A year ago, Sylvie Giret launched an innovative brand of sun skincare products, Skinergies. This French entrepreneur, who has been living in USA for 14 years, has the habit of not relying on what she has already achieved, but always looking at what she can do better. We will evoke through this Q&A her career, her brand and the keys to success in the USA, inspired by her own experience.
French Wink: How did you develop a taste for beauty and skin care?
Sylvie Giret: It started out almost by chance. I was working for a branch of a bank dealing with all kinds of sectors. I came from the tech and I did not know much about beauty. I found interesting the complexity of the market and the consumer approach. So I scratched the surface a little bit that might seem superficial. One might say that to sell nail polish, there is no need to complicate your life. However, there is a very challenging business problem in beauty and especially in the US. The American consumer is very impressionable, focused on immediate effect solutions. That is why makeup works so well here. As I like challenges, at that time I created my management consulting firm and I quickly specialized in beauty and perfumery.
What is the story behind the creation of your brand, Skinergies?
For years, I worked for many great brands, but always in somewhat identical areas: anti-aging, hydration. While working for a sun protection brand, I observed that in this market in the USA, there was a lack of education and understanding of sun-related issues and not enough products.
The second trigger was when I understood another sub-aspect: there is a sun protection necessary but without any products on the market, which is the protection against daily passive exposure to sunlight.
This is the difference between “we go to the beach” that is pro-active (we are aware that we go to the beach, there is sun and we have to use sunscreen or clothing) and incidental sun exposure, when we go out on the street to get coffee and all those moments spread out over the day, short and unconscious. These are the times when our skin is most at risk because we have no protection.
Also, I wondered if the skin is able to protect itself for 10 minutes. And the answer is yes, but we need to stimulate that protection, like we stimulate our immune system.
Is this the specificity of your products?
The technology at the heart of Skinergies is the stimulation of melanin.
This group of cells has a fairly versatile role. On the one hand, melanin has a protective role. When it is over-active, it is tanning (which is a form of protection). But dermatologists will tell you that as soon as there is tanning, there is damage as well. So on the other hand, melanin emits harmful radiation to DNA. When it is too stimulated, it becomes saturated and melanin begins to become dangerous for its own organism.
We all have melanin that can protect us for 20 to 40 minutes depending on our skin types, which is quite enough not to take all these UVA and UVB when you go outside. Melanin just needs to be stimulated. But with our contemporary lifestyle we are living more and more inside. We are impoverishing our own defenses.
The technology of Skinergies is to manage to modify this aspect, while keeping the melanin “sun ready” when we go outside briefly.
In addition, I wanted to ensure that the serum that is used daily does not force anyone to change their skincare routine. There is no routine in the USA like mine, that strengthens melanin while adding natural non-synthetic filters to protect against UVA, which are the number-one cause of photo-aging and skin cancers.
You have a rather surprising product, your sun protection mousse to apply to the scalp & hair. What gave you the idea to create this product?
Actually, I was at Bryant Park in New York, two years before I launched my brand. April arrived, the weather was lovely, I was going to have a coffee with a friend in the park, literally 20 minutes and I came back with a scalp sunburn. Then someone told me: “You don’t realize, with all the skin cancers starting from the scalp. It’s deadly, you mustn’t get a sunburn there.” I started to look into this issue, because concretely what do I do if I do not have a hat with me. Indeed I discovered that the scalp is an area where there are many skin cancers, which are more fatal because the skin is very thin and also because of a proximity to the brain.
Then another aspect came quickly, it is the aging side following conversations with hairdressers who explain me that the sun accelerates hair whitening. I have hesitated a long time about making this mousse because the formula is very expensive due to the fact that it is very complicated. Moreover I hate putting things in my hair, I did not want the mousse to stick or be crispy. And especially it had to be super emollient because here women spend a lot of money into their hair, so the product had to be invisible.
The beauty and skincare market is very competitive with leading brands that have been around for a long time. Did not that scare you when you started?
Of course, it scared me and at the same time it forced me to try to find a niche. I wanted to go into this market bringing something new to the conversation and not creating an umpteenth anti-wrinkle cream.
And the second thing, I absolutely wanted it to be something related to the sun because I worked in perfumery, skin care, fashion and I had fun. But we do not save lives. The sun kills. Wrinkles do not kill anyone.
I desired to use all this science that exists in skin care and apply it to a category that has not had a single innovation for almost 40 years, sun protection products, and create a very tiny and very technical range.
When you are an entrepreneur, it is a real commitment. What motivates you on a daily basis?
I am in charge. It is a challenge every day, I must constantly reinvent myself.
When you are an entrepreneur, it is your own money. So you look at your bank account and it is up to you to achieve everyday what you have to accomplish.
There is the side as well, finding new doors, new ways and trying to deliver the mission you are given yourselves.
An entrepreneur, particularly in the field like mine, has a mission and is animated by a kind of fire that is quite difficult to explain.
Then sooner or later, there is the fact of wanting to improve people’s lives, at a level that is yours. And you think about getting there, succeeding in making sure that for these people their daily lives are improved, thanks to the work that your brand has done, thanks to all these efforts.
What do you think it takes to succeed in the United States?
As an entrepreneur, you have to be a “doer”. I see a lot of people who talk a lot but they are not really achieving that much. When I was 20 years old, in France, I had a manager who came from the United States and who told me: “You have to make 10 decisions a day and in the batch, there may be 7 bad and 3 good, but at least there will be 3 good decisions. If you wait too long to verify, validate, re-validate, nothing will move forward.”
In the USA, people are much less going into the details than French people. They are much more pragmatic and in permanent agility, which gives them on some aspects a form of inefficiency, but in the end they are very efficient because they are constantly making decisions. They analyze risk in a different way than we do. They already see the opportunity more than the risk. They say to themselves “That is alright, we will go for it. We may fail, but at least we will have seized this opportunity.” And it actually works. So that agility is crucial.
If you are starting a direct-to-consumer business, the second thing is to confront the American consumer as soon as possible and not to believe that the answers you get are modifiable. You have to do your homework because here the customer is king. You really have to work on his philosophy, his psychology and it will impact the fact of adjusting your messages, your packaging. I am not saying to ask him for his opinion on everything, but to be as close as possible to the consumer. Because he is also the person who will decide the success of your company, and of the brand behind. If the consumer does not react or does not react well, there is a problem. And the problem is not him, it is you. Too often, I have seen brands fail because of this state of mind, saying “It was not the right day, we know we are right”. It is not because it worked in France, that it will necessarily be the case in the USA… When you arrive here the counters are reset to zero! So listen to the market and the consumer, constantly.
Discover Skinergies sun products, on our e-shop!