First of all, how are you and how are you coping in 2020?
Well, thank you so much for asking. As hard as this year has been, we have so much to be grateful for as a young business. We are ever grateful for the support of our retailer partners, beauty press, collaborators and the lovely independent beauty community online. Grateful for creators like Zoe that are supportive of what we are trying to do, and are generous with their platforms.
Sustainability, wellness, mental health, and well being have been the focus in beauty now more than ever.
No one could have been prepared for a global pandemic, but so many of the themes we developed Plenaire around – sustainability, wellness, mental health, and well being have been the focus in beauty now more than ever. Throughout 2020, we have been seeing a really healthy uplift in sales with significant growth of engagement and sharing online, despite the fact that physical interactions between people have been limited.
Plenaire has been stocked at a lot of special places too, and I feel like that’s important, whether you discover the brand online or in a boutique, it needs to feel really curated, and also in line with our overall ethos.
We are lucky enough to have created some really great collaborations and partnerships. We launched at one of the most beautiful stores in the world- Liberty’s; presented at the sustainable brands section at London Fashion Week and next year, we will be launching at Credo in San Francisco, as our first large retail partnership, outside the UK.
Can you tell us about what inspired you to create Plenaire?
During my late thirties, I experienced a stress-related burnout and a bout of post-natal depression and I took time off to work on myself. My own subsequent journey with mental health and what I learned during recovery from burnout coupled with the desire to lead a more balanced life was the impetus for me to create Plenaire.
Plenaire is from the French expression for “in the open air”, having the qualities of natural air and light. Holistically it is derived from the 1840 painting technique “en plein air”; emphasizing direct observation of nature, over a narrative and stylized depiction. We want to help young women everywhere take pleasure in their skincare again with our range of clean, sustainably designed products that meet everyday skincare needs but that also encourage emotional well-being and self-care.
Our business is built on a desire to do as little harm to the environment, animals or the planet as we can
Plenaire formulations were created out of a genuine need to develop safe, effective, and pleasurable alternatives for young women to care for their skin. Our business is built on a desire to do as little harm to the environment, animals or the planet as we can – not only because this feels like the right thing to do – but because this absolutely reflects the way our core consumer is shopping and making his or her choices today. Being an ingredient transparent brand is also a priority – we realise that our customer is so well informed, we need to ensure that we are sharing what we put in our formulas and also why, openly with her.
Plenaire began from this foundational understanding- the intent to build a product range that would best meet the needs of younger people both functionally with honest credentials but also emotionally- bringing a texture to it that was not just limited to its rational benefit; the somewhat narrow historical role of skincare, but that pushed these boundaries to create a conversation about the bigger issues that matter to them.
What was the journey like for starting a skincare business?
We did our research. I’m not an entrepreneur the way people wake up and have a great idea and just get started… On the other hand, you can do too much research and make decisions by committee like they do in large companies, and that’s not always right for a small company either. We’re always learning from our customer proposition as we go. We started by doing a blended research and ethnography piece – going into people’s homes, speaking to parents and girls as young as 15. As a parent, I also see parenting changing, and this feeds into our learnings.
During our research, it became evident that cultural beauty narratives for younger people have most definitely evolved. The everyday products that are marketed to young people as they come of age, we heard from them, felt sort of generic, a bit bland. Many people we spoke to said they felt patronized, and that high street brands were offering pretty basic ingredients and childish ideologies. Beauty myths or overly scientific jargon even, that were hard to believe and felt phoney. Being positioned as either rationally “problem-solution” or just about external appearances felt dated and irrelevant.
Secondly, we understood that mental health and well-being, particularly when linked to beauty and appearance were still a clear opportunity. With Plenaire we could see white space where beauty is no longer just about vanity, but about self-expression; not always about a desire for affirmation, but playing a central role in self-care.
I read somewhere once that “great brands reflect shifts in popular culture” – that’s the point, nothing stands still, so Plenaire is a reflection of how things in beauty have changed and the objective is to appeal to the next generation of informed skincare consumers.
Talk us through what your day looks like at Plenaire?
I love every aspect of this business from the crackle of the brown tissue when I pack an order, to pitching our business to a beautiful new retailer to trying out new textures, to writing a formulation or fragrance brief to solving a really complicated supply chain issue with our contract manufacturer, or working alongside a photographer to create a new brief. Every day is different and I have the freedom to structure it the way that I want, which is hugely appealing.
I wanted to experiment, to deeply enjoy every aspect and most importantly have complete autonomy over my time
We’re taking small steps, as I’m not trying to pursue the high-stress life I had when I worked at a large company. I wanted to be at home after 20 years of working in an office. I wanted to experiment, to deeply enjoy every aspect and most importantly have complete autonomy over my time, my ideas and my life than be leashed to a team that I didn’t think I really needed. I knew it was going to be a solo journey and that actually delighted me. My garden, my kitchen and my office became the perfect safe haven to create.
If I suddenly want to scale it up really fast, I’ll ask myself – is this the life I want? I get my energy from people who say they love our products, love our design aesthetic working with our creative collaborators. We’re trying to create a brand culture that’s not top-down, it’s much more open, hence engaging with collaborators.
What would you say is Plenaire’s mission statement?
It is true that our business objective is to “recreate the classic coming of age skincare rituals with a capsule collection of 8 products at launch”. But it’s more than just that. Plenaire is part of creating a bigger conversation with people of all ages to stop, think and perhaps change direction a bit.
Plenaire aims to explore previously unexplored narratives by building a route into wellbeing via your daily skincare routine.
We wanted to open a new chapter, rather than focusing on the current competitive offer.
From the beginning, our approach was to try and be radically different from other beauty brands. We wanted to open a new chapter, rather than focusing on the current competitive offer. Instead, we chose to simply observe the bigger sociological and cultural shifts with young women and men today. By simply listening to them. What we have created is as a direct result of talking to them about their daily lives, anxieties and of course, their relationship with skincare and beauty.
What are your top rules for finding the right skincare routine?
I have very few rules about beauty. I’m a very intuitive person – and am pretty moods based when it comes to beauty, sometimes you crave minimal: purity and plain textures, but then sometimes you want something that’s more special and exciting, just like with food.
Overall the use of gentle sulphate free cleanser or micellar, an effective sunscreen and regular weekly exfoliation is important. At night it’s all about recovery, adding back hydration, of course, manual massage with an oil-based cleanser is great at night as well, and an addition of a light serum or cream.
I don’t have too many rules but one is staying away from makeup wipes!
Finding an efficient, occlusive cleanser and makeup remover is also key, once you start wearing makeup regularly. I don’t have too many rules but one is staying away from makeup wipes! With Plenaire we have created hemp and bamboo flannel that do an amazing job of makeup removal as well as make the perfect partner for removal of Skin Frosting and Tripler.
The only other rule I have would be when you are doing your skincare, make sure you are making that time special for yourself, somehow. Maybe light a candle, play some music and take time to focus on yourself. With Plenaire, it’s much more than just about how you look, it’s always going to be about how these moments make you feel, and that’s an investment in yourself in a completely different way.
What are some of your most used Plenaire products?
I have to say that I love all of them, it’s pretty hard to choose. But if I had to pick a few it would be Plenaire Rose Jelly and our Tripler Paste. We have tried to create water-efficient technologies and we don’t use traditional cleansing agents like sulphates in our products so they are really gentle and perfect for sensitive and delicate skin, during pregnancy and anytime you want to pamper yourself with something innocent yet luxurious. With Rose Jelly it contains really classical ingredients like rosewater and sugar – a natural antiseptic. Tripler has the effect of clay and salicylic acid which gives you a really deep, satisfying, detoxifying clean. It’s a 3 in 1 that treats like a mask, foams like a wash and also lightly polishes skin at the same time. Skin Frosting is an indulgent cocooning product that leaves your skin feeling plump and pampered.
What would you say is your biggest achievement to date?
Through my own journey with mental health I have learned that through your own choices, you can really create options for yourself and the life you want to live.
My biggest achievement to date is evolving into a human being that worries less about what other people think. For a long time, I felt I needed to fit into a norm or a standard to be appreciated or accepted. With the move into entrepreneurship, I have left those feelings safely behind to feel free to create something that I love and that has meaning for me. It’s important to be aware that everyone has feelings of wanting to be accepted and to fit in but also to find the balance between that and being able to assert your own creativity and individuality. Through my own journey with mental health I have learned that through your own choices, you can really create options for yourself and the life you want to live.
What are you currently working on?
Right now I am working on the next set of product launches for Plenaire, extending our retail network and also developing marketing outputs for our upcoming crowdfunding campaign with Seedrs.
What do you always carry with you?
Here’s what is in my bag right now: A Fleurose mask, a Dr Bonners peppermint oil hand sanitizer, hand cream from Nursem, my keys, my phone, Dr Paw Paw raspberry lip balm, and a mini bottle of perfume called Tropica by Maya Njie. Headphones, Extra Bubblemint, my Monzo debit card, some old instax pictures of my two kids from our trip to Paris last year.
What does your perfect weekend look like?
My perfect weekend would begin with a productive Friday morning. An early start to the weekend Friday night- maybe a great TV show, Netflix and some takeaway. Saturday is a lie-in, freshly brewed coffee in bed. Then, a run or a workout. 2pm with friends or family over a meal or late brunch. My husband and I love foreign films and we miss our trips to the Curzon Cinema followed by dimsum in Chinatown- hopefully, we can get back to doing some of those things.
I love spending time in cafes or finding new ingredients to cook with- so some sort of creative food shopping. Sunday is a pyjama day, with some cooking, planning for the week ahead and organising to get to Monday in a relaxed way.
If you could only eat one meal again what would it be?
That’s a super hard one. I went to grad school in Austin, Texas and I do miss all the Mexican food. If I could only eat one meal again it would be the Enchiladas Mole and the Shrimp Flautas Verde, followed by the Tres Leches Cake at Fonda San Miguel in Austin. For me, Mexican food is like comfort and reminds me of my childhood.
If you could give one positive message to our followers what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to change or take risks- while staying safe in the safe zone might feel reassuring, it sometimes prevents you from growing in ways you need to. Change can be uncomfortable, but being open to change is key.
Vulnerability and sharing weaknesses is healthy and allows creativity to flourish
Stay open-minded about people and ideas – you never know what is waiting around the corner for you and staying open and curious, is an essential part of disruptive thinking. Vulnerability and sharing weaknesses is healthy and allows creativity to flourish – be vulnerable and lead by example, so your team will too.
Above all, be kind to yourself. As women we are sometimes tougher on ourselves than anyone else- and there is a direct link between perfectionism, comparisons and poor mental health. Developing a daily habit of taking just five minutes a day to focus on your breath, or to do something kind for yourself from a young age, is essential in looking after your mental health and well being.