Remembering Aveda Founder Horst Rechelbacher's Legacy

Horst Rechelbacher, 1941-2014

The founder of Aveda and Intelligent Nutrients, Horst Rechelbacher has died at the age of 72. He began his career at the tender age of 14, beginning a three-year apprenticeship in the hair industry, but he soon made his way from his native Austria to the U.S. It was chance (or perhaps fate) that made him choose Minneapolis, Minnesota, as the area in which he would later found Aveda. He was injured in a car crash and ended up styling hair locally to pay the hospital bills. Following a trip to India, the stylist founded Aveda in 1978, based on the holistic principles of Ayurveda. In 1997, he sold the company to Estee Lauder for $300 million, and it continues to embrace the beliefs of responsible beauty.

In 2008, Rechelbacher was back at it, launching Intelligent Nutrients, a health and beauty company that offers 100-percent food-based, nontoxic and organic ingredients in every product. (In fact, Rechelbacher was notorious for drinking his shampoo to demonstrate its safety.)

In addition to running beauty companies, Rechelbacher was on the Board of Directors at the Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital in Detroit, and also aided the Mayo Clinic’s Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program in Rochester, Minnesota. He penned four books—Minding Your Business, Rejuvenation, Aveda Rituals and Alivelihood. Rechelbacher was one of three original founders of Business for Social Responsibility, which promotes the idea that businesses have the greatest responsibility and opportunity to provide sustainability to all living speciesOther notable achievements include: 

  • October 2009: The President of Austria awards him the “Decoration of Honour in Gold for Service to the Republic of Austria” for his exemplary representation of an Austrian business leader
  • 2009—speaker at TEDIndia
  • 2008— Inducted into Minnesota Business Hall of Fame by Twin Cities Business Magazine as one of Minnesota’s most accomplished business leaders of all time
  • 2007—Presented with Crystal Award from the International Congress of Esthetics and Spa
  • 2007— Received the Rachel Carson Award for a Lifetime Commitment to Environmental Ethics & Integrity
  • 2007—Honored as an Industry Innovator & Legend for lifetime contribution to the cosmetology industry by the Spa & Salon Professional Association Incorporated
  • 2005 and 1995 —Voted one of the most influential environmentalists in the U.S. by Vanity Fair magazine
  • 2004—Founding member of the Organic Center for Education, Research and Promotion
  • 2004—Received Lifetime Achievement Award from the North American Hairstyling Awards


Rechelbacher was a mentor to many, including Eufora co-founder Don Bewley, who worked with Rechelbacher at Aveda early in his career, and still considers Horst to be a major influence on how he continues to conduct business today. Says Bewley, "There are people who come into your life who change things. Horst was one of those people. He changed the way we thought about the industry and introduced ideas and concepts of sustainability and natural-based products long before they became popular. To this day his contributions are at the forefront of product innovation. He had a higher standard and held everyone around him to that higher standard as well.  

"While it is a sad time, I have many memories of him that make me smile. Horst would invite his industry friends to his spa at oceaola where we did Yoga, ate macrobiotic food and experienced life the 'Horst way.' Some of us had a hard time with this 'too clean' spa weekend so we would sneak out, walk a mile to the local tavern where we'd indulge on cheeseburgers, fries, drink a few beers, shoot pool then sneak back in to the spa without him knowing.

"Through my relationship with Horst and his company, I became a better stylist and owner. This industry is better because of his leadership. Some thought him to be tough and uncompromising, but I saw a man with a clear mission and vision and was drawn to his true quest for excellence. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity I had to work with and know Horst."

Says Mike Karg, president of KARG, Inc., New York, and KARG Hairstyling + Products, "Horst Rechelbacher touched every single hairstylists and consumer by elevating their knowledge and raising the awareness of our planet. He made 'thinking green' cool, gave an image and built a household name product line. Thanks for the inspiration… rest in peace."

Keri Davis-Duffy, President of Gila Rut Aveda Salons, also shared her thoughts on Rechelbacher, stating, "I feel so blessed to have known Horst. In 1989, I went to a very small ‘in-salon’ class hosted by a friend of mine at the time. Horst was the guest artist. There were about 10 people there – and he was amazing! I think this was my first encounter with him.

"His artistry, vision and creativity took me by surprise. I had never met anyone so passionate. His message was about how we bring the beauty out in our guests from the inside out. He would talk about natural beauty and how it relates to the beauty in the world. I was so touched by his message that when I opened my first salon in 1992, Aveda was the product of choice as it still is today in our 3 Aveda Lifestyle locations.

"It has always been important for us to align our business with a company that believes in making this world a better, healthier and more beautiful place. I was able to spend some brief time with Horst this last October at the Aveda Congress Show. He had just opened his art studio and we went to the opening. It was beautiful… the aromas were bursting out of the building and it was perfect! Horst changed the world we live in and the way we look at and create beauty. His legacy will live on!"

President of arteasecolors, Gerd Hoher, stated, "Growing up in the same place as Horst, I shared some of the same visions and passions. Horst Rechelbacher followed his dream. His passion for people, hair and everything that revolves around it, was an inspiration for all of us that work and love this industry. There are no borders. His success speaks for itself."

Robert Reed, founder of ERGO Research, Inc., who met Rechelbacher nearly two decades ago, says, "I remember the first time I met Horst, around 1986 in New Orleans at the Global Hair Show. The show featured Paul Mitchell, Luis Llongueras from Spain, Simon Forbes of Dome, Yosh Toya, Sam Brocato and many others. I was surrounded by icons I had heard of for many years, but was about to meet the greatest one yet.

"At the time, I was President of Hikari and when I came back to my exhibit, Horst was sitting in my chair literally fondling the scissors in my display. He looked up at me and said: 'You obviously know what great is. We should work together making scissors.' And we did!

I developed a scissor for him called the 'Silver Star,' now a keepsake for all Aveda followers lucky enough to own them.
I loved the focus on excellence that Horst brought to our industry and appreciated that he always looked through the eyes of the hairdresser first. I will remember him fondly and with deep respect. Heaven is certainly a greener place."

John Kaytaz of JKS International Hair Care Products says, "Horst will be remembered as bringing multi-background, individually-owned salons together under one vision (umbrella), which no other entity has achieved… [Through his] product vision, [and] concept salon (including tools for the professional) he has created and kept the same structure [from the 1990's] until now. Horst and his team have definitely put a signature [on the] last 20 years. He will be missed."

Rechelbacher's ideals touched beauty professionals far and wide, and not only actual hairstylists, but any and all who had a connection to the industry. Says Carol A. Ientile, President of C.I. Visions Public Relations, "More than thirty years ago at the start of my career as a beauty publicist, I had the honor of a lunch with client Christopher Brooker, Artistic Director at Vidal Sassoon, and an introduction to his friend and fellow hairdresser, Horst Rechelbacher, who was then making early waves with Aveda. It was a magical moment – Horst shared his leading edge ideas for the future of beauty care products, touting the benefits of natural herbs and plant extracts and the importance of both earth and people-friendly ingredients and their far reaching impact. It was a life-changing moment, stirring my own passion for supporting a more natural approach, to not only the beauty clients I represented, but my own personal life.Those seeds became the impetus of a new movement and approach to hair and beauty care with wide-reaching effects that are today the foundation of how major companies and brands create and market products and how individuals share a personal responsibility for our future. Horst is resting in peace, but his visionary ideas and education are living on and shaping generations to come in health and wellness."

Says the Breast Cancer Fund and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, "[We] extend our deepest, most heartfelt condolences to Horst Rechelbacher’s entire family for the loss of such an important role model and great man. As the founder of the plant-based cosmetic companies Aveda Corporation and Intelligent Nutrients, Horst was a true pioneer in advancing the concept of safe cosmetics. At his most recent company, Intelligent Nutrients, he set the highest bar in the personal care industry by using only 100 percent food-based, safe and organic ingredients.

"Horst was one of the earliest, most enthusiastic supporters of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Given the synergies between the work of the Campaign and his life’s mission of making safe, non-toxic cosmetics, we made a good team.

"He gave generously to the Campaign in terms of advice, strategic thinking and financial and emotional support, serving as a sounding board and providing steadfast encouragement for our work. He was unafraid to make bold statements and take bold positions to push the cosmetics industry to make safer products. Horst believed so deeply in our work that he would hand out our brochures that announced a “free gift of toxic chemicals with every cosmetic purchase” at industry meetings and workshops, much to the chagrin of his more mainstream peers. He loved our “Story of Cosmetics” video so much, he would show it at posh events, during conference keynotes and at store openings. He inspired countless people to become advocates and start businesses dedicated to making safer products.

"Horst was in many ways the father of safe cosmetics – he took action to address the problem long before most of us knew there was anything to even worry about. Over the past decade, with Horst at our side, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has helped to energize a movement of people who are now holding cosmetics companies accountable for the safety of the chemicals they use, and demanding the government takes seriously its responsibility to safeguard the health of its citizens.

"In 2011, the Breast Cancer Fund awarded Horst our Hero award to recognize his leadership and vision in demonstrating what’s possible: safe cosmetics that are healthy for people, for the planet and for business profits, too.

"Everyone at the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, including Clean Water Action, Women’s Voices for the Earth, Friends of the Earth and the Breast Cancer Fund, extend our deepest thanks and gratitude to Horst. He will be missed.

Tributes to Horst Rechelbacher from the environmental health community:

"It was Horst Rechelbacher who first explained to me how the cosmetics industry worked. And he did that the way I think he did everything else — through elegant story telling that combined Horst the Artist, Horst the Business Executive, Horst the Philanthropist and Horst the Passionate Advocate for a Healthier World. Every baby born today is a little bit closer to health because of Horst Rechelbacher."
Charlotte Brody, RN 
Vice President for Health Initiatives, BlueGreen Alliance and Co-Founder, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

"I will be forever grateful for Horst’s support of my book and our work at the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. 'Cosmetics should be safe enough to eat,' Horst said during our interview for my book. 'If you wouldn’t put it in your body, why would you put it on your body?' Horst had a knack for speaking truth in ways that made the truth so clear, obvious and hard to ignore. His unrelenting commitment to safer products changed the face of the beauty industry, and he inspired countless others to take up the task. Thank you Horst for believing in and investing in the possibilities for making the world a healthier place."

Stacy Malkan
Author, “Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry”
 Co-Founder, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

"Ten years ago, just after we launched the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, we set out to build a list of the movers and shakers in the cosmetic industry. Many of us were seasoned advocates, but the cosmetic industry was new to us. We wanted to learn who we were up against in our goal to get toxic chemicals out of products.
That's when we first learned about Horst. As we dug into corporate websites and recent news stories, we found industry executives defending the safety of cosmetics, time and time again, story after story. And then we found Horst, in the national media, pushing back against the status quo:  'There are sixty known carcinogens in cosmetics. And they're still used. It's astonishing that the FDA simply does not care about that.'

"We knew we had found an ally, a strong voice speaking out for change. Horst was an early and staunch supporter of our work, an inspiration to the campaign, and a champion for public health. We will miss him."

Jane Houlihan
Former VP of Research, Environmental Working Group, 
Architect of Skin Deep database, 
Co-Founder, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

"I remember seeing Horst speak at the Natural Beauty Summit in New York and finding it remarkable how bold and honest he was about the toxic state of the industry in a room full of conventional companies that all were there to congratulate themselves on how 'sustainable' their products were (they were working on their carbon footprint, but not on the toxic chemicals in their products).
"None of them were willing to name the elephant in the room until Horst stood up and quite simply and eloquently told the truth—the reason the natural and organic cosmetics industry was growing by double digits was because people want safe, healthy, natural, truly sustainable products for their families. This was something Horst knew when he started Aveda and Intelligent Nutrients and this was the wisdom he shared with us at the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. His vision, leadership and generosity have helped ensure a healthier and safer world for us all. Thank you Horst. You will be missed."

Lisa Archer 
Director, Friends of the Earth Food and Technology Program
Co-Founder, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

"In November 2007 Horst invited the entire steering committee of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics to the original Aveda spa and Osceola Retreat Center in St. Croix for one of our best planning meetings ever. He invited us to his home and treated us to an Indian feast, giving us a tour of his private art collection, wine cellar and aromatherapy mixing room and regaling us with war stories about the early days when he was considered an upstart in the beauty industry because he complained about styrene in hair spray.

"With Horst’s help, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has been at the forefront of efforts to move the beauty industry in a life-affirming direction for the past decade educating millions of people in the United States and around the world about the problem of toxic chemicals in cosmetics and the availability of safer alternatives and pressuring major manufacturers to reformulate toxic products and move toward safer production.  Horst was truly a great and kind man, whose spirit will live on through all of us who were forever changed by his vision and his work."

Janet Nudelman 
Program Director, Breast Cancer Fund, 
Co-Founder, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

"Horst was a huge force standing up for organic integrity in personal care, who always kept organic agriculture and ingredient purity front and center. Various interests tried to water down standards, but Horst held the line for all of us. His organic ethics as well as philanthropic generosity was an inspiration and example for all to follow.  
Rest in Peace Horst, thank you."

David Bronner and the Dr. Bronner’s team
Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps

"Horst was a pioneer, a hero, an unforgettable presence for good in our world. He will be so missed."

Judi Shils 
Co-Founder, Teens Turning Green

"The loss of Horst is strongly felt; we became close friends over the past 6-7 years since we met when I served as director of The Organic Center. He was a staunch supporter of GMO labeling and organic.

"I just published a blog about Horst, plus we released in January a 14-minute video clip of an armchair interview we conducted with Horst in April 2012 when he was our featured guest in Boulder as part of our At the Epicenter entrepreneurship speaker series. It’s a great segment on his philosophies and approach to business and life and reflects his caring for people and the planet. Our companies, Compass Natural and Best Organics, have been producing the At the Epicenter green entrepreneurship speaker series for the past four years, and we had the great honor and pleasure of hosting Horst and his wife Kiran in Boulder for his sellout talk, not to mention a few days spent together."

Steven Hoffman, Compass Natural
 Seleyn DeYarus, Best Organics

"Though I didn't know him well, Horst made a lasting impression on me. I fondly remember when a group of environmental health advocates met for a couple of days at Horst's Osceola Retreat Center. We had a really productive time, and a lot of fun. Being in Horst's company in that extremely cool, cultivated space was just amazing. I loved seeing his pack of rescued dogs drinking from a huge water fountain. When he saw me, a huge animal lover, hanging out with them by the fountain he asked me if I had animals of my own, and suggested that I too put organic rose petals in their water fountain every day.  I couldn't promise that, but I loved the suggestion. And I still have a vial of rose oil he gave me on that trip, made from the petals of thousands of organic roses. He promised it'd help me find love. I'm not sure if that was the magic elixir or not, but I did find long lasting love. Thanks, Horst!

"Horst was a true visionary and a fascinating man. I am so grateful for his total candor; He brought much needed, refreshingly honest dialogue to the cosmetics industry. He walked the walk and wasn't intimidated by huge challenges or breaking from convention. No one will ever be able to fill Horst's shoes, but I promise to keep bringing truth to the industry, and to keep pushing for ingredient innovation, safety, and better sourcing."

Mia Davis 
Vice President, BeautyCounter, 
Former grassroots coordinator, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

"Horst was a rare type of man. He was generous, knowledgable, and kind. He acted upon his visions and dreams, and gifted those around him with that same spirit. He will be missed, but never forgotten."

Ian Illuminato 
Friends of the Earth

"It was March 2005 and I was launching my company, Plum Organics at the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, CA. On the 2nd day of the trade show, a man wearing a black silk tunic with an aura of jasmine stopped to talk to me. He complimented me on my brand and gave me his card with the invitation to reach out for advice and support if I was interested. 
After he walked away from my booth, I looked at the card he had handed me and saw his name with the words, “Founder of Aveda”.  A huge fan of Aveda, I was naturally flattered that he stopped to talk with me.  
"Nearly a year and many email exchanges later, we sat down to lunch at Cipriani in Soho, New York City. He asked how my company was doing and shared with me his latest project, Intelligent Nutrients.  He spoke of “food grade” ingredients for personal care, “shampoo you can drink”, “soap you can eat”. This was more than 8 years ago and his vision evaded me as I wasn’t very knowledgeable about environmental health and the toxins in our products then.  My focus at the time was centered on organic food.

"We continued our exchange over email and would always stop to catch-up at the various trade shows. Over the years, I came to learn much more about environmental health and often reflected on that conversation over lunch as his vision became clearer to me as I educated myself. I can only claim to be a casual acquaintance of Horst’s at best, but am privileged to have shared those few moments with him. While there is surely a void left with his passing, it is also overflowing with the largeness of the contributions he has made to this world."

Gigi Lee Chang 
Founder, Plum Organics, 
CEO, Healthy Child Healthy World

To share your memories or leave your thoughts, please email [email protected].

Image: Intelligent Nutrients

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