The Interview: Gemma Harling, Founder, Luneia

Founder of Luneia, Gemma Harling

LUNEIA is a new British-born brand passionate about bringing high-performance skincare products to market in a sustainable way without compromising on efficacy. With powerful formulations that utilise clinically-proven active ingredients, LUNEIA prioritises skin health and targets specific needs. The brand is also environmentally conscious and chooses low-impact packaging so products are 100% recyclable.

Guided by founder Gemma Harling’s personal experience hunting for products to address her hormonal acne and professional experience stewarding brands at retail as a former senior beauty buyer at A.S. Watson Group-owned chain Superdrug, she decided to launch a high performance, vegan, cruelty-free skincare brand with a conscience. Founder of Luneia, Gemma Harling tells TheIndustry.fashion’s The Beauty Edit more:

Could you tell us a little bit about your background?

I’ve always been obsessed with Beauty from a young age, observing the amazing transformative impact a spritz of perfume & a slick of lipstick could have on my Mother. This naturally progressed into an amazing 15 year career as a Beauty Buyer for one of the UK’s leading Beauty retailers.

But with access to the behind the scenes practices of the industry, I felt there was an opportunity for me to have a positive impact by developing an eco-conscious brand, but doing so with formulations which acted on par with dermatologist-fronted high-performance brands. So the seed was planted and LUNEIA launched in Spring 2020.

What inspired you to launch LUNEIA?

During my time as a beauty buyer, I had access to literally hundreds of skincare products. Internationally best-selling face creams; buzz-generating scrubs; all-natural ‘miracle’ masks. You name it, I tried it. Which made my continued struggle with hormonal acne all the more disheartening.

This continued for years, until I decided to draw right back, forget the hype, and take responsibility for my own skin. I changed my skincare regime, focusing on clinically-proven products with specifically targeted active ingredients, and, alongside some holistic lifestyle changes, I finally saw the results I’d been waiting so long for.

So this was one half of the equation sorted. But with many brands already out there, I really struggled to find the high-performance formulations matched by high-ethics of packaging & process choices.

When did you launch and what was the response like?

We launched in February 2020 and the response has been overwhelming. From continuous amazing consumer product reviews, support for the conscious practices we have, and the industry recognition through the awards & press we’ve received – it’s been an amazing launch, despite coinciding with lockdown. The biggest honour has been to win BEST FACE MASK at the Pure Beauty Global Awards 2020.

What is your current route to market?

Having launched earlier this year, alongside the unfolding global pandemic, we are currently operating an exclusively direct-to-consumer model via our website www.luneia.com, and ship globally from our London office.

Being a young indie brand, it’s incredibly important to us to have a direct relationship with our consumer. We have an active and responsive community on our social platforms, providing regular & direct feedback from our brand fans. This allows us to truly respond to what people want from their skincare & wellness products.

Retail partnerships are definitely an integral part of our distribution strategy but we see the value in having less partners, but ones in which the relationship can truly be mutually beneficial.

We can bring innovation, and sustainable initiatives to the table, and would search for partners who are looking to curate a brand edit to support in their growth, for mutual gain. There are some great initiatives by retailers to support a brand like LUNEIA, such as the recent Project Earth by Selfridges, Cult Conscious by Cult Beauty or Net Sustain by Net A Porter. We would LOVE to be a part of one of these curations, with it being even more meaningful than the usual brand/retailer partnership.

What does LUNEIA bring to the skincare market?

We were really clear from the outset of developing LUNEIA that the products had to have exceptional performance. We ran a pre-launch consumer listening survey in which 96% of consumers stated that “products which really work” are their number one required attribute from skincare brands.

So this was our first priority – to use the highest quality active ingredients, at super-potent levels – so we could be confident that LUNEIA will always deliver on the promises we make. As a founder who has experienced skin concerns throughout my life, I understand the fundamental importance of this first and foremost, from a consumer perspective.

And with the growing concerns around our environmental impact as consumers, it was incredibly important for us to choose the lowest impact packaging and processes – despite often being the slower and more expensive routes to take. But these values are intrinsic to the brand DNA.

What sets you apart from other skincare brands?

Our values! We combine high-performance skincare with environmentally conscious efforts. The brand was born from the premise that sustainable choices are frequently only associated with natural brands. LUNEIA proves that high-performance, efficacious skincare can still be sustainable and responsible – it’s beauty with a conscience!

How do you come up with new ideas for your products?

At LUNEIA, our aim is for our product range to be functional, tailored and concise. Months of planning, testing, re-testing and trials go into our formulations before we put them to market, with an edit of high efficacy, potent ingredients being at their core. In fact, by the time Radiance Ritual made it to launch, it was already a skincare staple that our team couldn’t live without!

To ensure we’re truly a brand who responds to consumers, we have curated a group of VIP brand evangelists, with whom we discuss new product ideas to gain their honest, real-time feedback. As an emerging indie brand with limited budgets, this really allows laser-focus on developing products answering a true need, and relates back to our over-arching aim of sustainability and slow beauty – with each product being developed with a clear, and specific reason for existing.

Slow beauty is one of LUNEIA’s core brand focuses. How can this concept have a more positive impact on the environment?

We believe we have a huge responsibility as a progressive indie brand, to have a positive impact with all the decisions and choices we make.

This starts with the overall range hierarchy and only developing products with a clear need, multi-tasking where possible.

The next consideration is then our packaging choices. We use tubes made of 50% PCR (post-consumer recycled plastic, from recycled bottles & reclaimed ocean plastic), cartons produced from managed forestry sources. We are proudly manufactured in the UK, are cruelty-free and hold The Vegan Trademark by The Vegan Society.

We have just launched a range of breathable cotton face-coverings as part of our support for the NHS (a £1 donation is made to the NHS from each mask), for which we intentionally sourced “dead-stock” fabric, end-of-line fabrics destined for landfill.

These choices are often the slower, more difficult and more expensive routes to take – but are the way in which we can make a true and tangible impact on the environment. These are our brand ethics and ones which consumers are increasingly demanding [69% of consumers we surveyed believing “it is the responsibility of brands & retailers to make it easier for me to be environmentally conscious].”

LUNEIA is an environmentally conscious brand and chooses low-impact packaging so products are 100% recyclable. What other ways is the brand incorporating sustainability into its business model and brand identity?

Sustainability as a whole is something that is at the core of our brand, and the forefront of our wider development. We are forever innovating; seeking the latest updates and discoveries in the world of planet friendly packaging, as well as ways we can tune into the wider sustainability sphere through working with responsible suppliers, factories, couriers and materials.

But it’s more than this. We are focused on a higher goal of “doing the right thing”. This includes plastic-free shipping materials, using more expensive manufacturers with higher working standards & benefits for their employees, and going against the beauty industry norm of churning our copious amounts of duplicitous NPD, instead focussing on a small curated edit.

Right now, we’re proud that our offering is sustainable, but we know there is always more we can do. Practising mindful, sustainable choices is a key aspect of our everyday rituals and wider brand philosophy, so we aim to help our customers take small steps to make them part of theirs too.

There is a serious problem with plastic within the beauty industry – glamorous and feel-good though it may be – is a major contributor. How can the beauty industry help tackle the issue of marine waste?

This is absolutely an issue, and it’s one which is growing every day. It’s a complex problem though, one which needs a multi-faceted approach to be in with a chance of improving.

Absolutely, brands need to take ownership and responsibility of their choices and actions, working to not only reduce their impact at every available opportunity, but to also have a positive rather than just neutral impact. This is our firm belief and guiding star at LUNEIA. Through using PCR materials from reclaimed ocean plastic, we not only avoid the production of virgin plastic, but we also place a value on the plastics in our ocean, increasing the demand for them to be removed.

We also look to the support given to consumers – on how we educate them of the importance of waste management, but to also provide infrastructure to properly recycle and work towards a lower-waste economy. Some retailers have started to take the lead, such as John Lewis partnering with TerraCycle to facilitate and encourage consumer behaviour, and Selfridges providing services such as refillable products as part of their Project Earth initiative.

Where is the current skin care market heading?

Consumers are becoming more invested in the science and formulations behind their products, which is something that LUNEIA really champions as a brand. We foresee a continued growth in our consumer really wanting to understand HOW their products work and WHAT they need to use in order to see results, opting to slimline their edit of skincare heroes to those that use clinically tested, active ingredients that are proven to work. We are huge advocates of ingredient transparency and education.

There is also a movement towards beauty from the inside. Health is wealth is definitely the mind-set of Gen Z consumers, and increasingly we see topical products being complemented by ingestibles.

What have been the most important skincare trends of 2020 so far?

There has been a huge shift away from heavy make-up towards skincare, as consumers favour a more natural appearance. This has been building over the past few years, but with the recent occurrence of people working from home due to the pandemic, less make-up, but looking for products to give them brighter, more even skin whilst on video conference calls.

As such, their interest has spiked in skincare, with the rise of “skintellectuals” who know their active ingredients well, and how to combine them for a bespoke regime tailored for their individual needs. LUNEIA answers to this by being transparent with our ingredient list, and always stating the % of active ingredients within our formulations.

Coinciding with the pandemic, there is the newer phenomenon of “maskne” – congested, and irritated skin driven by wearing face coverings for prolonged periods of time. This has also impacted on the colour cosmetics market, with the eye category booming, at the expense of lip – with consumers looking to accentuate the visible areas of their face.

What are your top product recommendations?

The LUNEIA Radiance Ritual Glow Mask of course! A real people pleaser, the formula has impressive results on a wider variety of skin types. Loaded with a potent 10% AHA and 2% BHA acid exfoliant complex, these powerhouse clinically-tested active ingredients work hard to brighten, smooth and decongest skin, as well as boosting collagen synthesis – for bright and glowy skin. With a minimal INCI list, Radiance Ritual is free from fragrance, essential oils and colourants to remove all possible skin irritants.

How has the LUNEIA direct-to-consumer website been performing throughout this uncertain period?

DTC has been performing really well for the brand. At launch, we sold our six-month forecasted volume within the first hour. A During lockdown, we saw a 5-fold increase in demand over April & May due to the glowy result being perfect for the WFH no-make up, healthy-skin look (and also to help with new ‘maskne’ phenomenon)

In what ways has LUNEIA been adapting to such challenging times?

We are relatively new to market so much of our pivoting has been away from our intended launch plans, vs already existing practices. Alongside our skincare offering, we added a Beauty Care Parcel with handwritten notecard in response to consumer shopping habits, and their desire for a way to connect with their loved ones they missed. We have also massively strengthened our DTC platform vs intended plan, with that being the primary focus, with retail partnerships moving to be a Q4/ Q1 focus instead.

What’s next for LUNEIA?

In line with our philosophy of a curated, purposeful offering, we’ve been working hard on developing high-performance, multi-purpose products to add to our edit.

Launching later in 2020, we’ll be introducing three new products to our range, made up with potent levels of clinically-proven active ingredients. It’s so important for any product we put out there to really have the science behind it’s formula to back up its results, so we’re very excited for what’s to come next. Stay tuned! We also love reflecting on what our customers want to see from us, so always welcome community feedback.

What advice would you give to anyone starting a beauty brand?

Be prepared to trouble-shoot, as things invariably deviate from the plan. Act fast and be nimble to demonstrate your value vs slower corporate brands. Do not underestimate the power of your network, that will be your biggest asset. It’s a small industry, be kind & courteous, and offer helpful where possible.