Biocol Labs

 

Interview Richard Catty

Photography Laura Pausenwang

 

During the mid 1970’s, following decades of dictatorial rule, democracy was beginning to crystallize in Portugal. Meanwhile, self-taught scientist Gualdim Redol was formulating fresh ideas of his own: A revolutionary approach to medicine that focused on a new class of men and women from across Europe who were seeking a balanced, rejuvenating and natural lifestyle. In 1977, following years of research and experimentation, Gualdim and his wife Natalia Redol, a self-made business woman, founded Biocol Labs, in Lisbon, to serve the needs of this emerging health-conscious class. From the very beginning, Biocol rejected the conventions of big-brand pharmaceuticals and pioneered the concept of a post-chemical society using plant based science. Nowadays, the brand perpetuates its values through family ownership and focuses on developing products that counter the effects of modern lifestyles, which often include exposure to pollution, stress, electronic radiation, UV rays and genetically modified foods. Biocol Labs certainly sees things differently. More simply, even. And they help their customers to do the same, favouring a concise packaging style that contrasts with a chemical health industry, renowned for cramming an overwhelming amount of jargon and imagery into its products. We recently checked-in with Christine Pausewang, partner at Biocol, and asked her to break things down a little more for us.

 

    As with your recipes, the product packaging is refreshingly refined. Did the design take inspiration from anything in particular?

Yes, sushi actually. Confusion only makes headaches worse. This was the starting point of our design – to create a remedy against the unhealthy amount of confusion that dominates the remedy aisle and the medical cabinet at our homes. Sushi is a cuisine of subtraction, and we applied that philosophy to the packaging design. We took out: the ego, branding, visuals, fonts, design, redundancy and left the bare minimum that you need to see, feel and comprehend when you are suffering from a problem.

      The product names and descriptions playfully avoid categorising themselves as supplements or pharmaceutical substitutes. Is there a rationale behind this?

The Western world has forgotten that a great number of OTCs and medicines we use today are emulations of molecules found in nature, copied and synthetized for economical reasons. It would be fair to say chemical pharmaceuticals are a cheap version of nature’s pharmacy. And because society forgot about this, the two generalisations that you just mentioned have been created: Supplements (al that is natural and meant to make you feel good) and pharmaceuticals (everything that’s chemical based and supposed to cure). Philosophically, we don't identify ourselves with either of those two categories. Our mission for the last 42 years has been closing the gap between pharma and nature. We felt it was finally time to give natural OTCS & natural medicine its own distinct tone of voice and aesthetic, whilst sticking to our strong ethics and our view of the world today.

    On your website you say that you want to make the world free of chemicals and silliness. Can you elaborate on what silliness means to Biocol?

Where do we start? Our bodies are not designed to take chemicals, so why do we take them to get better? Who said remedies need to sound like sci-fi characters? (Ozzel - nasal spray or star wars character?) If hangovers, post-party blues and other excesses are part of the cultural zeitgeist, why does the health community not take them seriously? If pharmaceuticals, hospitals, doctors and pharmacies are meant to make you feel good, why do we avoid them? Even more worrying, why do people trust google search over their doctor or pharmacist? We could go on...

The products pitch themselves as avoidance measures or remedies against specific afflictions. How does this set them apart from the kind of multivitamin and chemical supplements one typically finds in a pharmacy?  

We see ourselves as a pharmaceutical that believes nature has the answer. We want to make chemical remedies redundant, because our bodies are not designed to take them. We’re offering natural solutions which aim to fix problems as fast and efficiently as their widely used chemical counterparts. There are also two other things that differentiate us: 1) we manufacture everything that we sell, which means we control the entire supply chain, from research through formulation, ingredient sourcing, mixing all the way to the packaging assembly, which means total transparency and quality control. 2) We are a three-generation family owned and operated business. Each generation has a duty to protect the values and ethics on which Natalia and Gualdim founded this company and the integrity Gabriela and Pierre worked to uphold.

In which ways does Lisbon’s distinctive blend of tech start-ups, tourism and traditional lifestyles influence the direction and philosophy of Biocol Labs?

Everyone comes here for the sun, beaches, food and historical feeling. But people stay because of its welcoming atmosphere, slower pace of life, connection to nature and old values, such as: family, kindness, shyness and craftsmanship. We think these values should be Portugal’s most important export in a world that is becoming more fractionated and adrift. These qualities are infused throughout Biocol Labs’ products, brand and organisation. Living and working in Lisbon really helps us to keep a certain depth to the brand. Even though it is becoming a metropolitan city, Lisbon allows you to step back and think and reflect. You can feel the fast-changing energy of a city in transformation which is very inspiring. Whenever we come back to Lisbon, we get a different kind of input than in New York, for example, where its all about fast performance. Lisbon makes you think about your values and beliefs.

It’s great to see you have put together a health-kick combo especially for travellers with the ‘something for jetsetters’ pack. Was the company’s appetite for exploration the impetus for the kit’s development?

When we decided to move beyond the pharmacy channel, as big travellers ourselves, the logical step for us was hotels. That's when we are most vulnerable, due to the many extreme conditions our bodies are subjected to, from different climates, through changes in diet and time zone, to alien environments, such as being stuck on a plane at really high altitude. When we met the team at Design Hotels, they were totally on the same page and the Jetsetter kit was born.

Gualdim Redol honed his skills as a scientist through self-tuition. Does this sort of approach reflect the admiration he held for nature’s intrinsic wisdom?

Self-tuition today and 50 years ago mean things totally different. In the 70s, Gualdim had some health complications at the same time the chemical pills industry began to boom in modern society. He refused that approach, as he believed that’s what was actually making him sick and saw that no one in Portugal was offering what he felt he needed. So in the true spirit of the self-made man of the era, he moved to Switzerland to study at the leading laboratory in trace elements and phytotherapy. Then, with the permission of the Swiss laboratory, he returned to Portugal and built the same kind of laboratory here. He poached a research developer from Pfizer and created a medical committee with some of the best doctors in Portugal and so, Biocol was founded. It was a 10 year journey which led to his PHD being awarded. He became so knowledgeable in the field that his remedies have been prescribed and recommended by doctors and pharmacists for over 40 years and his theories are still taught in universities in Brazil.

As a family run business, are there ever any strong disagreements? Is there a natural shot, spray or capsule by Biocol that can help people avoid family conflict?

Haha, we are actually developing a spray called something® to calm the fuck down inspired in those family meetings. Jokes aside, working with family and romantic partners can be extremely challenging (and also nice!). It’s important to set clear responsibilities, respect where work ends and family starts and vice-versa, and most importantly, you need to dance! That's what we do, we start dancing when tension builds up and then we have a big family hug.

On your website there is a page where customers can tell you what they want to see next. What’s the strangest product suggestion you have received and can you give us any hints on a new ‘something’ currently in development?

The most memorable is definitely the request for a cocaine alternative! We will share more at the beginning of 2020.

www.biocollabs.com

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