Claire Lonergan talks to beauty entrepreneur Shinji Yamasaki ’03 about style, skincare and family.
“Always be presentable” is family advice that, clearly, Shinji Yamasaki ’03 lives by. He is always impeccably dressed and is well- known for his love of suits, even sharing with Remarkable Living, a Singapore Tatler x CNA Luxury TV Series, that he owns more than 50 suits. Saying that, “if it doesn’t make you feel like a million bucks, it’s not the right suit for you.” He told The Straits Times in 2017 that “because a suit is timeless, it will always look good,” and that many of his suits were handed down from his father Paul Yamasaki. “He bought them 20 or 30 years ago and I have re-tailored them to fit. Our styles are so similar, we will even buy the same suit separately. Sometimes, we will meet wearing the same thing. Then we just look at each other and sigh.”
Being presentable however is not just about looking your best according to Shinji, who tells us that “obviously I don’t mean show up in a tux to your company camping trip.” His personal ethos is that whatever you do in life, be there fully. “If it’s a team exercise, be part of the team. If you’re going into an interview, make an effort to make a positive impression,” he says. “I think this philosophy is relevant to all aspects of life. For myself, a part of my job, and a part that I truly love, is that I travel a lot, and I meet new people all the time. Whether at conventions, interviews, or even at the gym. By being mindfully present and being a part of that exchange, it has brought a lot of personal satisfaction as well as professional growth.”
Shinji is the founder and CEO of RE:ERTH, a Singapore based nature-derived skincare brand. Founded in 2017, RE:ERTH (an abbreviation of Re-encountering Earth) roots itself in creating products that incorporate Japanese wellness principles and university-backed technology. Shinji’s brand promises easy-to-use products for all ages and skin types to achieve “mochi skin,” which Shinji defines as firm, supple, and hydrated skin that has an inner glow and brightness to it. “The key to achieving mochi skin is to first have healthy skin,” he says. His aim “is to combine effective and well researched nature-derived ingredients with cutting edge cosmetic science, to create well formulated, effective products — which he says sets them apart from other skincare brands in the market. The unique Japanese ingredients the brand utilizes are compounds found in Japanese White Turmeric and Japanese Spring Turmeric, which are only found and grown specifically in the Kyushu region. Shinji describes those proprietary ingredients as “an untouched treasure.”
The story goes that “a turmeric farmer from the Kyushu region of Japan couldn’t bear for the lush, glossy leaves of the plant to be discarded and sought help from Professor Komai, who was Head of Agriculture at Kindai University at the time, to look into its properties.” Veritas, the company owned by Shinji’s father Paul Yamasaki, began supporting that initial research which RE:ERTH now continues. Eighteen years on, the unique compounds that were discovered in the Japanese White Turmeric and Japanese Spring Turmeric have two patents — with a third pending — and Shinji continues to work with researchers and scientists from Japan and the UK to harness the restorative powers of the compounds it contains.
Although attempts have been made to replicate the compounds by growing the plants in other areas of the world, Shinji tells us that although the turmeric will grow elsewhere, it doesn’t contain the active compounds needed. He believes that there is something unique about the environment in Kyushu that encourages the plants to produce the patented ingredients the brand uses — perhaps the volcanic soil in the area. He tells us that the turmeric’s properties include the ability to brighten tired and dull skin, firm sagging skin, refine pores, diminish dark spots and bring a “RE:ERTH radiance to the skin.”
While the brand raves about their nature derived ingredients, they are also mindful of how they can be environmentally responsible. Shinji shared that the turmeric used by the brand is farmed sustainably and “just like how we are committed to preserving the land and ensuring the sustainability of our farming, we had to be 100% certain that we know exactly where our used bottles would go and how they would be recycled in the most sustainable way possible.” In 2020, RE:ERTH launched a new sustainability initiative in which they partnered with a recycling program in Singapore that allows consumers to return their used bottles. “Through our program, the plastic can be recycled in its current form, without needing to be washed, dismantled, or cleaned. A unique chemical recycling method will convert the collected bottles into a form of fuel that is non-fossil derived — an added solution to another environmental pain point. This truly green initiative will produce carbon credits, that can be used to offset carbon emissions from logistics, operations, transport, etc” Striving to be sustainable in the skincare industry is not without its challenges however. Shinji tells us “one challenge of launching a sustainable, ethical, clean, etc product is in the definition of it. There is no governing body nor set of laws that regulates any of those definitions, and so the interpretation of it is entirely up to the customer, brand, media, or distributor/retailer.”
RE:ERTH cultivates its star ingredients from Japan, and is currently headquartered in Singapore and they are also expanding into the US market. Tiffany Saito ’01 is currently the Chief Brand Executive for the US market based in California. Shinji shared that “one of my personal requirements for people to be involved with RE:ERTH is that they be firm believers in the products and brand.” Tiffany and Shinji maintained a friendship since they both attended ASIJ and he told us that she actually started out as a user of the products and loved them before signing on to join the business.
Shinji was born and raised in Tokyo, attending ASIJ from the Nursery-Kindergarten in Nakameguro to Grade 12. He recently connected with Nick Harris ’05, as a guest on his Tokyo Alumni Podcast in February 2021 where he went into detail about his experiences since graduation. He shared with Nick that friendships are the elements of ASIJ that he remembers most. He went on to say that “we all had somewhat of a similar background all being international; we all came from different places of the world. For the overwhelming majority of the time we all got along together which is really very rare.” He went on to say that he hasn’t seen connections between people like the ones formed at ASIJ, which is what he finds most special. Beyond lasting friendships, Shinji told us that he thinks his passion for fitness can be traced back to ASIJ and John Seevers’ (FF ’97–17) strength training class in high school, and that one of his most memorable classes was Japan Seminar and its trip to Okinawa. Shinji was interested to learn that ASIJ now offers entrepreneurship courses in high school but admitted that he “didn’t know what I wanted to do in high school or really even college to be honest” so that even if such entrepreneurship courses had been offered when he was in school he’s not sure he would have signed up for them.
That said, Shinji did soon migrate to studying business, heading to Bentley University near Boston after ASIJ, before going on to receive his graduate degree in International Business from London Metropolitan University. He worked in various fields before joining his family’s firm in 2011, including finance, insurance, and the healthcare/medical device industries but shares with Authority Magazine that “nothing really stuck.”
He goes on to say that, “I was living in New York at the time, and due to several circumstances, I thought I’d give the family business in the beauty industry a try, and I haven’t looked back since!” In addition to his work with RE:ERTH, Shinji has an active role in his family’s company, Veritas Ltd. He is currently the Director of Business Development at Veritas and his primary responsibility is finding new and innovative products that are a good fit for the company, as well as the Japanese market, and developing a strong relationship with its brand owners and manufacturers.
Shinji’s father, Paul Yamasaki, founded Veritas almost 30 years ago with his wife Afifah Yamasaki and her sister Farida Rahman ’68. Paul is the CEO and currently the only founder who remains active in the business. The company specializes in the importation, distribution, and sale of international beauty and health products, as well as medical devices in Japan. According to Shinji they “currently have exclusive rights to many different brands and products from countries across the globe, including the United States, United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and Israel. Many of the products that we carry are available at drug stores, variety shops, department stores, hair and nail salons, nationwide, as well as online, TV, and on a direct sales, B2C basis.”
Family is obviously really important to Shinji and he shared with us that his father is one of his biggest inspirations. Paul was a long-term member of ASIJ’s Board of Directors, serving between 1993–2003, and a member of the Board of Trustees from 2004–2016. Shinji told Authority Magazine about the importance of family support and that he believes that there is no such thing as being self-made. “There is always somebody somewhere that helped you out, took a chance on you at some point, or invested in you. For me, throughout my career, I have definitely learned a lot from each and every boss, as well as many of the colleagues that I’ve worked with, and I am very grateful to each of them. However, if I had to choose the most influential people in my life and that I am most grateful for, it would without a doubt be my parents, and of course particularly in regards to my career, my father.”