Green beauty is on the rise, but there’s still a lot of nuances and not a lot of straight answers when it comes to ‘green beauty’. The conversation surrounding this topic is always about whether a product is ‘natural’. It rarely highlights the efficacy of that botanical or where and how that green goodness is sourced.
So who better to chat with and get some clarity on the topic than Jené Roestorf, founder of green skincare brand, LUXE Botanics. She’s a biological scientist from South Africa and is deeply passionate about conveying nature’s healing abilities through skincare. Jené’s focus on cutting-edge green chemistry provides natural solutions to our skin issues while making sure it also uplifts the communities that work hard to grow and harvest the very botanicals it’s made from.
Was there anything in particular that inspired you to make skincare products and start LUXE Botanics?
I’ve always been that friend you ask for skincare advice. So it was no surprise to my friends when I started LUXE Botanics. Growing up with acne, and seeing both my mother and grandmother affected by the same skin concerns, I had to learn how to take good care of my skin from a very young age. Because of my skin conditions, I have tried and tested almost everything. From topical treatments and pharmaceutical medications, various skincare formulations, differing facial protocols, multiple dermatological peels, lasers, dermabrasion and needle treatments. Ultimately, it was the shift to natural beauty, paired with a gluten-free, high protein, high fat, low carbohydrate diet and dermatological treatments once a year that changed my skin for the better. This was around the time I started R&D for LUXE Botanics, seeing the benefits of going natural.
You grew up in South Africa. Can you share how this has influenced your ingredients sourcing and the communities/partners you worked with?
Growing up in a biologically diverse, culturally rich continent instilled in me a deep reverence for nature and respect for science. These two key principles are embedded in my personal ‘why’ and mission in life, which has ultimately formed the ethos of LUXE Botanics.
Of course, I evaluate ingredients from a scientific perspective. But it goes hand-in-hand with how I look deeper into harvesting and sourcing practices. I want to ensure they are both sustainable and ethical and I will not formulate with ingredients that do not meet both criteria. As it turns out, this is quite a high bar to meet! There are many wonderful ingredients in nature. However, if we cannot source them sustainably and in a way that uplifts the harvesting community, then I won’t use them.
How do you choose to communicate green skincare’s efficacy to today’s consumers? Do you feel the emphasis on science and innovative methods are as crucial as the ingredients? How do you strike a balance?
In the past few years, consumer education on beauty and skincare is limited to whether the ingredients are ‘natural’ or ‘naturally derived’. But now, more consumers are questioning the source of their ingredients. We have a real opportunity to have a more meaningful conversation about both how we source that natural ingredient and its scientific credentials. We need to pivot the conversation from asking if something is “natural” to “what can this do for my skin while also protecting the environment and underprivileged communities?”.
What are your thoughts on the natural beauty industry and its lack of regulation around terms like ‘natural’ or ‘organic’? What standards does LUXE Botanics follow?
Given my clinical background and experience, I am a strong supporter of stringent regulations when it comes to the language used in the beauty space. There is a huge amount of greenwashing happening. Especially that the bigger brands have realized how aware the average consumer is about the benefits of natural ingredients. This, coupled with their inclination to choose more consciously, support sustainable brands and fight packaging pollution, is causing a rise in false marketing.
These brands have co-opted terms like “clean” and “green” in their marketing when in most cases they are far from it. There is an example of a large multinational right now advertising their products as “green beauty” in Singapore, yet their formulations only contain 2-5 natural ingredients in less than 1% of the formulation. They are taking advantage of a newly educated consumer base to the detriment of smaller, truly green beauty brands. Without regulation, we can do nothing to defend ourselves.
Following that, are there any natural beauty myths you could debunk for readers?
Something I see a lot in Singapore marketing is advertising a particular ingredient as if that’s the active ingredient in the formulation. However, if you read the ingredients label, it’s often one of the lowest percentage ingredients. This means it’s not at a level that is active. So essentially, they are wasting a good ingredient in a formulation where it has no use. Easy tip: if that ingredient is the active ingredient in the formula, it will be one of the first few ingredients listed.
How has the pandemic affected LUXE Botanics’ suppliers and/or your plans for this year?
I’ve been quite worried about how the pandemic has impacted our African and Brazilian suppliers. Their countries do not have robust healthcare systems to tackle the virus. That’s why we started our Give Up For Good campaign in April 2020. We wanted to raise funds for healthcare centres in Kenya to provide them with much needed medical equipment and training. You can help us by donating as little as 52c, on the Giving Back page of our website. It will provide a stethoscope and thermometer. We are very proud that to date we’ve seen close to 800 donations.
All our retail partners have had to close their doors around the world. This has negatively affected our partnership sales for sure. We’re still grateful our direct to consumer channels have rebounded quite well. Since we have a global reach, we’ve not been so dependent on one particular market to keep us afloat. These next few months, potentially another year ahead, are going to be very tough, but I am still hopeful.
What other challenges have you had to face throughout your journey as a green skincare entrepreneur?
It’s been a journey full of new learnings, but one that I wouldn’t change. Personally I’ve had to learn that I cannot do everything on my own. Nor am I good at all of it, and it’s made me learn to be ok with asking for help. As hard as it is to work across multiple geographies in a small global business, I’ve also realised that the advantage of having a global business is that you can hire global talent and work with the best suppliers no matter where they are. Collaboration has helped us grow immensely.
What do you hope to see from a post-pandemic beauty industry?
I hope that more consumers will have found their voice and will feel empowered to use it more often. Only when we demand sustainable, ethical and transparent business practices from large multinationals can we see it happen. We need your help to change this industry for the better. Our voices are much louder when they are amplified by yours.
You’ve always featured diverse skin tones in your campaigns for LUXE Botanics, which we admire. How do you feel the skincare industry needs to become more diverse and inclusive?
I grew up during apartheid South Africa. Witnessing firsthand the injustice against people of colour as a privileged white female made me realise how I wanted to even the scales in an unjust world. I started LUXE Botanics out of awe for the incredible botanicals I discovered across the globe and to bring justice. Our botanicals currently uplift communities in Africa and Brazil, providing them with the means to live sustainably. So, it was never a question of whether our campaigns would feature individuals across different races, genders and age groups. Instead, it was how we could reflect the communities who make LUXE possible as well as to reflect the LUXE customer in how we communicate.
Over the last few years, so many amazing brands have emerged with a more diverse customer base in mind. These brands were all pioneered by founders who’ve seen the need for more diversity and representation of all genders, races and cultures. This is exactly how LUXE started! In my mind, these make the most authentic brands because they were made with the customers’ needs top of mind. There’s a greater sense of kinship with the customer, being able to tell them “I get you.”
As an industry, we are making progress. Yet, we see every obstacle as opportunities to grow. We need to recognise that there is a fine balance. As an industry, we shouldn’t be exploiting inclusivity and diversity as a marketing tactic. It should instead be a true part of a brand’s story, how it innovates and its ethos.
We do see positive shifts happen, and for some this has been a hard pill to swallow. However, it was a much-needed reminder for us all that we have more power in our hands than we believe. I hope as a result we will start to see better business and better brands spill over into society everywhere.
With a background in fashion and textiles, Durva is an ardent photographer and advocate of social justice. She enjoys writing about fashion, socio-political issues within sustainability and partakes in the occasional 'who wore it better' banter on Diet Prada.