Solid cosmetics maker Comme Avant adapts its strategy to the market (and the decline of organic products)

The solid air conditioning production room is a small room, light and bright. The smell of grass is in the air. ” This is hemp “, shows Mathieu Ricci, production director of Comme Avant, at the head of Charlotte. Hemp, whose oil is used in hair creams. In front of him, a young man applies himself to cut the boards of this conditioner using a mandolin, whose sharp wires detail circular slices.

This is the final stage of production. Prior to this, the ingredients were melted at a temperature varying between 50 and 60°C. Using spatulas, workers manually filled the molds, in this case cylindrical metal tubes. After an hour of drying, the obtained material can be removed from the mold with light pressure. Manual too.

Because here, while a few machines allow you to reduce the difficulty of certain jobs or achieve special textures, most of the work is done manually by a workforce of 45 dedicated to production, packaging and shipping. Nation. “ We have enough cars “, confirms Sophie Lauret, co-founder of the company, while walking along the long corridor connecting the various production rooms. ” We could subcontract our production, as most new organic cosmetics brands do. Our products could be cheaper. It would be easier to manage. But that was not what we wanted “.

A very minimalist layout at first

Comme Avant was born in 2017. Sophie Lauret and her husband Neil Parra want to cure their young son’s eczema. Unsatisfied with various tested products, those who are by no means cosmetic experts try to make a homemade soap made entirely of olive oil. The operation is successful. The baby’s skin softens and the eczema finally gives up. The couple then marketed the product to bystanders who extolled its virtues, prompting them to sell it on their website. Then the range is expanded with other solid cosmetics: moisturizer, shampoo, powder toothpaste… With a common point of a composition of no more than four ingredients, perfumes, dyes and other essential oils are prohibited from them. “As before, we started a bit on the extreme side, very minimalistic “Sophie Loret remembers.

An unpleasant form of cosmetic savings in a context where the presence of harmful substances, especially endocrine disruptors, sources of physiological and reproductive anomalies, is noted in the incomprehensible forms of products on the market. The SME finds its customers thanks to the social networks organized by the active community. There is also a small production workshop here before opening the first store in Marseille.

But he soon finds himself trapped there. This led him to invest in new premises in Pennes-Mirabeau: 1,200 m², including 1,000 dedicated to production. Family adventure takes on another dimension. And the SME employs up to 55 people since its inception due to increased demand and boosted by covid-19.

However, the covid effect only lasts for a while. From 2021, when the company makes significant investments in production equipment, the organic market horizon will narrow. ” In particular, many of our distributors, stores and organic food products have been forced to close “. In 2020, the turnover of the company, which is 6 million euros, increases to 5 million. ” After all, we’re not doing so badly. Some have seen their turnover halved “, relativizes the leader. Comme Avant is nevertheless forced to reduce its workforce slightly to reach 45 people today.

Variety available to reach a wider audience

To overcome this unfavorable situation, the company decided to diversify its range. It already offers household products such as laundry or textiles (t-shirts, napkins, etc.). But she wants to go further by reducing her cosmetic references, opening the door to fragrances and essential oils that her recipe has so far banned. ” We are proud of our first products and talk about them because they meet the demand. But we wanted to reach other audiences “. Audiences who are hesitant to take the zero waste cosmetics step and need to find certain characteristics that are familiar to them in terms of smell and feel.

So the soap comes in versions” enriched with borage oil and red clay for mature, dehydrated skin or bay oil and green clay for sensitive, blemish-prone skin. “. The same is true for a cocoa butter-based deodorant that takes on new scents: eucalyptus and Scotch pine, lemon and bergamot, or bee geranium and mint. ” Among our deodorants, lemon and unscented ones are the best sellers », evidence of interest in not giving up historical products. After that, the series is divided into 35 references of 12 types of cosmetic products.

Organic and increasingly local supply

Variations that increasingly rely on local supply. In the beginning, this was not the case, the company assumed to use materials that could not be found in France, such as cocoa or shea. ” In new products, we try to have at least one local ingredient, such as Gascony plum oil or hemp oil from Breton. “. Which is not always easy.” Sometimes even if the ingredients you want are grown in France, they are not organic and we have to look elsewhere to honor the commitments made through our labels. Like borage oil from the Netherlands. In addition, Comme Avant faces increasingly intense supply pressures due to the growing number of cosmetic players in the organic market.

Proliferation of the offer, where the company wants to increase the average basket of its customers by creating loyalty and innovating new products.

In a research and development room, a young woman leans against a cooking pot, her hand firmly gripping a silicone spatula, stirring a paste resembling a thick puree in texture. This is actually an intimate soap recipe that Comme Avant is about to launch. ” Contains a surfactant with shea butter, clay, fennel, St. John’s wort and lactic acid to balance pH. “, – explains the production director, also Sophie Lauret’s brother-in-law. ” My sister also works “, the boss completes. ” Being a family allows us to be open to each other and stay together Mathieu Ricci adds.

Less energy dependence thanks to handwork

Especially since the company is preparing for a new turbulence: inflation. ” Our suppliers have not yet informed us of their prices. We haven’t implemented the increase yet, but we will think about it “. Inflation is also not good news for demand, “But for the moment, it seems that this has been compensated by the expansion of our lineup “. On the other hand, since the work remained very mechanical, the increase in the price of energy had only a limited effect. ” Before inflation, electricity accounted for 0.5% of our turnover. 1% now “.

After passing all the production rooms, a long factory corridor leads to the packing room. This morning we are busy packing lip sticks. The first person opens the cylindrical cardboard boxes, the second person fills them and closes them, making a regular clink. The sticks will then be joined in a spectacular shipping room where vividly colored boxes coexist. Each color corresponds to a product type.

Products to be distributed in four boutiques of the brand – here, in a shop next to the factory, but also in Marseille, Toulouse and Paris – 2000 points of sale (organic shops and grocery stores, pharmacies, etc.) as % of the turnover. ” Ideally, noWe would like to reach 50% for physical sales and 50% for digital sales. It would be more ecological as we deliver larger volumes to physical outlets. We use social networks and our customer file to encourage customers to visit a store near them “.

What about exports? ” We tried selling in England a few years ago. But Brexit stopped us. We will see in 2024. For the moment we mostly want bring more traffic to stores and stabilize our range while improving existing products”. Growing on a human scale. Reconnecting with growth and re-hiring.