As a brand priding itself on homegrown ingredients, swimming out into the wider ocean of the industry has not been without its challenges for Haeckels. The company was founded in 2012 in the seaside town of Margate by volunteer beach warden Dom Bridges, who wanted to utilize his adoration of coastal landscapes as the basis for an ethically produced skincare range.
Harvesting the local seaweed by hand, Bridges’ brand began in the family kitchen before he bought a property on Cliff Terrace in 2013 to give the yet-to-be completed product range a testing home. This location soon became the first Haeckels retail location, a place operating under the brand’s premise of “from the ocean, for the ocean.” Today, those headquarters house not just a product lab and retail space, but brand offices, a beauty school, and a candle-pouring room.
Haeckels has been using glass packaging and a nature-first approach since inception, organizing local beach cleans, acquiring a coastal license in order to continue its local harvesting methods, and setting up their Rubbish For Product scheme. With said scheme, if customers bring a bag of beach garbage to the store, with visual proof of its source, they will receive a free product. Once they use up the product, if they return it to the store they will get a discounted refill.
There was definite consumer love for the brand which lived and breathed its mission, complete with incredibly lifelike scent interpretations—the moist petrichor of raindrops in the Pluviophile, the crisp salty sea breeze of Walpole, the fresh grass of the countryside in Richborough—and minimally packaged / multiuse products such as seaweed soap. But love alone can’t guarantee profits, with the company struggling to reach profitability once it began to scale.
Now with the dawn of Haeckels 2.0, underscored by a minority investment from The Estée Lauder Companies, the company is turning things around. This sophomore outing entails a division of the company into four new pillars: Haeckels Home, Haeckels Fragrance, Haeckels Skin, and Haeckels Lab.
With a sensual campaign shot by Laura Jane Coulson, featuring creative direction by Nellie Eden, and a newly renovated Hackney location with aquamarine floors, cream walls, and metallic silver shelves, this Haeckels 2.0 certainly looks different, but the environment-loving heart is still beating strongly as ever. And this time that heart is expected to reach £5 million ($5.8 million) in sales by the end of this year.
The path to this chapter of reinvention didn’t come without sacrifice, as the company made the decision to turn down replenishment orders of the original line from its 120 retailers. Then again, Haeckels has shown that a halfway approach is not in its DNA.
That DNA is rooted in biodesign, microbiome friendliness, and gut health as base factors for the brand’s product development approach. Its hero ingredient, seaweed, offers multiple benefits: antibacterial, rebuilding, and anti-inflammatory properties for the skin, as well as minerals, vitamins, and amino acids for the body. In order to ensure its potency, local supply chains are being set up as the brand’s reach expands, be that in Sri Lanka or southern California, although the latter location still is in a developmental stage.
As for new launches, there’s a Prebiotic Cleansing Balm, a hydrating cleanser that is also rich in ceramides and sterols, as well as an Eco Marine Cream, available in both a lighter daytime and heavier nighttime version, all of which support the skin barrier’s natural functions. The brand’s candles have received a sophisticated update with sandblasted glass in shades of cream black and white, with a new refill model available to encourage reuse.
When it comes to packaging products that don’t require lighting by match, the new Haeckels is betting on home compostable Vivomer, developed by Shellworks—a solids- and liquids-compatible material borne from microbes of marine and soil environments. Within as little as 48 weeks, the material is able to be one with the biosphere, or compost fully. It also has a (literally) lighter carbon footprint than the amber glass predecessors the company was using. The material was verified and certified by Din Certco and Provenance to solidify sustainability claims.
Such cross-industry collaboration is an important cornerstone in Haeckels’ mission to do better for the planet. The company launched a fully edible, compostable cup with Red Bull, debuting at the UK Festival We Out Here in August. The product contains ginger, spirulina, and blueberry, and was born out of a desire to not only boost festivalgoers' stomach states and overall mood, but combat plastic waste in the process. A limited-edition collaboration with Ozone Coffee on Haeckels’ trademark seaweed soap uses waste coffee grinds for exfoliating particles and waste coffee cups to create its packaging.
Amidst all the exciting changes, Charlie Vickery, Managing Director of Haeckels, had a discussion with BeautyMatter about the brand’s metamorphosis, why physical retail is king, and how authenticity has become key for investment seekers.
How have the challenges of the past few years, from retail struggles to fundraising challenges, informed your revamped brand vision and mode of operations?
I think we only learn through hardships and failure, as awful as that sounds. It keeps us agile, keeps us focused, and makes us interesting. Every single idea we’ve had has been nurtured through that process—evolve, iterate, and innovate. It would have been easy for us to ride high on what we’ve always done, but our growth over the last couple of years and the scale we have achieved has shown us we can do more and be more. It’s not in our DNA to stand still; we’ve been built on principles to push forward and present the next thing to our community. In many ways, our relaunch was 10 years in the making, and it’s just the beginning.
How do you manage sourcing the seaweed basis for your products locally with the company’s growing business?
It’s something we’re currently very focused on. We source three different types of seaweed: bladderwrack, kelp, and dulse. This all happens in Margate. Each type of seaweed has an amazingly different impact on skin, body, and mind. We are always evaluating our impact on our resource consumption in manufacturing; later this year, we’ll be launching a new line of products that are lab grown. This new thought process allows us to mitigate our own impact as we grow, and some of these ingredients are literally growing in our stores as we speak.
What was the journey with using Vivomer material in your packing like?
It’s been quite a journey; we constantly communicate with up-and-coming designers, artists, and brands to ensure we are continually pioneering and championing new methods of production and materials as we scale. It’s been a long and fun journey partnering with Shellworks on this. There’s been many a late night working out how we get the products out of the packaging, peering into composters to check the material is composting as it should do, but it all came together in the end.
Do sustainable brands need to rethink their approach to using glass packaging as a go-to in favor of other options?
I think there is no universal approach to packaging; glass, in many situations, is a durable packaging solution that has many positive impacts on the environment versus other materials. For us, the relaunch came about from conversations with our customers and an analysis of our in-store recycling and packaging return rates.
We saw that our customers were refilling their home products again and again, but not their skincare, which they were recycling at home. Recycling is a great option but is also carbon intensive, from collection to processing. We toyed with industrially compostable packaging 18 months earlier with very mixed success, so we knew that for our next step, we actually had to launch something scalable, durable, and a real example of how to create a solution that customers can do themselves. This has worked for us because we looked at the data and let it inform and underscore our decisions and risk taking—it wouldn’t work if you weren’t in a constant dialogue with your customers.
How has your business partnership with Estée Lauder Companies been thus far?
We work with the New Incubation Ventures part of Estée Lauder, who were a left-field entrant into our fundraising last year. They’ve been great—they’ve given us freedom and support where we need it. They’ve introduced us to leaders at Deciem and Le Labo who have gone through many of the things we’ve had, so they can help us problem-solve as we scale. It’s been invaluable.
I also think not being a traditional “growth fund,” they are not dictated by us having to smash the hell out of the sales plan every quarter. That’s given us the freedom to concentrate fully on the relaunch and allow transparency with our retailers and community to say “something big is coming, maybe don’t buy that for the time being”—something that is intrinsically Haeckels and again, that transparency is baked right into our DNA.
What would be your advice to brand founders looking to grow their business and seeking investment?
Never believe your own hype, and have fun. You don’t build a business by reading a how-to book—expect to fail more than you can comprehend, but expect to learn more than you ever knew possible. I also think, thankfully, that this age of entrepreneurship being dictated by green-smoothie-drinking, yoga-obsessed wake-up-at-5 am types is over. You truly can be your authentic self now, and it’s something that investors respect.
After Sri Lanka, which location are you eyeing for creating a local supply chain next?
Australia and the USA—watch this space.
What activations for this relaunch do you have lined up for the future?
Retail continues to form the beating heart of our business—we’re not very good at online. We don’t do discounts and send one email weekly, and we won’t change that. So for us, our activations always focus on retail and products. We’ve only launched a fraction of what we have in the pipeline, and always focus on creating noise where people least expect it.
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