Italian cosmetic innovations
The move to source local and vegan
For a country famous for salami and prosciutto, it may seem surprising that the Italian cosmetics industry, one of Europe’s biggest, is starting to pivot its attention to a growing market in vegan and cruelty-free products. Not only that, but the cosmetics market is looking inwards – celebrating the use of local Italian products to create popular and innovative beauty products, too.
Cosmetica Italia, the trade association for Italian beauty, expects pre-Covid levels to return in 2022, this time with a host of new Italian startups in tow. The sector’s recovery in 2021 was driven by significant external demand: that, coupled with the 6.5 percent global prediction for growth in vegan cosmetics, it seems like these Italian startups have it pitch perfect.
The rise in vegan beauty products comes at a time when the world is worried about global warming; the latest IPCC report called for adaptation and mitigation to change the way industries and humans engage with the planet. One of the outcomes is a renewed focus on the way we eat and the products we use. Sustainability and hyper locality are lauded as small but vital steps along the climate change journey.
One company that was founded during the pandemic, Conero Beauty, began its life in the Marche region of Italy, on the country’s eastern coast. It exemplifies the growing focus on sustainability and nature within the sector. Co-founder Daniele Aloi tells his story: “We are two professionals with digital marketing and multinational cosmetic skincare industry background. During the lockdown, we escaped to Federico’s homeland, Marche. Here, the idea came into our minds. Everything started from Paccasasso del Conero, because this plant is very well known in Marche for its nutritional function.
"This ingredient is a sea fennel, growing on the rocks by the sea, rich in Vitamin C. But, for the first time, we wondered - what would happen if it was applied to the skin?”
Marche is less well-known to visitors than other popular Italian regions. “I’d say it feels like Tuscany from decades ago. In a few minutes you can travel from the mountains to the countryside, to the beautiful beaches around Monte Conero.” Aloi says he believes consumers are looking for local companies to support. “We support our territory! Right now we are focusing on two main points: distribution, selling to offline pharmacies in Italy, and also developing online partnerships with retailers. We would like to find an interesting partner to sell abroad to in Germany or the UK, where natural products are more established.”
Growing a brand that celebrates locality is important not just for national pride, but also because it’s a positive move because sourcing local ingredients means fewer air miles. The clue is in the name for Milanesi, a skincare startup based in Italy’s second city, Milan. Milanesi has embraced the low kilometre mantra: they use saffron found on the outskirts of Milan, and coffee grounds roasted in a central city neighbourhood. Saffron was the biggest surprise - “Saffron is actually one of the symbols of Milan (the most famous dish of Milan is 'risotto alla Milanese' – risotto with saffron) - and it is usually imported from Iran or India. We were able to find a family-owned and organic cultivation in Milan, part of an international scientific research network of saffron, who grow and harvest the flower,” says Maddalena Petronelli, a spokesperson.
She sums up the sea-change happening in Italy right now. “Italy, despite being one of the biggest cosmetics manufacturers in the world, has very few beauty brands that represent it. Many European, American and even Asian brands produce in Italy but prefer to maintain their brand’s identity on their territory. When creating Milanesi Skincare, we wanted to proudly show the excellence of Italy through our brand and give our customers the opportunity to 'taste' the Italian lifestyle and quality with our skincare products.”
It’s getting easier to do, says Petronelli. Over the last five years, the Italian government has put a lot of effort into promoting startups, by creating funding opportunities, a strong network of people and initiatives to endorse each startup’s mission. “Milanesi Skincare is registered as an 'innovative startup', and this gives us the chance to take part in many networking events and fairs, traveling opportunities and funding support for digital activities.”
Conero aren’t alone with their focus on natural, vegan products in Italian’s growing beauty startup scene. Erika Boldrin, who founded Honieh in Milan, says, “Interest in sustainability is definitely growing. We have customers asking us how the packaging is made,” says Boldrin. “It’s certainly a popular area right now. It seems like everyone [in Italy] is investing in cosmetics, I think the pandemic maybe taught people to take care of themselves more than before.”
“It’s definitely a growing trend,” says Erika. “But for us, it just made sense. I think Italy is still a little behind compared to other European countries like France or Germany… but it’s just the starting point to make our products eco and bio certified.”
The cosmetics sector in Italy is booming. But it’s starting to boom with products that are deeply, intensely Italian, with some taking Italian traditions of low kilometre production and natural ingredients. And that’s heartening to see.
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