Business partners Irene Lim and Soo Hoo Siew Kheng were colleagues in an oil and gas company, specialising in marketing and communications. Naturally, they were exposed to many methods and practices for living a sustainable life and wanted to bring their knowledge into the beauty industry, which contributes a devastating amount of waste to the environment.
“Oil and gas is often associated with pollution. So, a lot of creative measures have been implemented to reduce its impact. It doesn’t matter whether it’s beauty or other industry we get into; we just want to bring positive changes to the business,” says Lim.
Soo Hoo adds: “We learnt a lot about sustainability because that’s what the world is moving towards. And as a brand, you have to be sustainable to stay relevant. We saw the need to come up with sustainable solutions for the beauty industry. Customers these days are knowledgeable. They want to know what they are putting on their face.”
With that in mind, they created a skincare brand that offers sustainable solutions and meets the requirements of consumers who look for products made in a responsible manner to use on a daily basis. Launched last February, R+B — short for Repurposed Beauty — is Malaysia’s first circular beauty brand that reuses and repurposes by-products to minimise waste that goes to landfills.
For its first range, the label incorporates Arabica — collected from shops around the Klang Valley — as the star ingredient in all its products. Why coffee? “Everybody drinks it, sometimes a few cups a day. Daily, 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide. So, the amount of grounds being thrown away for every cup you brew is a lot. When coffee waste is decomposed, it generates methane gas, which is more polluting than carbon dioxide,” says Lim.
By picking up the coffee from cafés, they are able to prevent a lot of these by-products from going to waste. It is also not an unusual ingredient to introduce to customers since everyone is familiar with it. “It is already part of our lifestyle. Now, the coffee’s life span is extended and used as the main component in our products to treat skin problems.”
Arabica has been scientifically proven to be rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants that help provide protection from damaging properties. Packed with useful vitamins and minerals, it is also a great source of electrolytes and hydration. Other notable ingredients used in the products include the resurrection plant, cinnamon, grapefruit and orange oils.
“For now, we are using only Arabica because it is the best one out there and has all the nutrients needed to nourish skin. We don’t use virgin material because we don’t want to compete with food and other resources. It is time that every industry thinks about how best we can reuse or extend the life cycle of by-products instead of throwing them away after a single use,” Lim says.
R+B released five offerings in this range comprising face gel, face scrub, moisturiser, body scrub and body cream, aiming to tackle issues such as uneven skin tone, pigmentation, dull skin and large pores. The brand teamed up with local experts to come up with the formula, which took a while to perfect.
The coffee grounds collected from cafés are filtered and processed before being sent to an extractor, who has more than 10 years’ experience in extracting botanical ingredients. Then, the items are delivered to the manufacturers, where formulation and production take place.
All products undergo different kinds of lab tests to ensure they are safe to use on humans. Lim says: “We make sure these factories have GMP, ISO, eco and halal certifications. So, when we apply for all the paperwork later on, the process will be easier.”
Their ultimate goal when starting out was to make a positive impact on the planet as well as give back to the community by producing quality products for consumers and donating a portion of their profits to non-governmental organisations.
Currently, they are collaborating with Ape Malaysia and 4X4 Relief. The former is working towards restoring landscapes degraded by deforestation; the latter supports Orang Asli communities in inaccessible areas by providing relief, especially in times of crises and disasters such as floods and fires. Customers get to choose whether to donate to either of these entities during the checkout process on the brand’s website.
On top of experiencing delays in launching the brand due to the pandemic — product formulation and tests could not be carried out in the lab, as everyone was working from home — Lim and Soo Hoo admit that competing with big companies on the market is a challenge because that means they have to invest more in marketing.
“Just like any other brand starting up, you always begin small. We can do so much more if we have more resources. But, with limitations, this is the best that we can do so far. The beauty industry is about marketing and advertising; if you don’t have that, it can be hard to make your presence known,” Soo Hoo says.
Armed with feedback from 300 women who participated in the trial process during pre-launch, their next plan is to produce more products, including serum, eye cream, sunblock and face mask using Arabica.
The duo is also looking to explore other tropical ingredients in the next collection such as pineapple, rambutan and mangosteen. “Malaysia is rich with resources. We have a lot of interesting ingredients from local plants to use,” says Lim. The brand will expand its range of offerings to address more skin problems in the near future.
This article first appeared on Apr 17, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.