Entrepreneurs have different reasons for starting a business. Some want to pioneer a product or service, while others choose to enjoy a more flexible lifestyle.
For Ms Jené Roestorf, a biological scientist and founder of Singapore skincare company Luxe Botanics, it was to lead the beauty industry into an era of activism.
Growing up in the South African bush opened up a window of natural beauty to the 39-year-old Ms Roestorf. Her love for nature and desire to uplift communities, coupled with years of clinical research work in areas such as dermatology and oncology, created the perfect foundation for her entrance into the beauty industry.
When she met business partner Rachel Chan, the two women – who were both at a career crossroads at the time – realised that the encounter was nothing short of serendipitous.
Ms Chan, 39, whose expertise spans public relations, marketing, corporate social responsibility and investor relations, shares: “When I first met Jené, she had a bold idea and a strong conviction in her beliefs, but I was also struck by her foresight and business acumen.
“I had just lost a childhood friend to cancer. Before my friend passed away, she was thinking about the legacy she wanted to leave in this world. I saw what Jené wanted to do as a way for me to help make a difference and, in some ways, also leave my own legacy.”
The partners spent 18 months on research and development, seeking to create natural, cruelty-free and healthy skincare products backed by science.
The result was a range of 21 products using certified organic botanicals – each free from synthetic fragrances or ingredients derived from animals or petrochemicals; a skincare line that was excellent for the skin and good for the planet.
Green beauty is real beauty
Together, this dynamic duo is breaking new ground at a time when many beauty brands are struggling to find a balance between producing products that offer the greatest efficacy and creating natural, environmentally friendly, sustainable practices.
Consumers in Singapore are becoming more conscious of the social and environmental impact of their choices, and Luxe Botanics is proud to be a part of this growing movement.
Luxe Botanics’ message is clear: Choose products created with sustainably harvested botanicals, and support the industry as it embraces new, innovative green chemistry.
Ms Chan explains: “Certain skincare ingredients can be sourced unethically, and additionally, contribute to environmental depletion. We create naturally derived synthetic ingredients in the lab that are better for the environment and guarantee equal efficacy.
“When people hear about lab-derived ingredients, the first words that come to mind are ‘toxic’ and ‘synthetic’. Our aim is to stand up for ethical synthetics that reduce harm to the environment – that’s where education comes in.”
For instance, Luxe Botanics ethically synthesises ingredients traditionally derived from animal sources, including squalane, which is biosynthesised from plant sources like olives, rice bran, wheat or sugarcane instead.
But sustainability doesn’t end with the production process. The packaging of Luxe Botanics’ products prioritises eco-friendly options, including minimising recyclable plastic use and using clear glass and aluminium bottles instead. Ms Chan adds that efforts are underway to create refillables to help refill and reuse primary packaging.
Honouring their roots
For Ms Roestorf, Luxe Botanics’ social mission of giving back to its harvesting communities is especially important.
Growing up during South Africa’s apartheid, she is well aware of its history of institutionalised racial segregation. This awareness underscores her consciousness of social impact issues and injustice towards minorities.
As such, a big part of the brand’s mission is to empower women in Africa by funding female entrepreneurship, and strengthening family and educational opportunities for children.
“A female child in Africa is often seen as a commodity that can be sold for work, as a sex slave or as a wife. Once you educate a girl, you elevate her standing as a person with human rights. They’re more likely to have fewer children and build eco-friendly livelihoods, which is key to mitigating climate change,” says Ms Chan.
At the same time, the brand also provides micro loans to women to start their own businesses in Africa, and ensures that their harvesting communities are provided with fair trade wages for their labour.
Doing good is good business
Luxe Botanics is starting its journey to earn its B-Corp certification, a private accreditation of for-profit companies that meet the high standards of environment and social performance, accountability and transparency. Globally, only 3,000 to 4,000 certifications have been given out.
Come September, the brand also expects to receive the CosmEthically ACTIVE certification, the gold standard for the green beauty industry aiming to validate the source of each naturally derived ingredient and formulation efficacy for skincare.
Doing good is good business, says Ms Chan, because it enables the business to carry on sustainably in the long term.
“In the same way the fashion industry has made more people question who manufactured their clothes, people in the beauty industry are changing how ingredients are sourced sustainably and ethically,” she added.
Making bookkeeping beautiful
The Covid-19 pandemic was a game changer for many companies, and Luxe Botanics was no exception.
Its main buyers market, the United States – which accounted for 75 per cent of sales – was badly hit. It quickly became vital for Luxe Botanics to amplify online sales and diversify its market share, says Ms Chan. The business is broadening its footprint by launching in the United Arab Emirates, Israel, and potentially India and China.
A more efficient and reliable bookkeeping system became a top priority.
Shares Ms Chan: “When we first started, manual accounting on Excel was time-consuming and prone to human error. It was also difficult from a strategic standpoint to extract and analyse data to see which markets were generating the most revenue for us, how much we were spending on operating expenses, where to invest our time, and where savings could be earned.”
As the company’s sales volume grew, tracking incoming payments while looking at outgoing payments became ever more time-consuming. The company turned to cloud-based accounting software Xero to resolve these issues.
The pay-offs were instant. Operations became more streamlined, so monthly bookkeeping and annual tax returns are much easier to manage. The software’s multi-currency accounting and invoicing capabilities have also supported the company’s global expansion, in real time.
What’s more, the company’s Shopify and payment solutions automatically integrate with Xero to track every transaction, allowing its Shopify e-commerce site to collect payments in multiple currencies whilst staying connected to its Singapore bank account seamlessly.
Says Ms Chan: “Xero has given us a bird’s eye view of our business. We can now better manage cash flow, see each market’s growth potential and identify areas where we can cut expenses.
“We will be seeking funding in the future, and having a reliable historical resource of our accounts allows us to track growth year on year, plan our finances and chart our progress more accurately.”
Ms Chan advises that small businesses like hers need to learn how to operate more efficiently.
She explains: “This is something you really need to do because knowledge will make you better at your own business – especially when you need to deal with things that are not in your area of expertise.”
“If you have no time to learn a new skill, ask for help. That’s what we did during our efforts to pivot online, and we were lucky that we had peers and mentors who provided training and helped us upskill. Don’t be shy to ask for help; you’ll be surprised to find people who want to support and help you grow.”