The Interview: Jo Gilberd and Karen Yang, Co-founders, Syrene

Syrene, Co-founders, Karen Yang and Jo Gilberd

Inspired by the ocean, skincare brand Syrene is dedicated to reducing marine waste through using recycled ocean plastics for some of its packaging. Founded in New Zealand, the brand combines science with nature using sustainable sources where possible.

All formulas are rich in marine nutrients and infused with natural extracts including, seaweed extracts, manuka, honey, marine collagen, pohutakawa and a seabreeze fragrance that is 100% natural.

Syrene uses recycled plastics from the ocean in some of its packaging and does not test on animals. Co-founders of Syrene, Jo Gilberd and Karen Yang tell TheIndustry.fashion’s The Beauty Edit more:

Could you tell us a little bit about your background? How did Syrene come to life?

Jo and I both immigrated to New Zealand 20 years ago and fell in love with the beautiful clean New Zealand beaches. We’ve both always loved and worked in the health and beauty industry and felt New Zealand was missing a luxury skincare brand that catered to international consumers. Everyone’s skin is different and I especially found the brands that were in the market were too rich and heavy for my skin, so we talked about the possibility of creating a skincare range which was light on the skin but still nourishing and hydrating to suit all skin types.

Because we both loved every aspect of New Zealand so much, we ended up developing the range around this too, from Syrene being an oceanic brand, using ingredients that embody the Pacific Ocean as well as local botanical extracts that Kiwis know and love.

We were also inspired by the book ‘Gift From the Sea’ by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, when developing the brand. Anne uses seashell shapes and patterns to define a pathway for women towards calmness from the pressures of time and responsibility. Syrene embraces the tales within this memoir and forms an essence for women to live by through each product, by reminding women to find moments to relax, be mindful and look after their skin. We feel that we all need to lead calmer and more contemplative lives and so developed our range with that in mind.

When did you launch and what was the response like?

From the moment we started Syrene in 2016, we wanted to grow our brand to a point where if anyone asked you, what New Zealand’s national skincare brand is, without hesitation they’d say Syrene. Just like, how everyone knows our national rugby team and airline, we feel there is a gap for beauty to be recognised like this globally too.

What is your current route to market in the UK?

We have recently set up our UK website, to make it easier for UK consumers to get their hands on Syrene online. We love UK retailers and can’t wait to see our aqua bottles on shelves, so consumers can easily try our products.

You launched in Harvey Nichols on the 14 August, tell us more?

We are so thrilled and proud to launch with Harvey Nichols, a retailer that is forward-thinking and iconic, known for sourcing the world’s most desirable brands. With a company ethos that matches perfectly with ours, including a commitment to providing consumers with fresh, new approaches to everyday life, and a continued effort to put sustainability at the forefront, we couldn’t have asked for a better retail partner for our UK launch.

We are excited that our products, which promote a sense of serenity and calmness will be accessible to the Harvey Nichols customer, especially during such unprecedented times, and hope they will enjoy the range as much as we loved creating it.

What does Syrene bring to the UK market?

We have a highly effective skincare range which combines science and nature, and we use incredible New Zealand ingredients which all add to the efficacy. These high-quality New Zealand ingredients combined with internationally sourced active ingredients, give Syrene an edge and make our brand one-of-a-kind. Our full range includes a special ingredient called Ephemer™, a seaweed extract that contributes to the protection of the skin by helping strengthen its antioxidant capacity, slowing the formation of free radicals responsible forageing.

We also use marine collagen throughout the range, which promotes a glowing, vibrant complexion and helps increase your skin’s moisture levels. Outside the ocean, New Zealand has a beautiful environment with special flora. You’ll also find home grown extracts like Pohutukawa, which contains ellagic acid helping the skin to remain soft, even, well moisturised and toned as well as black fern, which is a natural skin tightener and manuka honey to help keep the skin moisturised and clear.

What sets you apart from other skincare brands?

From the very beginning, we have made sure to keep Syrene unique from other brands, the look, the feel, the formulations and our story. We were inspired by the book ‘Gift from the Sea’ by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, when developing the brand. Anne uses seashell shapes and patterns to define a pathway for women towards calmness from the pressures of time and responsibility.

Syrene embraces the tales within this memoir and forms an essence for women to live by through each product, by reminding women to find moments to relax, be mindful and look after their skin. We feel that we all need to lead calmer and more contemplative lives and so developed our range with that in mind. Syrene is also an oceanic brand. From this story, our key marine ingredients, our aqua packaging, our calming sea breeze fragrance and even the meaning of our name – it’s a combination between the words serene, meaning calm, and siren, meaning mermaid. We think Syrene is unique and customers notice this.

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

We’re always working on new product development and actually get the whole team involved with this. We’re constantly looking out for trends, but also brainstorming what’s missing in the market and how we can fill that gap. We love the ocean and feel the ingredients are so beneficial, so we keep this at the forefront of our new product development.

We’re currently working on bringing a serum into our Aqua range, which the team have been trialling and perfecting for over a year. We’re also very conscious about sustainability and have this at the forefront of our minds, so we have started using Ocean Waste Plastic in our packaging. We also have another collection we will be launching soon with a new, very special marine ingredient in the mix!

Where is the current skin care market heading?

Consumers are moving to a more minimal approach, making investments in high-quality, high-performing products. This leads to a less-is-more mindset, creating less waste, reusing and upcycling wherever possible. Cutting back to only the essentials needed for healthy, glowing skin. This includes a basic skincare routine to follow
on busy days.

All of this is something we like to call ‘slow beauty’, like slow fashion, is about investing in products that have been lovingly crafted using sustainable methods and intelligently sourced ingredients. Slow beauty is about using fewer, better products to lessen unnecessary consumption and waste. We encourage our Syrene community to be more mindful about their beauty routine. Our products are there to inspire our customers to take time away from the digital world and relax—to literally slow down.

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

We think, it is sustainability. “Clean” beauty today is not just about what’s in consumers’ products, but also how products are produced and packaged. We feel sustainability is a crucial part of any new business model. We want to be part of the solution, not the problem.

What are your top 3 Syrene product recommendations?

The whole range is amazing, and the Syrene team individually all have their favourites. The range encompasses a full skin regime, from our Oil to Foam Cleaner to our treatment masques. My personal favourites are the Aqualight Moisture Gel Lotion. It is light, but packed with long-lasting hydrating properties, which leaves my skin super soft. The Aquagel Oil to Foam Cleanser as it removes makeup and debris really well without stripping the moisture from your skin.

If I had to choose, it would have to be the Intense Cream as it has the richest formula, which my skin loves to soak in. Its unique ingredient L22, is naturally derived from jojoba oil, macadamia and olive oil, and is designed to deliver the balanced lipid profile of a healthy 22-year old’s skin. It helps with skin elasticity, hydration and firmness.

Syrene is dedicated to reducing marine waste and has started using recycled ocean plastics for some of its packaging. What other ways is the brand incorporating sustainability into its business model and brand identity?

We are looking into ways we can ‘upcycle’ our products. Repurposing items to extend their life so we can avoid adding things to our already overflowing landfills. We’re currently encouraging our consumers to give their Syrene packaging a ‘second aqua life’. We have seen our jars being creatively used to store cotton pads, jewellery, stationary and our bottles as cute aqua vases.

We also source sustainable ingredients, this includes lab grown marine ingredients like algae to avoid harvesting limited resource and collagen extracted from fish scales, which are obtained from the by-product i.e. wastage of the fish industry.

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?

By researching and finding new ways to use recycled plastics as their first choice in packaging, as well as developing a recycling or upcycling program for their customers.

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

We have seen a steady growth in new customers purchasing through our website. This is due to new retail partnerships and the brand awareness that comes from those partnerships. But also, consumers are so well educated now, and are looking to use sustainable brands that are effective and relatable to modern life. We hope Syrene is that for many more customers to come.

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

We will continue to move forward and adapt throughout these challenging times. This includes moving International events to virtual Zoom events instead and having those essential business meetings virtually. Our staff are very important to us. Our focus
and number one priority has been to keep our team safe and employed. Digital is becoming more and more important, so we are ensuring our team is continuing to learn and work in a digital world.

What’s next for Syrene?

We are currently working on bringing a serum into our Aqua range, which the team have been trialling and perfecting for over a year. We’re also very conscious about sustainability and have this at the forefront of our minds, so we have started using Ocean Waste Plastic in our packaging. We also have another collection we’ll be launching soon with a new, very special marine ingredient in the mix.

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

Having a good, effective product is key. Know your position in the market, know your consumer. Focus on your individuality and what makes you stand out. Be prepared and prepare to be patient as building those relationships and negotiations can take
time.