A cosmetics manufacturer that merges tradition and technology

In 1938, Emilia Opitz-Altherr, a young woman from Appenzell, experimented with skin-care products, selling the results door-to-door. Two generations later, this homegrown business has evolved into a global manufacturer of cosmetics made to exacting standards. The St.Gallen-based company is still female-owned.

Evelyne Oechslin

Ms. Studer, why did you decide to get into the family business?

I found the international nature and the craziness of the cosmetics industry alluring. It’s a very creative, colorful space. There’s a constant influx of new materials, and no two days are ever alike. I’m a very curious person, so that appealed to me.


What product areas does your company cover?

Our final products are high-quality cosmetics and pharmaceutical products. We generate around 70% of our revenue through contract orders and 30% through our own brands. Our entire production chain is located in St.Gallen. That includes our research and development lab as well as a large range of machinery for producing the various ingredients and for packaging the products in a variety of containers. We can configure the machines to fill almost any tube, jar, or bottle.


Mila d’Opiz is a company steeped in tradition. How has work changed over the years?

There used to be hardly any regulations for ingredients or production, nor were there rules about good manufacturing practices (GMP). I can remember visiting the lipstick filling operation with my dog when I was a child. That would be unthinkable today. Standards are now very high in every area. Every process is increasingly regulated and must be precisely documented. The rules and regulations in the cosmetics industry are becoming more and more like those in pharmaceuticals.


What differentiates you from other cosmetics manufacturers?

We’re one of the few cosmetics manufacturers in Switzerland producing our cosmetics to pharmaceutical standards. We also have a wealth of expertise and experience in premium cosmetics and in pharmaceuticals. All of our production steps take place in Switzerland. We are certified by Swissmedic, so that makes sense. I would have to monitor a plant outside Switzerland just as strictly, which wouldn’t necessarily be easy everywhere. We’re also very committed to sustainability. But that has become a standard in the industry. We have a closed-loop wastewater system. We use district heating. And our products don’t involve animal testing.

“The regulations in the cosmetics industry are becoming more and more like those in pharmaceuticals.”

Do you have a favorite product?

The Skin Whisperer cream. It’s my baby, if you will. When presenting the raw materials, the experts said that they communicate with our cells. The “skin whisperer” name immediately sprang to mind. The cream is our Rolls Royce product. It contains the latest in stem-cell and anti-aging technology. I always have it with me.


What do you consider the key to your company’s success?

Our many long-standing employees, who pass on their extensive knowledge, are essential. And the consistent quality of our products. We don’t bring a product to market until we are sure it’s ready. We try to anticipate trends, but we also focus on creating products that will stand the test of time. For example, we had stem-cell products even before Michelle Obama mentioned them, setting off a flurry of media attention.

Your grandmother founded the company in 1938, as a one-woman operation. What role does tradition play today?

My grandmother lived by age-old values like honesty, graciousness, and courtesy. Her motto was “The customer is king.” These values were the foundation, and technology was layered on top. Our approach can best be described as “tradition and technology.”


What are the most important challenges for your company now? 

The pandemic had a negative impact on our business. In Switzerland, drugstores stayed open. But in Asia, for example, things were shut down for months on end. That’s one of our most important markets. Right now, we also have to contend with unauthorized, gray-market sales of our products. In the future, we intend to invest more in increasing our brand’s recognition. We need to increase our online visibility and are working on a solution here. Sustainability also remains a focus.


Your daughter is also involved with Mila d’Opiz. How are you preparing the company for the fourth generation?

My daughter Jenny studied marketing and will now gradually assume more and more responsibility. She’s been working at the company for three years and took over the very important Sales and Marketing unit in January. In three years, she’ll be able to decide for herself whether she wants to take it another step further. She does her job very well and helps where she’s needed. I love working with her. We give each other mutual inspiration – in part because we have very different perspectives.

About the company

Number of employees: 55
Founded in: 1938
Headquarters: St.Gallen
Area of activity: Development and production of cosmetics and skincare products
Noteworthy: Produces cosmetics to pharmaceutical industry standards.