The product line of Oh my cream! Courtesy of Oh my cream!
The global beauty industry represents $500 billion in annual sales and accounts for millions of jobs, both directly and indirectly. New brands are emerging in every corner in the world, and beauty corporations have been doubling down on mergers and acquisitions: in 2019, Kylie Jenner sold 51% of her Kylie Cosmetics empire to Coty for $600M, Estée Lauder Companies acquired Seoul-based Have & Be Co., and Shiseido bought the American skincare brand Drunk Elephant for $845M.
With 23% of the global beauty market share, the French cosmetics industry largely dominates its competitors, but the VC investments in the ecosystem remain low. In 2019, France invested 44M€ ($53M) in the wellness and beauty industry, just one third of the 126M€ ($152M) invested in the UK. While the industry hasn’t attracted much VC interest compared to SaaS or automotive sectors, that hasn’t necessarily prevented a new generation of French beauty brands with innovative manufacturing processes or technologies from gaining momentum. Here are 10 companies who have attracted interest from investors or who have recently grabbed headlines in France for their unique approach and products.
A former L'Oréal employee, Prose CEO Arnaud Plas was confronted with the contradiction at the core of the hair care industry: standardized products sold in stores for the masses can’t fit unique hair types and scalp sensitivities. Plas initially founded Prose in Paris, but the founders and part of the team eventually moved to NYC, where the team has been able to raise $25M in VC funding from top consumer investors such as Forerunner Ventures.
The company has set up its own production machines and lines in the New York area to be able to manufacture their personalized shampoo or conditioner products on demand. After a customer fills an in-depth questionnaire on the website, a personal formula is created by Prose’s algorithm and the recipe is then sent to the factory where the shampoo and the conditioner will be made before being shipped to the customer. With 160 ingredients on the list and a personal consumer hair profile, Prose says it can create up to 79 billion different formulas.
By the end of 2020, the company was about to exceed $50M in sales, with a strong base of loyal customers (55% have renewed their purchase in the last 12 months, which is above the 30%-standard of the industry).
Typology was founded in 2018 in Paris by successful serial entrepreneur Ning Li. The beauty brand promises to offer products that count a limited number of ingredients, all of which are natural, vegan, and cruelty-free.
Li had previously founded and sold Myfab, an online private sales website, to PPR (now Kering) before building the lucrative furniture e-commerce platform made.com in London. After leading the company for seven years, growing the business to 200M€ ($242M) in sales in 2018 with 500 employees, Ning decided to move back to France to launch Typology.
Putting a lot of effort into being transparent, the brand labels all the ingredients on its packaging as well as on their website, where consumers can find the full blacklist of the ingredients Typology is banning from their formulas, such as parabens or sulfates.
As of February 2020, a year after its launch, the brand had created a hundred products, from oils to soaps. By October, Typology had created a new line of make-up products with tinted serums designed to offer a light coverage and a natural finish with the benefits of hydration, as the serums are nourished with vitamin C and aloe vera.
The company raised a seed round of $10M in 2019 from Alven, Firstminute Capital, and renowned French entrepreneurs Xavier Niel and Marc Simoncini. The company, which still only counts 40 or so employees today, has focused on staying small and agile to control the burn rate while enjoying the upsides of their rapid growth.
Jolimoi was launched in 2017 by Isabelle Rabier, a young graduate who intended to disrupt the distribution of beauty products. What makes Jolimoi unique compared to other similar businesses is that it’s built on top of a community of 1,200+ stylists who can help customers pick the best products.
Even though the product recommendations are initially handpicked by the company's algorithm, the customer is invited to connect with a personal stylist that they can contact or meet to get more advice. The company has been selling in France and Belgium for a few years, and despite the confinements of 2020, the team has managed to grow by 800% during April, May, and June compared to the previous year.
Incorporated in Paris in 2014 by Louis Marty and Roland Jais Nielsen, Merci Handy wants to “create practical and colorful everyday cosmetics, using clean ingredients and rainbow extracts." Colorful and playful, the products of the brand have made a name for themselves in France and in the U.S. (the company is based in Paris and also has an office in New York).
The marketing strategy adopted by the team relies on close and long-term relationships built with its consumers. The company has been using social networks to poll its user base, asking for feedback or finding customers willing to try new products before they launch. Today, the brand's Tik Tok account has more than 350,000 followers with a high engagement rate (around 50,000 to 1000,000 views per video). This popularity translates well into sales, as Merci Handy’s revenues grew by 2.3x in 2020.
Oh my cream!
After trying product after product to get the perfect skin, Oh my cream! Founder & CEO Juliette Lévy decided to build her e-commerce website like a concept-store where only carefully selected products are sold. The website only features a refined curation of the best beauty products, picked based on a few criteria like formulation, packaging, and price. Each product page meticulously details the ingredients, advice on how to use it, and the results obtained.
The company has grown its revenues by 80% every year since its inception in 2013 and in September 2019, received 12M€ ($14.5M) in fresh capital from the fund Experienced Capital. Oh my cream! then decided to expand into retail and has now set up a network of 18 brick-and-mortar stores in Paris and other cities in France.
Finding the perfect cream can be an impossible challenge to meet, since products are standardized and all skin is unique. This was the starting point for entrepreneur Lucile Battail to found Laboté, a skincare brand developing custom creams from medicinal plants.
After her studies in pharmacy and dermo-pharmacy, and fueled by her passion for botany, Battail decided to revolutionize the industry by offering fresh creams tailor-made to the specific needs of her clients. In that order, she created a lab and the company in 2016, then focused her efforts on R&D during the first two years, after which she filed a patent application for her innovative cold formulation process.
A few months later, the company raised a first funding round of 1.5M€ ($1.8M) to launch an ecommerce website in February 2017. A first store was opened later on, conceived as a "beauty lab" where customers can get a skin assessment based on a questionnaire. Laboté's algorithm turns this assessment into a personal formulation and the cream is made freshly on-site.
Since then, the company has extended its line of products to include oils, night creams, infusions, serums, peelings, masks, etc. and have received positive reviews from magazines like Vogue. The company now has two stores in Paris, and also offers a teleconsultation service for customers located outside of the Parisian region.
The company goes one step further when it comes to personalization and freshness since its signature home device, HyLab, can create a skincare solution every day on the spot. The steps are very easy to follow: the user places a skincare base and three capsules, among a variety of serums and active ingredients, in the machine that will then mix them with a cream base within a minute.
For Romy, it didn’t make sense to use the same solution for months when a person’s skin balance changes on a weekly or even daily basis. The 25-centimeter-tall device can be ordered online for 299€ ($361) and comes with a discovery box containing 20 capsules, one cream base, and one wash solution. The team has been working on the technology for five years and has filed more than 25 patents.
HyLab is connected to a mobile app that captures live data from the surrounding environment, such as weather, pollution, and the user's sleep and exercise activity. Between all those factors and the 20 different capsules of active ingredients available, more than 1,000 formula combinations are possible.
For once, this beauty startup is not based in the capital of Paris, but in the Centre-Val de Loire region that is part of the French Cosmetic Valley, a technopole which has been home to the world’s largest beauty conglomerates since 1994, upon Jean-Paul Gerlains' initiative when he was the CEO of the perfume company of the same name.
456 Skin, founded by Noelly Michoux, targets people with melanin-rich skins and aims at closing the race divide in skincare. Their product line so far includes cleansing gel, cleansing oil, treatment lotion, masks, serum, and moisturizer. All incorporate an active ingredient and will be personalized to the consumers’ needs based on their individual answers. The goal is to set up a skin phototype based on factors like the color of the hair, skin, eyes, and skin sensitivity and type.
The company, formerly incubated at the LVMH Research Centre via the Cosmet’up Program, raised 700k€ ($846k) last October.
La Bouche Rouge
Based also in the Cosmetic Valley and founded by former L'Oréal employee, Nicolas Gerlier, La Bouche Rouge wants to change the statu quo of the beauty industry, currently the third-most polluting industry in the world. The company has decided to remove any plastic, even recycled, from their formulation process to the distribution in stores.
All products are 100% recyclable and refillable and include red lipsticks, eyeliners, mascaras, and powders. The ingredients are also vegan, made without beeswax or animal fat, and aren't tested on animals.
The company raised 2.5M€ ($3M) in September 2020 to accelerate its digital strategy and enter new markets such as China.
What if you could bring the benefits of essential oils to your daily shower? Skinjay positions itself as the Nespresso for the shower. Easy to plug on your shower system, the Skinjay distributor diffuses the right mix and dose of essential oils directly into the water. The customers get all the benefits from the oil both on their skin and from its inhalation.
For a long time, the startup had been working mainly with luxury hotel brands like the George V or the Plaza Athénée, but with a 3.5M€ investment from the French VC fund Seventure Partners in 2017, it has been able to focus on boosting its consumer sales too. In that order, the team launched a dedicated consumer brand, INLY, in January 2020.
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