MINNEAPOLIS — Horst M. Rechelbacher, the founder of Aveda and a self-proclaimed “student” of nature, died on Feb. 15 at his home in Osceola, Wis., after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 72 years old.
Rechelbacher was a pioneer in the now-mainstream sustainable health and beauty industry. He founded Aveda in 1978 with a vision for plant-based products. He grew the company into a powerhouse, and led the movement toward the use of organic ingredients, fair-trade sourcing, aromatherapy and recycled packaging along with numerous other innovations.
Born in Klagenfurt, Austria, on Nov. 11, 1941, he began apprenticing as a hairdresser at 14. He came to the United States and specifically to Minneapolis in 1964. After being injured in a car accident, he remained in Minnesota to take care of his medical expenses and opened his first Horst & Friends Salon in 1965. He first introduced his line of shampoos in 1977, the first plant-based beauty line, which became Aveda. His legacy includes the Aveda Concept Salons and the Aveda Institute and ushering in a new consciousness in the beauty and wellness industry.
When Rechelbacher sold Aveda to The Estee Lauder Cos. in 1997, it was then the largest sale of its kind. His focus then shifted to Intelligent Nutrients, where he continued to pioneer in the beauty industry — this time focusing on certified organic products using food-grade ingredients and plant stem-cell science, and continuing his life-long vision of creating safer, healthier products for consumers and the planet. In 2012, he turned the co-presidency of the company to his longtime partner Kiran Stordalen and daughter Nicole Thomas.
Rechelbacher was recognized as one of the most notable Austrians living in America by the Austrian press, along with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Wolfgang Puck. Vanity Fair magazine honored him as one of the most influential environmentalists in the United States in 1995 and again in 2005. He is one of the three original founders of Business for Social Responsibility, which focused its mission on business and the sustainability of all living species. In 2004, he became a founding member of the Organic Center, a nonprofit dedicated to organic education, research and promotion. The North American Hairdressers Association honored him with the Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2007, the International Congress of Esthetics and Spa presented Horst with the Crystal Award. Rechelbacher also received the Rachel Carson Award for a Lifetime Commitment to Environmental Ethics & Integrity. Also in 2007, the Spa & Salon Professional Association honored him as an Industry Innovator and Legend for his lifetime contribution to the cosmetology industry. The Twin Cities Business Magazine inducted Horst into their 2008 Minnesota Business Hall of Fame, acknowledging his contributions and recognizing him as one of the states’ most accomplished business leaders of all time. In 2009, the President of Austria awarded Horst the "Decoration of Honour in Gold for Services to the Republic of Austria."