Stella McCartney demonstrates how to sell sustainable skincare

Skincare brand Stella by Stella McCartney launched in August 2022 with an expected offering given Stella McCartney’s reputation. Known as a pioneer of sustainable fashion, McCartney entered the beauty industry with strict sustainability standards, refillable packaging and a ban on more than 2,000 harmful ingredients. Now her team is marketing the brand with a campaign that reflects its consciousness.

“Stella challenged us to innovate and find alternative ways to create an effective and desirable skincare line that minimizes its impact on the planet,” said Stéphane Delva, CEO of Stella by Stella McCartney. “There is no ‘one’ magic solution in this field; we weigh and consider our options at every step of the process to minimize our impact and make the most responsible decisions.”

The campaign, called “Stella Voices,” launched on January 12. It has positioned five female climate change activists as collaborators, allowing their individual messages to be featured in Stella McCartney stores and digital channels, including social media. Activists, who include Dr Jane Goodall, DBE and local Mexican climate activist Cie Bastida, have focused their messages on a variety of topics including emissions reductions, habitat protection and education. The campaign will continue throughout 2023.

The original Stella by Stella McCartney product trio – cleanser, serum and cream – is also the first sustainable skincare line from a fashion brand. Product prices range from $47-$136. Given the company’s specific packaging and formulation requirements, it encountered challenges during the three-year development process. It works with beauty laboratory LVMH Labs to assess the sustainability profile of each product before it is launched.

“The formulas had to be vegan, cruelty-free, natural, basic and in harmony with the skin and the planet,” said Delva. “Also, we couldn’t compromise on potency or sensory quality.” The resulting products use unconventional ingredients like Dulse kelp and birch sap. They feature a coastal scent created by perfumer Francis Kurkjian.

While refillable packaging has become more common, there are still few luxury beauty brands focused on a recharge model. These include Augustinus Bader, La Bouche Rouge and Kérastase. But reloadable products help increase consumer loyalty. Kjaer Weis reported that nearly a third of its business is based on the purchase of fillers, while Augustinus Bader reported that reusable products accounted for almost 50% of all purchases of eye serums and creams since their launch on 21 September. Stella by Stella McCartney’s main packaging consists of a glass container and an airless pump, both of which are made from recycled materials. The packaging of its fillers is made from wood waste.

Stella McCartney’s fashion label has featured activists in campaigns since 2017, when it collaborated with environmental organization Parley for the Oceans. In 2021, she collaborated with the activism agency Greenpeace to fight deforestation in the Amazon.

“Ultimately, your sustainability practices must be part of your brand’s DNA, and you must demonstrate through action and commitment that those practices are real,” said Brandi Halls, chief ethics officer at Lush North America. “Being in business to do more than being in business is critical at this stage of the climate emergency.”

Stella McCartney’s 2021 financial results, published this month, revealed a 14% increase in annual revenue to £32.4m. But it also posted a £32.7m loss due to increased administrative costs following its spin-off from Kering in 2018. It received a minority investment from LVMH in 2019.

Sustainability-focused luxury skincare is a rarity in the industry. More brand involvement exists within “pure’ category of beauty however, clean beauty is largely self-regulated by brands. So beauty brands like Stella, which has the financial backing of LVMH, will have an advantage as more luxury consumers come to shop with sustainability in mind.

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