant.

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February 9: Deciem Employees Come Forward

What happened: Three anonymous former employees went on the record to discuss what it was really like to work at Deciem’s office. They confirmed Truaxe yelled at staff. “I quit because eventually it was just too much drama and it just didn’t seem worth it,” one said. All three also said they witnessed managers discussing employee’s weight and bodies—factory manager Meena Razack, allegedly “pinched” people’s stomachs. Meanwhile, Riyadh Swedaan (referred to as “Riad” by Truaxe on Instagram above), was described as a “bully” who regularly berated employees. There was a fourth employee who relayed having a more positive experience.

The significance: It indicated that company trouble was not only brewing from the outside, with Truaxe’s public posts, but deep from the inside, too.

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February 10: Truaxe Starts Deleting Comments

What happened: Truaxe posted a video addressing the reactions to his takeover of Deciem’s Instagram account and announced he would be deleting “any negative comments unless it’s constructive and useful criticism.”

The significance: Truaxe’s responses weren’t exactly polished or measured. One user @heyybrianne wrote, “please hire a social media team and pass over control of this account. Truaxe’s response? “You need more followers [kissy face emoji].”

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February 11: Truaxe Accused of Racism

What happened: In response to Deciem’s Instagram activity from Truaxe, one follower @supermormongirl commented, “Brandon are you okay??” He responded, “Yes but you don’t seem so well. Please use Modulating Glucosides when it’s out. Goodbye.” As Affinity first reported, the product may have skin-lightening properties—and since he was responding to a black woman, it could be interpreted as telling a person of color to bleach her skin.

Truaxe gave Teen Vogue a statement in response to the accusations. “To those who are peaceful, it’s clear that we have never said anything racist because we are not racist,” he said. “Whoever assumed that MG, which calms inflammation, relates to ‘bleaching’ skin is either a hateful person or one who assumes everything and understands very little.”

The significance: Whether or not the product is meant for skin-whitening or not, an unsolicited comment giving skin “advice” feels out of line.

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February 13: Burning Deciem Products

What happened: In response to Truaxe’s comments and behavior, customers started getting increasingly upset at Deciem, even going so far as to post videos tossing multiple products into the garbage and burning one from The Ordinary. “I was upset at being blocked by the CEO. It’s really not any sort of way to treat your customers,” the user @gunshotwounds told The Cut about his decision to torch a product, “I was a fan of the Ordinary product range [because] it’s so well priced and it’s a novel approach to skin care. I will say that I do NOT believe that he is a racist. He is a power-tripping asshole, that is all.”

The significance: Truaxe’s behavior has gone past the point of making fans of his brand worry—it’s costing him customers. Around this time, a Reddit thread of The Ordinary dupes emerged.

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February 22: Co-CEO Nicola Kilner Gets Ousted

What happened: Kilner, who had been with the company for five years, was let go from Deciem. When news of Kilner’s exit broke, word got out that Stephen Kaplan, chief financial officer, also resigned. Truaxe gave WWD a troubling statement. “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,” he said. He also maintained that the company controversy was not affecting sales, “All they’re doing is creating more sales for me,” he said.

On the firing, Kilner told ELLE, “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.”

The significance: Kilner was brought on to create infrastructure amidst the company’s rapid growth, and this drama was happening on the heels of Deciem’s launch in the U.S. market. Letting her go seemed erratic on Truaxe’s part.

The case of Kaplan is equally rash and potentially ageist. On the resigned CFO, Truaxe said, “It is really destructive that Stephen could not just accept the fact that a 40-year-old is the CEO, and in his 60s he’s reporting to me.”

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March 25: More Firings

What happened: After a quiet month, Deciem made headlines again when both grooming blog Very Good Light and Racked confirmed Truaxe fired the whole U.S. team, including the PR executive Dakota Isaacs.

The significance: How is the major U.S. expansion, including the opening of ten stores in New York City, supposed to work without a team?

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April 4: Truaxe Defends Trump

What happened: Truaxe posted a screenshot of a July 2016 Sunday Times Magazine profile of him. It compared him to Donald Trump. He was not happy about it, going so far as to call the editor “sloppy” and “careless” for writing “so many wrong ‘facts.'” During his long-winded explanation, he seemingly sympathized with the President. “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,”

The significance: Responding to an article two years after its release is beyond sour grapes; aligning himself with Trump was an unsteady leap.

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April 4: The Homeless Man

What happened: While trying to promote the new Deciem store opening on Fifth Avenue, Truaxe captured a presumably homeless man in the shot—likely without his consent. The latter had people particularly upset. In the comments, Truaxe explained that the man was blocking the store’s entrance and would not move, so the construction team had to find a different way in. “Yes, brands and people would call the police when their rights are violated. We didn’t because we have compassion that you choose not to see,” he said.

When he was given an opportunity to explain this photo to the press, he made matters worse. “This person is disrespectful to the beauty of the library; he is disrespectful to the beauty of Fifth Avenue,” he said. “But this person was so peaceful. He was just reading his book, which homeless people should do more of.” Yikes.

The significance: It doesn’t stop there. Truaxe also posted a since-deleted Instagram of an aghast comment. Many followers were upset the user’s information was shared publicly on Deciem’s platform and threatened to report it for bullying. Truaxe just issued another apology—then offered the user he blasted $20,000 worth of Deciem products.

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April 5: Nicola Kilner Speaks Out

What happened: In an ELLE exclusive, former co-CEO Kilner talked about her firing and what happened at Deciem for the first time since leaving the company. She admitted she was totally blindsided: “I didn’t see this ending.” At press time, she and Truaxe were no longer in much contact aside from one email exchange.

The significance: The conversation illuminated both Kilner’s symbiotic relationship with Truaxe and their point of differences—particularly with the way he handled Esho. “I truly believe Brandon has good reasons for everything he does,” she said. “But then the downside is that sometimes decisions happen that don’t seem to make sense.”

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April 6: Truaxe Denies Firings

What happened: As news spread that Deciem supposedly fired its entire U.S. team, Truaxe took to Instagram once more to clarify that only two people were terminated “because we don’t yet have a need for a dedicated US PR team.” He insisted that a US team is still “happily running our fast-growing US business. Please visit our cozy stores in NYC to meet them.”

The significance: Truaxe tried to shake of culpability by pinning it on the Human Resources Director. This post also further turned off followers of Deciem, as user @erikabend wrote, “Looks like you do need the PR. I’m unfollowing the account. I think I’ve had way more ‘transparency’ than I need.”

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April 6: Truaxe Responds to Kilner’s Interview

What happened: Truaxe took a screenshot of the ELLE piece and directly addressed Kilner on Deciem’s Instagram account. He denied that the events surrounding Esho’s firing led to her termination. It read like a plea: “I have loved this same beautiful soul until this very moment,” he said. “Nicola, it’s I, Brandon. Please, please—respect our history.”

The significance: This multi-layered, deeply personal message had a threatening tone. He was essentially accusing Kilner of betrayal. Truaxe claimed Kilner informed him another employee, Shamin Mohamed (Deciem’s director of operations), told their team he had “psychosis” and suggested firing him.

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April 10: Truaxe and Kilner Seemingly Make Up

What happened: It’s unclear. Truaxe posted a friendly-looking text exchange between himself and Kilner that implies all is well. He uncharacteristically did not elaborate on details. Since this post, the Deciem Instagram has started returning to classic product shots over Truaxe’s tirades.

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