Tell us about your career before launching natural skincare brand Biconi.
I like to say I grew up in an office, because I spent so much time in my parent’s one after school. My sisters and I always helped out with filing, paperwork and making rounds of coffee. You could say this gave me early exposure to entrepreneurship! Originally from Malaysia, I spent my childhood years in Kuala Lumpur and have clocked up years in the US, London and Singapore since leaving home.
I spent the first seven years of my career in advertising agencies before deciding that I wanted to strike out on my own. I didn’t have a particular calling at the time. All I knew was that I wanted to break away from the corporate world.
What’s the story behind the birth of Biconi?
The Biconi story started when my father was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2008. At that time, our family was in the midst of experimenting with a little-known fruit called noni. Noni is native to Southeast Asia and have been used in traditional Malay medicine for centuries, but it only came on our radar recently when my mother was looking for a natural health supplement to cope with her diabetes.
What started out as a small batch of soap bars blended with our homemade noni enzyme to help my father during his chemotherapy treatments, turned into a lifelong passion for my mother and myself when we were able to see firsthand how effective something as simple as a natural bar of soap can be.
We shared the soap bars with our nearest and dearest, and we soon started getting calls for more. It took us a few years to get our act together, because, to be honest, we didn’t really see ourselves as beauty entrepreneurs at first. But as I kept talking to those who had used our soap bars, and hearing about the positive effects they’d experienced, I realised the impact we were making. That was the beginning of Biconi.
Why the name ‘Biconi’?
We started Biconi to pay homage to our heritage. That wasn’t hard to do with all the amazing biodiversity we have in our own backyard! Biconi is a fusion of words with the BI honouring my mom, Blan, who started it all – CO for coconut and NI for noni. Our name is also our promise, and we make sure we add virgin coconut oil and our Biconi noni enzyme into our products whenever possible.
“As I kept talking to those who had used our soap bars, and hearing about the positive effects they’d experienced, I realised the impact we were making – and that was the beginning of Biconi.”
How do you source and produce your skincare?
It varies by product but it all starts at the same point, which is finding quality partners we can work with for the long term. We make some products ourselves, but we also acknowledge that there are experts who are more experienced than we could ever be. We choose to work with local suppliers not only to reduce our carbon footprint, but also to give back to the local community.
Our product formulation at Biconi really starts with our customers telling us what they want. Following that, I spend a lot of time researching what’s out there and how we can do better. With my training as a natural skincare formulator, my focus is to make sure we develop effective products using the most natural ingredients. Since we would never test on animals, our friends and family get to test our prototypes instead!
What is one product from the Biconi range you use without fail?
Can I be cheeky and name two? They are my absolute essentials! The Hair Revitalising Shampoo Bar for my daily shampoo, and the Glow Facial Serum as a facial oil after cleansing.
What key lessons have you learnt so far on your entrepreneurial journey?
It’s incredibly tough but at the same time very rewarding. Launching a new brand and pitting yourself against the giants of the beauty industry is a daunting thing. Then again, it all feels like a cause worth fighting for when our customers share how much our products have helped them.
From the moment we started Biconi, I knew that we wanted to focus on ingredients from Asia. The price of this focus is that we face an uphill challenge not only from consumers who have long-held beliefs that imported products are always better, but also from sourcing quality and safe ingredients.
What inspires you to continue doing what you do?
I love sharing how you can achieve great hair and skin naturally to just about anyone who will listen! Knowing that I’m able to help just one more person keeps me going.
How do you take steps in your daily life to live a little more consciously?
I ask myself what I can do better with my daily routine, and start with simple questions like, “Do I really need to keep the water running while I shampoo?” or “Do I really need another dress?” I don’t always get it right the first time around, but getting into the habit of asking myself these questions has given me perspective.
Finally, what tips would you give to other women who want to #shopmeaningfully?
Buy local, choose products with minimal packaging and take a look at the number of products you already have in the bathroom. Some are redundant. For example, a good facial serum can double up as an eye cream so you can get away with one product instead of two. This helps cut down over consumption and saves you money at the same time.
“Buy local, choose products with minimal packaging and take a look at the number of products you already have in the bathroom.”
Susannah believes better design can help create a brighter future. A former magazine editor, she now runs ZERRIN and works at the intersection of consumers, brands and sustainability advocacy.