Working in advertising for several years with some of the world’s biggest skincare names, Mehdi Elaichouni and Fern Lee became jaded with the industries’ unethical practices. Issues like animal testing, the use of synthetic harmful ingredients and confusing formulas were concerning, and they dreamed of something better and more transparent.
The inspiration for ANIA first came from Mehdi’s childhood in Africa. Born in Morocco, his family always used local ingredients like argan oil and rosewater in their skincare. Fern suffered from reoccurring acne until she started using argan oil (a gift from Mehdi in 2015). After discovering how effective it was, they both contemplated how it would do in Singapore.
The rest, as they say, is history. Now a few years into their brand journey, we chatted to the co-founders to find out more about their story, learning lessons and why they believe transparent business is the way forward for the skincare industry.
You both have backgrounds in advertising. So what inspired you to get into the skincare industry?
Our inspiration comes from our experience working with some of the largest beauty brands in the world during our advertising careers. We realised the industry was sick, valuing excess and in the midst of a profound moral and ethical crisis.
Tell us about the inspiration behind ANIA; the name, minimalist routine ethos and products.
ANIA is the name of a Berber princess that lived in North Africa around 120 A.D. The minute we came across the name ANIA we just fell in love with it and we immediately started to picture the beauty of this Moroccan princess. We felt that it would communicate our mission of producing timeless beauty essentials that are designed to last.
When it comes to beauty, less is more. We want to help people declutter their beauty routine, save money and time with multi-talented products so they can focus on the things that matter.
“We want to help people declutter their beauty routine, save money and time with multi-talented products so they can focus on the things that matter.”
As a conscious and clean beauty brand, what principles and criteria do you use to source your ingredients and how are the products made?
Our sourcing principles are pretty simple. Our hero ingredients such as Marula Oil, Argan Oil or Moringa Oil need to be produced and sourced from Africa. When we say ethically, it means that production of these ingredients needs to be done sustainably to preserve the environment and facilitate prosperity in the communities we source from and break the cycle of poverty.
We don’t believe in charity. Instead, we prefer working with communities and small businesses to help them grow and break the cycle of poverty.
There’s still some misunderstanding among consumers in Asia about what actually constitutes natural and organic skincare. What are the facts people should know?
The beauty industry is quite unregulated and the terms natural or organic can be pretty misleading. Especially if you don’t know what to look for. At ANIA, we call our products ‘clean’ and that means that our products are non-toxic and made without certain questionable ingredients linked to harmful health effects from hormone disruption, cancer and skin irritation. To name just a few ingredients: parabens, phthalates, PEGs, ethanolamines, styrene, polyacrylamide/acrylamide, acetaldehyde, acetonitrile, methylene chloride, benzalkonium chloride, toluene, resorcinol, acetone, BHT, BHA. The list keeps growing, and we keep an eye on the latest studies to make sure, our products are forever ‘clean’.
“At ANIA, we call our products ‘clean’ and that means that our products are non-toxic and made without certain questionable ingredients linked to harmful health effects from hormone disruption, cancer and skin irritation.”
Of course, ‘clean’ beauty comes at a price. The price of a 100% pure and organic Argan Oil differs compared to a moisturiser containing only 1% or 2% Argan Oil and 98% chemicals you don’t want. When you’re evaluating skincare claiming to be natural, look beyond the pretty packaging and the buzzwords. Read the label and ingredients carefully.
What do you wish people knew went into creating a natural skincare line?
The days and nights spent into formulating clean products, sourcing the best ingredients and building a cult brand.
Why is being an ethical, transparent business important to you?
It used to be a luxury in the past because of the high cost of ethical and transparent products. However, we’re living in an exciting time. The price difference is getting slimmer between highly industrial products made with no regards whatsoever to the planet and the people making them and ethically made products delivering a social or environmental benefit. We find that young consumers are energising this shift. Demand for sustainable goods is rising, and we want to meet those needs.
For someone reading this, who is thinking of starting their own brand, what would your advice or tips be?
Starting a socially conscious brand is incredibly inspiring and life-affirming. Especially in a time when most of the news we see and hear is profoundly depressing. However, the beauty industry is brutal. It’s crucial to have a noble mission but make sure your brand or products solve a real problem for consumers. Moreover, get yourself ready to expand your skillset and resilience because it’s going to get ugly!
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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.