Business is Boring is a weekly podcast series presented by The Spinoff in association with Callaghan Innovation. Host Simon Pound speaks with innovators and commentators focused on the future of New Zealand, with the interview available as both audio and a transcribed excerpt. This week he talks to Soraya Hendesi, founder of the skincare company Snowberry.
Everyone will be familiar with the way that skincare companies use science to sell their products, but how many people actually trust that the science is anything more than marketing?
Well often it actually isn’t. This episode we’re talking to a person who worked out that most were just selling ‘hope in a jar’ and set out to change that. Soraya Hendesi came to New Zealand as a trained cosmetician with a plan to make skincare that would actually work. This led to years of new research with partners like the University of Auckland and Callaghan Innovation, and the discovery of active agents that passed the gold standard of clinical trials, leading to skincare that actually works. Soraya’s company uses natural materials and has its own plantation north of Auckland, growing native plants long known for their properties. And by matching these with rigorous R&D, she turned her company Snowberry into an international force, attracting the attention of Procter and Gamble, one of the world’s biggest cosmetic companies, who bought Snowberry last year.
Soraya and her husband Mark still run the company here in New Zealand. To talk the journey, the sale and what’s next, Soraya joined the podcast
So tell me, where did your interest in skincare come from?
As a child I spent many hours in our Persian fragrant garden making beauty potions for my mother and grandmother who were at the time working for Unicef. My mother was an amazingly elegant lady, she was the one to open my eyes to beauty brands and as I grew older I became more and more interested in that world. We moved to England and then Spain where I spent many hours studying in department stores searching for that amazing skin care, that I never found.
The world became my university. I visited many exhibitions I lived and travelled in many countries where I made contact with people in the beauty industry. I knew what I wanted wasn’t going to happen by itself I needed to make contact with experts in different fields of beauty, science, marketing, branding and packaging so it was kind of like putting a jigsaw puzzle together.
So you were working/trained as a cosmetician?
Well I did later on. When I was studying I was doing different subjects but I realised what I should be pursuing is beauty and I decided to study to become a cosmetician to pave the way to skincare. I never intended to practise as a cosmetician but it really opened my eyes and made me more familiar [with the subject] which has been very very helpful.
Because it’s kind of wild how many of the ingredients in the things that people use regularly in their beauty regime are very harmful chemicals and could do the opposite of what people want them to do.
Unfortunately yes, that is true and I am a customer myself. There came a time when I thought ‘well I can not find a skincare brand that I can trust 100%’, the scientific ones were full of chemicals that I didn’t want and the natural ones sounded nice but were just not effective enough. So I found a lot of ingredients in a lot of supposedly anti-ageing products that were not only not effective but were also very harmful.
There is so much “we’ve got this active ingredient” and it’s in the eye cream and the moisturizers at such a low level that it could never ever actually have any effect unless you had 100 jars on you.
That’s right, I was never interested in setting market fluff. Like stories that we hear over and over again, for example, one would say ‘we found this new ingredient extracted from a very rare orchid that grows once in a millennium behind an impossible mountain’. You know I’m not interested in that, all I want is nice radiant skin.
So you had that ambition and you’d studied and trained, how do you go about injecting science into the natural space? What are some of the steps you take?
Well from a business point of view there has to be a lot of sacrifices, resilience and patience. We did a lot of restructuring because when the business started forming it wasn’t based upon only my dream but it had to be serious business. We decided to put all of our investments into four and a half years of University of Auckland scientific trial research to prove whether peptides could actually travel through the cellular matrix.