HÉLÈNE SÉGOL AND CLÉMENTINE BUREN FROM GREEN BARBÈS
Life is full of serendipity. Although Hélène Ségol and Clémentine Buren first worked together at a commercial production company, their curiosity and experience is what eventually led them to the world of cosmetics.
After a few “homemade” attempts, they quickly realized that only a few ingredients were necessary for the making of quality products. This lead them to wonder why the list of ingredients on skincare was always so long. Driven by curiosity, a new brand was born.
Below, our interview with the Parisian founders of Green Barbès, a DIY cosmetics brand. A discussion on change, transparency and a conscious and responsible attitude in the cosmetics industry.
I/O: Introduce yourselves?
Hélène Ségol: I am French-Swedish, I studied anthropology with a major in ethno-botany, and I am now unrelatedly working as a commercial executive producer. I think my culture and education led me to try things for myself and my academics gave me the curiosity to do things differently. In the end, the right combo to create Green Barbès.
Clémentine Buren: I was a communications director specialized in production for major companies on the French and English-speaking market such as Wanda Productions, BBDO Paris and the web design agency Propane Studio in San Francisco. I learned the basics of entrepreneurship in SF and also discovered and embraced the notion of “collective consciousness.” I am perpetually looking for more knowledge and freedom. I am passionate about botany and the wellbeing nature can bring to the body and mind. In fact,I am back at École des Plantes de Paris for a botany training program.
I/O: You launched Green Barbès a few years ago, a “homemade cosmetics” brand, can you tell us more about that? What is your mission? How has it evolved since the beginnings of the project?
GB: We started out of curiosity and, as we were making it, it turned into a necessity. Once we understood how easy it was to make a cream, it felt absurd to hand it all to L’Oreal! Moreover, once we understood only three elements were necessary; we started having doubts about the extensive lists of ingredients on the back of industrial products.
Our empirical approach, led by a will to “try,” turned into a full-fledged cosmetology laboratory. Our mission remains the will to show everybody can make their own cosmetic care. For common use at least. With this approach, we propose exclusive natural active elements. We grant people access to high-end natural cosmetics care, to make at home.
I/O: When in Barbès (editor's note: Barbès is a popular part of the 18th district of Paris, an area with a strong cultural diversity), we do not necessarily think about green, or nature, why bring these two elements together?
GB: According to us, being green means being responsible for the footprint we leave behind. We live in the 18th arrondissement of Paris, an area that is increasingly eco-conscious through initiatives such as the Halle Pajol. And, like our neighborhood, we love the idea of social and cultural diversity. We run away from close-knit circles, we’re only happy if our neighborhood is vibrant, when people meet, when it overflows and most of all when we see diversity, in every possible sense.
We dream of a future that welcomes urban nature; we have fantasies about Barbès as the center for herbal culture. When we started our story, we hoped to be local, work only within our neighborhood, but as you can expect, it quickly became difficult.
I/O: Can you tell us about your line of products?
GB: Our line today only includes the WHITE AGRUM kit with all necessary items to make two face & body bioactive creams. Each formula is made from powerful plant-based ingredients with exclusive cosmetic properties. To make both creams, you’ll have: one orange Eau Vive enriched with elderberry, one oil infused with Madagascar vanilla, one citrus activated shea butter, one signature fragrance infused with fruits and flowers natural extracts. Our kits come with reusable glass containers, pre-dosed raw ingredients, a discovery guide for the ingredients and a simple set of instructions.
Finally, formulas are 97% natural, paraben free; dye free, synthetic preservative free and artificial fragrance free.
I/O: Tell us about your training?
GB: We have an empirical approach for cosmetics and it is sort of our special touch. There are a few basic rules to learn but in the end, there is no magic, it’s mainly common sense. Of course, we are well surrounded. For one, by Béatrice Belle, a pharmaceutical doctor (Sampar, Zawadi, Monoprix) who guided us for our first steps and introduced us to the Cosmetic Valley network and through whom we met various collaborators with whom we work today. We are also working with a laboratory for formulas, skin tests, certification and legislation.
Clémentine is also studying botany, plants and health at the Ecole des Plantes de Paris. Both of us are part of the cosmetics startup backing program “Cosmet’Up,” created by LVMH Research and in the heart of Cosmetique Valley.
I/O: What is your vision of the future of beauty and health?
GB: We think there is an important need for transparency. The food sector has vastly changed and we think cosmetics are going to go through a similar transformation. We need education and information about what we apply to our skin and why.
The analogy with cooking has been with us from the beginning… We love to cook and we also love good restaurants. However, we would never think to eat a ready-made dish, the same goes for our cosmetics. By supporting a collaborative relationship, we let you know what you apply to your skin, and allow you to play the lead role in your wellbeing.
I/O: What do you think of the surge of actionable products like ones to "boost chakras" or "enhance meditation"? Do you think that it's possible to build a bridge between the body and mind in this way?
HS: I don’t personally feel close to these trends. I think there can be intelligence in beauty. But spirituality, experience, chakras are not my field, not my knowledge nor my mission. I stopped at “a healthy spirit in a healthy body”.
CB: This all feels a lot like marketing! Of course mind and body are linked. From a pragmatic perspective, “I am treating myself, creating serotonin thus taking care of myself”. It is a virtuous circle. But let’s keep in mind that, like alimentation, cosmetics have an impact on the endocrine system that regulates, among others, our emotions. So consuming beauty correctly is important.
I/O: What is your communications strategy?
GB: These days for both financial reasons and agility, young brands mostly express themselves through social media, especially Instagram, where the idea of community is essential. We like these new ways of communicating. It’s more organic but also more demanding.
I/O: Your “other” jobs in advertising production (Hélène is a producer and Clémentine was a communication manager) are miles away from a healthy, stress-free, balanced lifestyle, how do you deal with that?
HS: I run a lot, do yoga, and need to work out often for things to stop spinning in my head. It feels good to live in the present and to listen to your own body.
CB : I dance, do yoga with Helene at Studio Yoga and signed up for a Pilates class at the Reformation studio that just opened.
I/O: What is your vision for women empowerment and feminism? Does it translate into your work? Does working with a woman (or other women) change something in your momentum?
HS: I don’t know how to answer this question; I’m more than willing to work with independent, creative and funny minds if possible. May they be men or women doesn’t matter to me. However, I tend to find women more careful, they may think more before they speak. But turning to generalization is often a bad idea.
CB: We find great kindness from women in our work and friend circles. We support each other, share and collaborate together.
I/O: What are specific challenges you have encountered as women?
HS: Manage to finish my sentences (#mansplaining)!
I/O: Last question: where can our community find you?
GB : On our Instagram account, our brand new site and around Barbès !