Published on Arabian Blue Ocean on February 13, 2018
If you are wondering if there is room for startups whose product is not an electronic device or a one day download-and-delete app, the answer is yes, as long we all need a moisturizing cream or something stronger to fix what harsh weather causes to our cutis (don´t tell me what harsh is, I have been living in the desert for several years where sandstorms hit time to time). But the challenge is: how to run it in a sustainable way, how not to deplete resources to solve a global population worry? “In the UAE plants grow naturally in the desert using very little water and poor soil, so they are not competing for food. We decided to take advantage of these uniquely found resources and transform them into valuable products. We discovered not only beauty related properties, but also small properties of these plants, so together we got a PTC patent* to protect the use of these extracts,” says Lina Yousef, co-founder of De L´Arta, the first Middle East sustainable skincare brand.
De l´Arta wants to be the first company in the world that uses renewable resources while not depleting the basic resources of water and using completely natural products, so there is nothing being released back into the environment that is harmful. “We also want to bring beauty back to the world, feeling good, so that´s why our slogan is Responsible beauty, people feel good about using their product sustainable. So we are a sustainable skin care brand,” says the scientist. Reasoning seems logic, but it requires an internal vision to keep you focus for years. “I´m 26 years old. I come from civil engineering, but six years ago I started creating my own lab where I discovered the use of plants. I was doing my own personal care stuff, taking care of the environment. I don´t like what goes into the water system with the sulfates and so on. We [Lina Yousef and I] met in 2014. We carried two years of research. I learnt a lot involved in science and care products. So this project is coming out from my passion, love of science, love of nature, environment,” explains Saeed Al Khoori, De L ´Arta cofounder.
They pitched a dream and their dream become true
It was a call to action when Lina Yousef and Saeed Al Khoori hurried to enter a MadTalk competition due the day after. They made the top five out of the 250 applicants. “We spent four or five hours preparing the application and sent a video. We didn´t have many expectations, we participated, people saw the vision we have and it kept going,” remembers Dr. Lina Yousef. That contest put them on track of their real possibilities and today they are at Catalyst, the Masdar-BP accelerator where their business process got fast: “We leverage by coming to Masdar Catalyst, it´s a spin off. They support us and we are getting the proper infrastructure and support, things really accelerated since September 2017, so we are really working hard and getting their logistics, but our research has been going for over two years,” says Dr. Lina Yousef.
“What happens after someone washes her hands, it goes into the water, and synthetic materials cannot be processed by nature?”
The team is happy with their accomplishments: “We have so far a PCT patent that has been applied for the innovation, the second thing is we secure the supply chain, so we know exactly how and where we are going to get our botanicals from. We have prototypes —a serum and a night cream using these active ingredients—.” They also have a clear path about their next steps: “We have seed funding to carry other pilot study which we are going to start this year. We are looking at 500 consumers to get their feedback. We are now in discussions with a global leader based in France that manufactures cosmetics globally in a very sustainable way, so we are very excited in how this project is evolving,” says Lina Yousef.
The route may look a bit vast, but Saeed cleared the path by sorting out the first selection: “I know the toxic plants, so we stayed away from them. We chose the plants that are more abundant. We are planning to do further research because there are more than 600 species in the UAE.” De L´Arta will be outsourcing the cultivation within the country. “We are not going to be picking resources from the desert, we want to have a quality control environment to grow these plants”, describes Dr. Lina.
The basic elements will be 100% Emirati and internationally certified: “The active botanical ingredients are going to be sourced from the UAE. It is an interesting opportunity because there isn´t anything like this in the Middle East right now with extracting natural. The European market has very strict regulatory parameters (…), so we are spending our time now is in certifying these extracts and making sure they are safe.”
The certification will make things clear for environmental conscious consumers: “We are not organic. We are natural. Organic doesn´t mean sustainable, there is a distinction. We aim to be sustainable, all of the materials that we are using are coming from a renewal resource, and the entire pipeline is, to best of our knowledge, following the most sustainable practices.”
De L´Arta founders frame their doing around “Responsible Beauty” and aim to conquer the luxury skin care products in Europe and Latin America.
The first 500 customers
The sustainable skincare startup will be producing 500 bottles —to distribute to a diversified portfolio of users and get their feedback— in a designated laboratory in Masdar City: “We call it a “demonstration facility”, available for people to come and check. We will be manufacturing in our demonstration lab using recipes that are provided to us by experts, using bioactive concentrations from the plants that we already know are the right amounts, we already have prototypes available that we produced ourselves, and those are the ones that we have been handling to friends and family. For example, my mother has a very sensitive skin. It is really is amazing, and it calms down any inflammation. We´ll start the trials in the second or third quarters of this year.” De L´Arta typical customers would be people aged 24-65 years, educated and environment concern, affluent urban, people who care about their lifestyle but want to feel good about their impact in the environment. “People care about their beauty. Our creams are cured to preventing ageing, tiding the skins and clarifying, so anyone who fits these categories,” says Dr. Lina Yousef.
According to their planning, De L´Arta will be taking off from of the region to chase their real interesting markets: “UAE is a hub of international population, we want to really capture the right profile, the territory target is the GCC and Mena region, but in three years from now, we are really looking into the European market and the Latin American market.” But why are you going so far? “Latin American consumers are very aware [of sustainability], Brazil is very well known for their sustainability practices, so it is already a market that is ready and is not yet saturated when you look at the presence of certain brands. Europe as well is not as saturated. Asia, China, Japan are very saturated and very difficult, there are very strong regulations to enter their market”.
So how are you crafting this new wave of sustainable skincare? “Number one is our uniqueness in the region, especially in the desert. Using desert plants, nobody really focused before on this. Number two is our entire sustainable approach; we even care about the recycled packaging. We are positioning in the luxury segment, our creams are not for everyone, we are targeting people who have the money to spend and who are knowledgeable and would be interested in trying something different”, comments Dr. Lina Yousef. Are you afraid from imitations? “We can´t prevent them from coming into the market. We have a strong team of people, our brand strategists have tremendous experience in cosmetics, and we have a very strong network and support. We feel we have the proper strength to get us into the market (…). We aim in five years to capture 15% of the market in the natural segment, but I don´t feel comfortable talking about figures right now. We are scientists,” sentences Dr. Lina. From the first entry perspective, Saeed al Khoori has no doubts: “There are not threats because we are the first company using these plants from the UAE, that´s our strengths.”
Next months will be filled with plenty of activity for the four members of the team. “We are in the pre-seed stage, the amount of money that we are going to receive is going to accelerate, and this is what we are looking for right now, we are looking for investment, investors interested in coming and talk to us, that´s really where we are. Typically, for first stage AED 5 million —somewhere around there— and then we´ll move forward. Marketing takes a bulk. The technology is here, the manufacturing is available, so it´s about getting De L´Arta out to the world right now.”
Going back to that day at MadTalks, Dr. Lina recalls: “People see the difference we are bringing, the uniqueness. The most important thing is our passion. Saeed is really passionate of plants; it is part of who he is. We have a lot of these elements —team, money, and place— for a successful adventure”.
So let the adventure starts.
* PCT – The International Patent System. The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) assists applicants in seeking patent protection internationally for their inventions.