Zao is a clean, sustainable, ethical organic and vegan cosmetics company specialising in incorporating bamboo and all of its beneficial properties into its formulas and casings.
We were wowed not only by their high-quality and beautiful products but by their strong sense of ethics and their commitment to produce cosmetics that are both kind to their customers and the planet – which is why we included their nail varnishes in all of our August RESET boxes.
We caught up with its founder and CEO, David Reccole, to find out more about the inspiration behind the brand, the importance of being both an organic and vegan company, and Zao’s driving ethos.
Where did the idea for Zao come from?
In 2008, after having designed two other organic makeup brands, I was looking for new ideas. During a visit with a friend in Taiwan in December of that year, he gifted me a set of pencils made with bamboo. As soon as I got them in my hands, I immediately thought, well, if this works with a pencil, it should be easy to make lipstick or mascara casings out of bamboo too. I was also aware of the benefits of bamboo extracts as a cosmetic ingredient (thanks to the high level of organic silica that bamboo contains). Combining bamboo as a lovely and ecological material for casing and bamboo extracts for our formulations, I realised that I had the right combination on my hands to design a new brand – and so Zao was born.
What five words best describe your brand?
Quality, eco-friendly, original, attractive, healthy and affordable – sorry, that’s six words, but they’re all true!
What sets you apart from other beauty and makeup brands out there?
I would say consistency in all that we are is what makes Zao different. Our formulations are always as healthy and organic as possible, and our casings and displays are as eco-friendly as they can be; but more than that, we are also consistent in how we manage the company. We recruit staff who embody two qualities: Freedom of thought and a sense of responsibility. Our workplace is an old farm in the middle of the countryside in the South of France, complete with a swimming pool. We encourage all of our staff to use the place, even for private parties, as we want our workplace to be used for both living and working.
Why are you passionate about what you do?
My business partners are friends, most of my team also, and of the retailers or distributors I know, most are friends too – this alone can make your day, can’t it? I also love that we develop healthy makeup and reduce plastic as much as possible (we still have improvements to make!); we are trying to show a way forward that raises the benchmark in cosmetic manufacturing. As a smaller company, we can work as we wish with a dedicated, connected and passionate team who are all aligned with our core company values.
You’re both certified as organic (COSMOS) and vegan (PETA), what does this mean, and why is this important to you as a company?
Although it is difficult to become certified organic, we are not the only certified organic brand out there. It’s not difficult to be vegan, though (as many synthetic brands claim to be), but to be both organic and vegan is not easy at all! This choice has implications. For example, we have limitations in achieving a true red colour because we cannot use synthetic azoic pigments nor beetle-derived carmine to achieve this shade, which means no pillar box red lipsticks. Being organic and vegan also limits our ability to produce a waterproof mascara because we cannot use silicones or beeswax. Despite these limitations, we all decided that the brand had to be organic and vegan, as we are convinced this combination is what the world of tomorrow needs. It is a choice that society is demanding.
What’s the best part of running Zao?
Working with your best friends on a project that brings real benefits to people and the environment is great. Personally, I love working on future projects, new formulations, new systems, new merchandising etc. I also love to see the team working with efficacy and intelligence on all our ongoing projects without any real need for oversight from me. It’s really satisfying, and it gives me more opportunities to do what I’m inclined to do the best: dreaming, designing and creating.
Why did you want to partner with Wellbeing Sisters?
(Zao Essence of Nature UK Ltd is the master distributor for the UK territory and jumped in to answer this question). We were really excited when approached by the Wellbeing Sisters to be part of their mission to improve women’s health. This is a cause close to our heart here in the UK, as we women are generally exposed to far more toxins than men through our use of personal care products, along with (and often an arguably greater exposure to) cleaning products. Yet despite all this, as child-bearers, women need to be aware that what we put in our bodies is not easily processed and eliminated but instead stored in fat cells where they can wreak havoc on our hormones. No matter a woman’s age, we all need to know how we can maintain our health with regards to our hormones, and how to identify and avoid endocrine-disrupting substances that affect our hormones and fertility without feeling like we are sacrificing self-indulgence, our femininity, or our sense of fun.
What’s your favourite Zao product?
(Back to David) Personally, I am most proud of our compact stick foundation because developing the casing wasn’t easy. A further challenge was the casting (filling) system for the formula and devising the correct formulation. Another reason we are so proud of this product is because we have been able to develop it in 14 shades to suit all skin colours, which is indeed a challenge when using only natural, organic and vegan ingredients!
As Zao continues to grow, what are some of the things your customers can look forward to?
I already discussed our limitations in regards to being organic and vegan, but we are working on a new formulation to create a waterproof mascara in keeping with our initial commitments. That means investing in researching new ingredients, especially vegetal silicons, to create a waterproof mascara that is both vegan and 100% natural. A true red, vegan lipstick is another goal we would love to achieve.
What are your customers looking for when they shop with you?
I always thought brands had a part to play in the evolution of society and consciousness. We all know that the way we shop defines the shape of the world of tomorrow. I feel that my customers are looking for products that are kind to them and the planet. My duty is to make our range available for those wondering if the kind of product they want to buy even exists. Brands, even more so than political initiatives and NGOs, have the power to influence people in specific directions, and this is our core aim here at Zao.
Why should our customers make the switch to Zao?
Zao will appeal to the growing numbers of people concerned about our planet and the future of humanity. Ever-increasing numbers buy organic food, organic clothing and organic cosmetics. Zao goes further with plant-based casings, its innovative refillable system and small eco-friendly details. For anyone who demands a consistency of ethics and attention to detail (especially in the beauty and fashion industry with its bad reputation in regards to these), Zao is one of the few brands that meet these needs.
What’s your greatest accomplishment to date?
Meeting our core objective to make our customers’ eco dreams become a reality means a lot to us here.
If you hadn’t set up Zao, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
Thirty years ago, I was head of mission for an NGO during the Bosnian war. At that time, I thought I would have spent all my life with humanitarian organisations. But meeting someone and having children changed my plans, so I moved into a more family-friendly career. Maybe if I hadn’t launched Zao, I would still be involved in humanitarian efforts.