Although both Ivor Lim Xian Z and Chew Hong Meng studied law, they are also passionate about personal care and the environment.
Unable to find the perfect deodorant to treat his severe body odour problem, Chew began experimenting with different natural ingredients to make a deodorant that was suitable for his sensitive skin early last year. In May 2020, HYGR — a play on the word hygrós, which means hygiene in Greek — was launched and its first product was the Smell Be Gone deodorant.
Lim then teamed up with Chew to produce natural tinted balm for her cracked lips. She also needed a coloured lip balm that would complement her sallow skin tone. As such, she started to construct a formula for lip balm. “I can be quite an idle person at times. So, I wanted a product that could be my go-to lipstick and a nourishing balm at the same time without having to put too much effort into it.”
As everything is easily accessible on the internet these days, the duo learnt to make the products — as well as plan the eco-friendly packaging — from the comfort of their homes during the lockdown. “We began watching videos on YouTube and searched for everything that we needed to know on Google. We studied the ingredients used in drugstore beauty products and began to build our own. The thing that makes one brand different from another is the ingredients they use in their products. Thus, we handpicked the substances that worked best for our formula and that’s how it all came together,” says Lim.
Production takes place at their homes. They are able to produce around 500 lip balms per day, with each batch of 100 taking up to two hours to make. On the other hand, deodorants require more time as they come in a bigger volume of 35g per container.
Lim and Chew had been doing everything themselves, from production to packaging, until a few months ago when they engaged a local manufacturer to work on a better formula for their products. “They helped to perfect and stabilise the formula that we were using previously so we could offer a better experience for our customers,” explains Lim.
All the ingredients used in their products are made locally but the packaging is sourced from China, owing to the limited options and difficulty in finding good materials at a reasonable price here in Malaysia.
Lim — who works as a full-time social media video producer — says she has learnt that the most important element to focus on when marketing their brand is choosing the right social media platform to reach the right audience. Surprisingly, customers are more responsive to the brand on TikTok compared with other platforms.
In fact, among HYGR’s notable features is its engagement on TikTok — one of its videos went viral on the platform and the brand sold 300 lip balms within an hour. Most businesses are still comfortable interacting with customers on Instagram or Facebook. HYGR now has close to 50,000 followers on the video-focused platform.
“Social media impacts our brand a lot, especially TikTok. Half of our sales come from our marketing strategy there,” declares Lim. “We make short videos to explain our products and people seem to engage with them well. For instance, if a customer requests to look at how we pack our orders, we will make a video and show them the process. We have tried to use ads on Instagram and Facebook, but they did not work out as well as we expected.”
As an eco-friendly brand, the hardest challenge for them is to spread awareness of and educate customers on the impact of plastics on the environment. “It can be tough trying to make people understand that the use of paper packaging is key to minimising plastics. People often ask why we do not use bubble wrap to package our products. Thus, it is our job to thoughtfully explain to them why we refuse to use plastics and opt for paper alternatives instead.”
HYGR has specific guidelines to achieve maximum eco-friendly packaging. Besides opting for honeycomb paper wrap as a substitute for the usual plastic bubble wrap, the brand uses ink stamp on deodorants and lip balms to differentiate scents and engraves its logo on boxes instead of sticking printed plastic stickers on them.
As they make the products themselves, Lim and Chew have total control over the ingredients. Thus, they accept customisation from customers who may be allergic to any of the substances used. “Unlike big brands that produce in bulk, we are able to adjust the formula upon request. Sometimes, it feels like we are selling products to our neighbours, although those customers are just strangers we got to know on social media,” Lim laughs.
From just deodorants and lip balms, HYGR has expanded its range of products to include essential oils for hair, face and eyelashes. “We were trying to utilise the remaining ingredients we have in stock and thought of what other products we could make using them. That’s how we ventured into a variety of body care items.”
Slowly but surely, both founders hope to expand their range of deodorants and lip balms by coming up with more scents for the former and more colours for the latter to accommodate the increasing number of customers.
This article first appeared on Nov 15, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.