Brief reflection on the growth of vegan beauty

Brief reflection on the growth of vegan beauty

By Renata Kalil

Digital revolution, pandemic, advances in the climate crisis… perhaps one of the most relevant subjects currently is our eating habits.

This is so due to veganism becoming one of the most obvious synonyms for sustainability. According to a research carried out by Oxford University and published in 2018 in Science magazine, more than reducing your time spent showering, cutting back on airplane travelling or purchasing an electric car, eliminating meat and dairy from your diet could reduce your carbon footprint by 73%. “A plant-based diet is probably the best and only way to mitigate our impact on the planet” according to the publication.

Last year, while talking to Barbara De Laere, Global CEO of Aveda, who had just concluded the transition into becoming a completely vegan brand, I was able to understand how actions such as this one influence the industry as a whole, from food to beauty, not to mention the environmental impact, of course.

Many suppliers of raw materials such as honey and beeswax, just to mention a few examples, are the same ones that serve the food industry. The decision of a major brand that opts for plant-based alternatives resonates throughout the chain.

From the industry backstage to the shelves, the correlation between food and cosmetics is increasingly unfolding – which I see as one of the most interesting movements in this market nowadays.

In California, the birthplace of clean beauty and a global reference for sustainability culture and plant-based tradition, it is common to find food in beauty boutiques, skincare items in restaurants and all of it together in the aisles of supermarkets such as Whole Foods, Erewhon Lassens…  spaces signalled as “the next beauty destination” by Business of Fashion, em 2020.

The truth is that when we think of veganism, avoiding gluten, consuming organics or even halal products, we are dealing with some criteria that, for the consumer, hold the same importance whether in relation to beauty or food.

The CAP granola, created in a partnership with the American chef Kat Turner, is one of the best-selling items at the clean beauty boutique CAP Beauty – one of the most relevant and avant-garde on the market.

In the last couple of years, with the rise of the wellness culture around the world, we have also learned about the inner beauty power, which has practically become a new category of cosmetics. A category which is about proving the efficacy of food supplements, as well as cosmetics, to treat skin, hair…

Skincare names have begun creating food supplements, such as German Dr Barbara Sturm and the Americans Goop and The Nue Co. The opposite has also happened, as evidenced by Mood Juice, in California, which launched its own beauty line, and Canadian company Rainbo, with mushroom-based supplements, which recently developed its first body care item.

Superfoods (foods especially rich in nutrients associated with health benefits) are also becoming the star ingredients of ultra-desired formulas, such as the Superfood Cleanser by Californian Youth To The People, the movement’s reference brand, which has just been incorporated by L’Oréal.

And more recently, we started using the term “food-focus beauty” (which refers to formulas that have food as hero ingredients), in addition to “food-based beauty” (beauty formulas created from food).

Another Californian indie brand, Wonder Valley, which makes olive oil and olive oil-based skincare products, is a further example. As well as the English brand Haeckels, which has broccoli shampoo, tomato and pumpkin seed-based face oils, coffee scrub…

The focus really seems to be on the food and on the interaction between these two universes, which are ultimately about nourishing the body and improving one’s health – two wishes amplified by the pandemic.

The curious thing is that this trend flourishes more among vegan beauty brands, a segment less and less understood as a niche. Globally, it already represents a market of US$15.1 billion, which is expected to grow to US$ 21.4 billion by 2027, according to ReportLinker data published by Forbes.

And of course, just like food, vegan beauty products aren’t just for vegans.

When we talk about eating habits, we highlight the “flexitarians”, those who opt for a totally plant-based diet on one day of the week or in one meal of the day. This is a consumer who declares themselves as “imperfect”. They know about the environmental consequences of their diet and respond to them, but without committing to a 100% vegan lifestyle 100% of the time.

There are certainly the “beauty flexitarians”, a group that looks for better alternatives without demanding a “minimum impact ideal” from companies. It is already possible to see a reflection of this behaviour in the market, but I believe that this movement still has enormous potential, capable of encouraging many more beauty brands to take pro-environment initiatives and to adhere to more ethical and sustainable practices, to begin with. This is a process for people and for companies – and a process that doesn’t necessarily end in greenwashing, but in real transformation.

On the last Earth Day, Biossance, Youth To The People, Herbivore, REN (all animal testing free) and Caudalie came together in a campaign to call for more conscious consumption. In the initiative, the brands committed to offering recyclable and refillable packaging by 2025.

Big names in the traditional industry are also moving to offer less impactful alternatives, such as Love Beauty and Planet, which have stations to refill packages in the United States, and Dove, which has gone viral in content on TikTok thanks to their deodorant with a refill alternative and 100% recycled packaging.

When it comes to observing the vegan-born brands, cruelty free, sustainable, especially in Brazil, I have noticed fantastic companies with amazing actions, but they simply don’t communicate what they do, who they are or what they believe in.

Working on the brand image and having good communication results in creating culture, transforming behaviour and contributing to the construction of this new consumer – who needs to be more informed, more confident and more demanding to see value in a beauty segment committed to generating positive impact. Working for this is also a collective mission of the players in this ecosystem. A mission of the entire market, which depends on it.

Being a vegan brand or embracing a cause is not something simple, there are intangible elements involved and it assigns new roles to the companies. The leaders in this segment represent more than brands, they stand for a movement which influences, communicates, inform.

Biossance, with its Clean Academy, and Haeckels, which marks one of the most interesting blue beauty blogs, are examples of how to invest in culture and content. I believe that the work of producing ethical and cruelty-free beauty is as important as producing a culture of sustainable practices and conscious consumerism.

Renata Kalil: With a ten-year career leading the beauty editorials of Glamour and Vogue magazines and the branded content board of Condé Nast Brasil, Renata is the winner of 6 journalism awards. She is currently a columnist for Vogue Brasil and co-founder of Coletivo Reset, a branding and communication company for companies with a positive impact.

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