CEW France spotlights the potential of startups amidst big beauty brands
Cosmetic Executive Women (CEW) is an international organization for females who call the shots in the beauty industry. We covered a panel discussion held by CEW’s French arm on November 19, 2019, in an auditorium in Chanel’s Paris headquarters.
A prominent figure at the event’s talk session was Odile Roujol, ex-Lancôme CEO and founder of the FaB (Fashion and BeautyTech) Community that connects entrepreneurs and investors in the beauty and fashion industries.
Roujol was joined in the discussion by two other female entrepreneurs: Isabelle Rabier, co-founder of “Jolimoi ”, a personal shopping service with an original AI matching system that also incorporates human stylists to help match cosmetics better to each customer; and Carole Juge, co-founder of “Joone ”, a company that sells baby care products that have breathed new life into the industry with their superior functionality and thorough transparency of the manufacturing process. Laurence Moulin, the director of CEW France, acted as moderator.
An association for female executives who work in the beauty industry, CEW was started in the US in 1954, with subsequent chapters being established in France and England in 1986 and 1992 respectively. Currently, CEW has expanded to 30 countries around the world and has 10,000 members. Through their social events, lectures, and survey reports that aim to cultivate greater knowledge and career opportunities in the industry, CEW is creating opportunities for women executives to develop their network. Additionally, although the association began with female members only, from 2010 they started accepting male members as well.
The first topic of discussion for the day touched on the differences between Silicon Valley and France. Roujol revealed how in Silicon Valley various ecosystems and cultures mix freely together, and there’s an environment where employees from major corporations such as Oracle, Google, and Facebook will make time to have a face-to-face chat with you, even if you’re just a recently-formed startup.
On the other hand, in France, the boundary between startups and major corporations isn’t quite as low. Roujol held up the example of Europe’s largest tech event Viva Technology that’s held every year in Paris, where multiple startups are introduced within the booths of the larger corporations. It led her to feel that in France the two types of businesses “are not on equal footing”.
Rabier mentioned that when she participated in the party at FaB San Francisco’s 5th meetup event, she found herself together at a table with female entrepreneurs from around 12 different countries, including Brazil, China, South Korea, and India. She recalled that she was overwhelmed by the very international environment of San Francisco and how much the entrepreneurs there had ambition and the scale of business they were aiming for.
Joone’s Juge recalled when she was in the US studying for her MBA, she was lucky enough to get the chance to visit the large Silicon Valley software company SAP as an entrepreneur. There she was told by an employee that “the companies currently listed on the NY Dow Jones index won’t exist in 50 years’ time. They’ll be replaced by startups like you.” At the time this took her by surprise as people in France didn’t tend to say such things.
Roujol also talked about how a current trend in San Francisco beauty tech is self-expression. She said that startups that you meet in LA express with integrity and honesty their company’s values and commitments (in relation to things such as sustainability, circular economies, and clean beauty). Also in LA, she explained, wellness has become a solid part of the beauty world, and related startups are first working to build up a community of their target demographic to pick up on their needs, and then by using that data, they’re making direct contact with customers.
What about the differences in strategies between startups on the west and east coasts of the US? It was revealed that in the two main cities on the west coast, it’s not uncommon for startups to first build up a community — however small — and then after carefully collecting data from them, take around a year or two to create the business. This mindset differs from that in New York, where startups tend to begin with a product first and put a lot of their effort into marketing.
How one app is raising awareness for transparency
In the after-event question time, the main topic of discussion turned to the app Yuka that has caused a phenomenon in France by allowing users to check the risks associated with a particular food and cosmetics ingredients.
Since the release of Yuka by a French startup in 2017, users can scan the barcodes of food and cosmetics products via their smartphones and have a list of the ingredients that show up instantaneously. The risk factor of every product is given a rating on a 4-level scale of “Bad”, “Poor”, “Good”, and “Excellent”. If users come across a product with a bad rating, the app instead introduces them to another product with lesser risk. Currently, 800,000 different products are supported and there have already been 12 million downloads of the app.
Statistics have shown that 94% of Yuka users stay away from buying products with low ratings, and due to the app’s strong consumer impact, some manufacturers have found themselves having to reevaluate their recipes and formulas.
Among these manufacturers in the cosmetics industry are L’Occitane, which announced their removal of phenoxyethanol (a preservative) and dimethylpolysiloxane (a silicone) from their “Shea Rich Body Lotion”, and men’s cosmetics maker Horace, which decided to stop using phenoxyethanol in all their products.
Yuka is run by a 100% independently-owned company that claims they’re not influenced by any brand or industry body, however, Roujol warned that “some ratings on the app aren’t necessarily accurate, and there’s the possibility that incorrect information could cause panic among consumers. This app can’t be taken lightly.”
Juge mentioned that it’s hard for consumers to judge the danger of specialized ingredients on their own, and emphasized that, with herself having started a company after feeling dubious about the transparency of major corporations, “entrepreneurs must be thorough in their transparency and must continue to convey to the community their business’s value so as to educate consumers”.
Yuka is already available in Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Spain, and the UK, and will be expanding also into the US and Canada. It’s expected that, due to its large impact not only on consumers but also on industries, the app will ignite a variety of debates concerning transparency.
Text: Ching Li Tor
Original text (Japanese): Motoko Tani