‘I am what I eat’, or ‘what I wear’ now also pertains to “what I apply”. ‘Green’ features are now more important in cosmetics purchasing deliberations than low prices and strong brand names. Nearly six in ten buyers prefer natural ingredients, even if this impacts on price.

From sustainable sourcing and traceability of ingredients, biodiversity protection, water conservation and reduction of waste to landfill, consumers are calling upon brands to act. But is a thought being given to those who work in the factories that make these cosmetics? For their welfare handling the toxic chemicals found in mainstream cosmetics? At Acala, we are proud to know all our makers by name and understand their ethos, their working conditions, ingredients and supply chains.

In this series, we are talking to all the makers behind the products we stock on Acala showing you #whomademycosmetics

In this first interview, we talk to David Reccole of Zao Cosmetics on starting Zao, how he ensures his ingredients are sustainably sourced and products are ethically made. As well as his plans for the brands future.

p.s. David has installed a pool in Zao’s offices that employees can use whenever they want. If we weren’t sold on Zao’s ethics before, we are now! ;)

Tell us a bit about you. What motivated you to start a sustainable business?

My background is in engineering, I spent 10 years in R&D for the automotive industry. Couldn’t be further from what I am doing now in terms of industry! Then in 2000 had the opportunity to run a cosmetics factory in the south of France.

One of the brands we worked with was L’Occitane. In 2001 we worked with them to launch a new product line that required certain ingredients. They provided us with shea butter to use in the product, made by a women's group in Burkina Faso. L’Occitane were working closely with this group as part of the social aspect of their business.

Using natural ingredients like Shea Butter was new for the factory - we normally used synthetic ingredients. The Shea Butter worked really well and I realised this was a real opportunity for the factory to start to incorporate more natural ingredients into its products. However, my boss had no interest in going in this direction, which didn’t sit right with me.

So, in 2002, I left and founded my first natural cosmetics business Couleur Caramel. I had realised that my passion was cosmetics, but cosmetics that appeal to the conscious consumer. I wanted to create products that did good both for those that wore them and the environment. With Couleur we made sure that all our packaging aligned with the brand vision - we used kraft cartons to package products – but for me this wasn’t the end solution. I wanted to create packaging that was longer lasting and refillable. My goal was to eliminate single use packaging.

With this in mind, a book full of ideas and wanting a new challenge, in 2010 I sold my half of Couleur. Shortly after, the idea for Zao came to me. I was in Taiwan and a friend gifted me with a set of pens encased in bamboo with just the thinnest lining of recyclable plastic to hold the ink. I thought if this can be done with a pen, why not a mascara, eyeliner or lipstick.  I already had the ability to make the natural, organic products for the brand having set up a cosmetics factory in Milan a few years earlier that focused purely on natural and organic cosmetics. And so Zao was born. We launched in 2012 with a focus on refillable packaging to eliminate waste.

What are your plans for Zao? Where do you want the brand to go? 

I cannot say that my plan is to grow Zao in terms of turnover, it’s not what is important to me. Or to any of us at Zao. Our brand is the story of a small team of friends who have the same belief. Our commercial team is less than 50 people. We love what we do, and the joy for us is in creating new products within the brand. To bring new innovations to the market. Our goal is to create products that are both good for people and the planet. Zao is not only a big part of my professional life but also my personal life.

I would love to have a few shops in the bigger cities around the world- not only for Zao products but for other conscious cosmetics brands as well. I’d love to have a resident makeup artist and to train people to make products themselves – to help people immerse themselves in the world of sustainable cosmetics.

The position of our brand in society is also really important to me and key to Zao’s future. We are involved in the Social Beauticians society in France. Through this we sponsor hospitals to help patients feel great when they are in hospital- providing make-up and artists. We also, work with ex-prison inmates to help them increase their confidence and reintegrate into society – using make-up top help them change their self- image and to turn their lives around. We’ve seen some amazing results!

Ultimately the future for us is to continue being a brand led by our actions, rather than words. By what’s good for society and the environment, rather than what’s good for our profit margins and commercial growth.

How do you ensure your supply chain is sustainable and ethical?

 Although Zao is only 6 years old been working with my supply chain for 17 years and have intimate relationships with all my suppliers. 

The bamboo factory where we manufacture Zao’s packaging I set up myself in China, alongside a Chinese friend, and I know the bamboo producers personally. My friend now runs the factory and the employees are all stakeholders in the business. They play an integral part in how it is run.

All Zao’s products are made in the Milan factory I co-own. Having only one supplier for all our products makes it much easier to control the ingredients supply chain and we uphold all our ingredients suppliers to our high standards. We have a strict enquiry and research phase that we complete before taking suppliers on. We do use controversial products such as Mica for example, but our Mica supplier is certified sustainable.

It is of course hard to fully understand the impact of some ingredients i.e. Palm oil and glycerine from Palm. Boards such as RSPO should guarantee that all palm extracts come from sustainable sources rather than rainforests. This can be hard to track though, so as much as possible we tried to avoid controversial ingredients like this. For example, we use coconut oil for our glycerine rather than palm oil.

 Zao's refills still use plastic packaging. Could you tell us a bit more about this decision and your plans to continue working to improve the sustainability of your packaging?

I know this was one of the biggest areas of concern for Acala before we started working together and I agree, it is not the best feature of Zao. However, we are currently working on the solution and in 2019 will switch to purely biodegradable Kraft cartons for all our refill packaging. To be clear though, the plastic we are currently using is 100% recyclable so should not end up in landfill.

What are your top tips for living a more sustainable/conscious lifestyle?

Give up meat. I gave up meat 1.5 years ago for environmental reasons as I just cannot support the environmental damage that animal agriculture is having. I love cooking at home, seasonal dishes using locally sourced ingredients. I think this is my biggest tip- what you eat is so important for you and the environment. So, explore cooking more at home with local ingredients.  

If you could say anything to the CEO's of all big cosmetics brands what would it be?

I found this your most surprising question, as well as the most difficult to answer. Many of the big brands have purchased small organic brands, so they understand that organic and natural is the future. Increasingly, bigger and bigger brands are entering this space and demand for organic cosmetics is increasing at a much faster rate than for conventional beauty products. In my opinion this is already a huge step forwards.

I am concerned though, that with the introduction of the ISO Standard 16128 certification that defines organic/natural in a not so stringent way as existing certifications like COSMOS, ECOcert or Soil Association that this could create confusion for consumers. It is not easy to develop truly organic and ECO certified products. These big companies could try to avoid these more stringent certifications and opt for ISO 16128 bringing lower quality products into the market.

BUT, I’m an optimistic guy, I think it is still a good step forward. For me, the most important thing is to see more sustainably sourced organic and natural products on the market.

Thanks so much for talking to us David!

Shop Zao products here.

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