Years in beauty industry: 32
Celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, Weleda pioneered natural beauty long before it was fashionable. Loraine talks to Your Beauty Industry about surviving the early years of natural beauty, the commercialisation of the natural sector and the opportunities and challenges for new and existing brands in today's natural beauty market.
"In the early '80s it was estimated that only 10% of the population had any awareness of what we now call 'green' issues"
Tell me a bit about your career background.
I joined Weleda in 1979 when the company moved lock, stock and wheelbarrow from East Sussex to Derbyshire. Between 1979-1988 and again from 1995 to the present day, I was part of the sales and marketing team in Derbyshire. In the early 1990s I was given the challenge of setting up the sales and marketing division at Weleda in New Zealand. In between, I also qualified in remedial massage and worked as a therapist incorporating aromatherapy, acupressure, reflexology, bach flower remedies and homeopathy.
Weleda is celebrating its 90th anniversary – how has it maintained its success?
True grit! Sheer determination and commitment. We have some brilliant hero products that have been around for many years - some since the very early years: Skin Food dates from 1926, Massage Balm with Arnica and Rosemary Hair Lotion date from the 1920s, Calendula Baby Oil from 1959, etc. Using only natural ingredients and working sustainably is at the very core of Weleda; part of our DNA.
While we take advantage of trends, we know who we are and what we do best and stick to it. We have such an extensive range there has always been some category that has been popular. Until about 20 years ago, the medicine side of our business was much bigger than the cosmetics side. Last but not least our success is surely down to our very loyal long-standing customers!
What have been the key changes in the beauty industry over this time?
More natural and organic competition, and nowadays - as natural and organic are so popular - even large mainstream skin care companies offer a range that purports to be natural.
"Our first, and still core, retail partners are independent health stores"Weleda was committed to natural beauty long before it was fashionable – how did you survive for so long when consumer education was so low?
Our first, and still core, retail partners are independent health stores. The individuals who own these shops are always at the forefront of health and environmental issues and their shops attract like-minded consumers. (In the early 80s it was estimated that only 10% of the population had any awareness of what we now call “green” issues).
We survived over the decades because we have a range of excellent products that actually work! Also, we have always tried to educate and inform the consumer. Over the years we have benefited from a few “media scares” – the first one I recall was that CFCs harm the ozone layer. As CFCs, before they were banned, were used in aerosols we could not keep up with the demand for our ozone-friendly pump-action spray deodorants.
How has the commercialisation of natural beauty aided Weleda, and how has the brand developed to stay successful in a now crowded market?
The commercialisation of natural beauty has been a double-edged sword – on the one hand there is more consumer demand, but there is also more competition. The Weleda brand has developed mainly as our expertise has grown. In the early days the user, particularly of creams, had to remember how much they loved natural: the colour of the creams was a bit muddy, they felt a little greasy, they would go very runny in summer and set firm in winter – but they were good for the skin and the environment!
Now we have become so adept at formulating totally natural creams they are as attractive and easy to use as any conventional cream. We even have our first vegan creams: all our Pomegranate facial care creams are suitable for vegans. Users do not have to be into green or natural, often they just want effective products to sort out skin issues. We have had to get more professional -we now offer a very comprehensive range, covering all aspects of skin care for all ages. The look too has evolved: modern contemporary packaging that reflects the quality of the products.
Do you think there is still room for natural/organic brands to launch into the beauty market?
Many small new brands appear each year, most do not last long, some stay around but very few grow beyond niche market brands. There is still scope for improvement and development among existing brands or ranges, with the possibility of improved formulations and extended lines.
There is a lot of confusion over what brands are truly natural and organic – what advice would you give to people trying to find effective natural/organic products?
It helps to get to know what the issues are - which ingredients are not sustainable, not biodegradable, potentially oestrogen-disrupting, what packaging is not environmentally-friendly, which processes could cause human and environmental damage. The list could go on.
It is a good idea to check out a company’s whole ethos, but this can be time consuming. An easier way is to go with brands that are certified by a respected independent body such as NATRUE, the Soil Association, EcoCert, BDIH; the standards of good schemes will be easily accessible on their websites.
How do you think the future of the natural beauty industry will develop?
I think the natural beauty industry will become increasingly sophisticated and more like the mainstream beauty industry with specialist sectors such as anti-ageing.