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How My Skin Feels built a brand around positive impact

At Fox + Hare, we’re all about celebrating brands at the cutting edge: the people whose innovative approaches to sustainability and creativity make our hair stand on end.

One of our favourite up-and-coming brands is My Skin Feels. They do a bunch of stuff you’d expect from any eco-conscious company, like working exclusively with recycled paper and plastic for their packaging. 

Other of their innovations are less immediately obvious, like sourcing their skincare ingredients from food products which would otherwise go to waste.

What we love most about them is the fact that positive action and sustainability are built into the foundation of their business, not just a bolted-on extra: a synergy which is supercharging their success.

We sat down with My Skin Feels founder Danielle Close to get her top tips on building a brand with sustainability at its heart.

Be crystal clear on your values

Whatever industry you work in, being clear about your core values is essential to building a sustainable brand - both in economic and environmental terms.

“Since I was a kid I’ve always played around with beauty products” says Danielle of her long journey to founding My Skin Feels. Working in the beauty industry for over a decade, she turned that childhood love of cosmetics into a hugely successful career, but became increasingly disillusioned with the sector’s limited commitments to sustainability.

“Even 10 years ago I was saying to my colleagues - we’ve got all these opportunities to make something more sustainable, so why wouldn’t we do that?”

After going freelance, Danielle was searching for inspiration when she found herself at Europe’s biggest packaging trade show.

“I went on a sustainability-themed tour of all the beauty packaging suppliers, and was thinking to myself how great it was going to be. But then it turned out that everyone was really proud about their plastic tubes using 2% less plastic.”

“And I thought - you’re telling me that it’s 2020, you’re working for this huge global beauty brand, and you think reducing your plastic usage by 2% is enough? What’s happening? You’ve got enough money to reduce it by 80%! I was livid. And so I was like, right, I’m going to do something.”

From that seed of inspiration grew My Skin Feels - a beauty brand which combined a focus on feeling good, not just looking good, with wider impact in the world. Right from the very start, that commitment to positive impact and sustainable practices has been the foundation of their business, setting them apart from others and guiding them as they’ve grown.

“I haven’t always chosen the cheapest money-making path” explains Danielle, “but it’s been the best choice for me and, what I believe is best for the planet.”

Focus on the areas you can have most impact

Lots of brands try to do everything at once, but one small skincare brand isn’t going to solve every problem in the world. Focus on the things you can help with, and do them really well, rather than chasing lots of different goals and never really achieving any of them.

“The question for me was about how I can make a difference in the world. My world is the beauty industry, that’s who I am. You have to change that one thing that you can change, and not panic about the fact that the world’s going to end just because you can’t do everything. Do what’s in your lane, and then someone else will do theirs, and then it’s the responsibility of everyone.”

When it comes to My Skin Feels, that meant focusing on one specific aspect of the beauty industry: reducing single-use plastics. “Every part of this journey has been a conscious decision” says Danielle. “I could have got the brand out sooner if I’d gone with plastic packaging rather than aluminium, but I was determined to not fall into that trap.” 

Even then, there have had to be tradeoffs. “I’ve tried to balance it as best I can. For example, I really wanted to get rid of the plastic lid, but it’s absolutely impossible to get aluminium packaging without a plastic cap right now. It’s a nightmare. There’s one company that uses these little aluminium caps, but they’re in China, so you have to weigh up the benefit of not including plastic against the environmental cost of shipping stuff around the world.”

Staying in your lane shouldn’t stop you from thinking outside the box, though. My Skin Feels are also addressing an issue entirely outside the cosmetics industry: dealing with food waste by sourcing their raw materials from produce that would otherwise be thrown away.

“If you think of all these old-fashioned beauty products that are made by hand, they use all of these ingredients, but we’ve largely forgotten about them. We’re just using a lab to follow the same recipe you might have used at home two hundred years ago.”

My Skin Feels uses four different food waste ingredients: tomato skins discarded during the ketchup-making process are rescued and broken down for their antioxidants; the bits of an oat harvest which don’t make it into your porridge are refined for their soothing properties; fermented olive oil byproducts helps My Skin Feels’ moisturiser soak into the skin; and the water in their production process is recycled from a factory making orange juice.

Stay humble, accountable and questioning

The final pillar in My Skin Feels’ success involves continuing to ask challenging questions about what you’re doing and why as you grow and evolve. “I went back and forth about launching the brand for about 18 months, asking myself - is it even worth doing this? Does it matter? Do people care? Am I just another brand?” says Danielle.

That sense of knowing yourself and your boundaries comes up when Danielle discusses what she’d do differently with hindsight. “Every time this question comes up, I always say that doing something like this on your own is really hard. If you can’t do something and there’s the ability for someone else to do it, then pass it over to them.”

“The original mission of the brand was to help people get back in touch with their feelings, but at the same time the food waste has become a big part of the story too” she explains, noting that as our understanding of sustainability shifts, brands have to do the same. “I think as the brand grows and evolves then the message will continue to change, so it’s not just about being more conscientious with yourself and your self care, but being better to others and the planet.”

Ultimately, the success of My Skin Feels has been rooted in a simple process: identify an area of need, match it to your specific skills and expertise, and then do everything you can to hit that. “I’ve come to understand that if I do one good thing, it might spark a bigger company to do something similar.” says Danielle. “If I can just highlight to people that they can do it, that’s really the point. It’s not just about making money.”