For a certain segment of the industry, beauty happens in the lab, when active ingredients meet preservative systems. For a select few brands, however, it has escaped captivity, roaming through the lush landscape of the Amazon rainforest. And rather than simply taking inspiration, they are restoring the space with environment and social efforts.
Indeed, the subject of splendor in question—a rainforest stretching 2,300,000 square miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Andes mountains, the habitat of millions of animal species, some yet to be discovered by science—is also the site of mass deforestation and indigenous injustice. A surge in forest fires and encouragement of tree clearing by the Brazilian government are other issues negatively impacting the space. And this effect isn’t regional: if the so-called “lungs of the world” disappear, there will be a significant impact on the entire Earth’s water and carbon cycle. For the Indigenous people that call the Amazon their home, their very livelihood is on the line.
For Francisco Costa, founder of Costa Brazil, who hails from Minas Gerais, “the people [of the Amazon] and their deep-rooted knowledge of the forest continues to be the main source of inspiration.” Costa spent time with the Yawanawás in the northern Brazilian Amazon, experiencing their rituals, celebrations, and traditions. “They opened their minds to me and, in turn, my mind to them. They have a connection to the earth that is breathtaking to witness. Every day is about purification, re-energizing, healing, love—for each other and the forest,” he recalls. The scent memories of that journey inspired the brand’s unisex perfume Aroma, which contains notes of burning wood, orange blossoms, dirt, smoke, and mint.
Costa is passionate about giving back to those who gave so much of their energy and inspiration to him. His company works alongside the nonprofit Conservation International to follow best production practices and help riverside agricultural communities. All ingredients are wild-harvested where possible and suppliers are chosen based on fair-trade and sustainability practices.
Recently the company celebrated International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, giving a platform to Thiago Yawanawá, the son of the head of the Yawanawá people. “He described his people’s way of life so beautifully and captured his friends and family at home and at festivals, fighting and marching for the protection of their land. There is such an opportunity to learn from each other, and make better choices for us all,” Costa remarks. “We will uphold our great relationship with Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLC) in the Brazilian Amazon and continue to support, amplify, and learn from them. But that’s not enough.”
With the company’s recent acquisition by Amyris, Costa hopes to do even more. “Our intention is to replicate our hero ingredient, breu, in the lab so that we can source only the amount that will help the forest thrive,” he explains. “The agreement would of course cover what we source and then some—we believe in paying IPLC a fair, living wage for the very hard work it takes to source ingredients and for the generations of knowledge and experience they have in the forest.”
For Shane Lindner, co-founder of clean skincare brand Amazonian SkinFood, preserving that knowledge and experience is equally of utmost importance. "When the ancestral knowledge of the Indigenous people is lost, the whole world will lose the ability of living in more harmonious life with nature and its abundance,” he proclaims.
Part of that knowledge is the extensive medicinal uses of local plant life. “For the Indigenous tribes from the Amazon rainforest, the pharmacy is their surroundings, and any skin need is always fixed with a specific plant and its particular ways of use,” Lindner’s partner and co-founder Rose Correa says, citing the late renowned plant chemist Dr. Otto Gottlieb, who stated that “We know little or nothing about the chemical composition of 98.6% of the Brazilian flora.” She adds that another key lesson from the Amazonian communities is “that the community needs and collective goals always come before that of the individual. Different from my reality that even though we know a lot about climate change and its relation with consumerism and our daily habits, we still struggle to change.”
Lindner and Correa began the company to create positive change through their products and “create a culture of forest life preservation, strengthening ancestral traditions and the socioeconomic autonomy of its people.” “Our mission is to create a responsible supply chain and sustainable economy in the Amazon rainforest. One that moves away from the destruction and rampant extraction of forest resources caused by cattle farming, mining, and logging to one that uses renewable resources and non-timber forest products that produce economic value while keeping the forest standing,” Correa proclaims.
After two years of R&D, they self-funded the launch of the company in December 2021 with a face oil and cream using native plants such as sacha inchi, cacay, and burit. A cleanser and three further personal care products are set for release next year. “We spent the first few months researching Amazonian ingredients, focusing on its sustainability impact in the forest and people: its season, social and environmental impact in the communities, availability in scale, characteristics, performance,” Correa explains. “The beauty market is very saturated, and one thing we noticed was an opportunity to bring forest ingredients that have amazing nutritional profiles.”
Amazonian SkinFood works with local communities like the quilombos—settlements founded by Afro-Brazilians who escaped slavery—to ensure ethical agroforestry management practices, wild harvesting where possible to provide more economic opportunity. The duo source the açaí for their products from the village of Santana village, a small riverside community (of 75 families) in the northern state of Pará, located in a reserve with over 4,000 hectares of protected land. For these families, açaí and fishing provide the primary sources of income and consumption. Amazonian SkinFood’s buriti is from the Alto Jurua Extractive Reserve, a protected area in Acre, created to preserve not only the local people’s livelihoods and cultures, but also its natural resources.
For one of their upcoming products, a QR code will show consumers the location of the exact village and the family who harvested the copaiba resin oil that goes into it. “We want to tell more of how our ingredients are produced and show the families involved in the process,” Correa adds. “We strongly believe that trading goods and services can generate significant economic value by helping reduce poverty and, most importantly, preserve and reuse environmental resources. The opportunity for genuine, sustainable trade is crucial to fight deforestation in the Amazon and address the current climate crisis.”
A proponent of “conscious commerce,” Amazonian SkinFood donates 10% of the company’s profits to benefit the Ni Shunpin project. Commenting on the partnership, Correa notes: “During our last trip to Brazil, we met the Ni Shunpin project of the Indigenous leader Ixã Huni Kuin, from Altamira Village, Acre, where almost 170 people live. We were able to listen to his vision and his call to build alliances with people of all colors, from all directions. We immediately connected to the idea of creating a sacred and protected place where knowledge could be practiced for the next generations yet to come.” The company is also a member of Origens Brasil, a network focused on the conservation of the rainforest, on top of supporting fair trade in its sustainable supply chain.
Rahua has been creating haircare products under the motto of “rainforest-grown beauty” since 2008. When NYC-based hair stylist and colorist, but also passionate environmentalist, Fabian Lliguin visited the Amazon rainforest to educate the Indigenous people about their land rights and human rights, he discovered the potent properties of rahua oil for personal care thanks to the lustrous locks of the women of the Quechua-Shuar tribe, who gifted him a bottle of the precious potion. Anna Ayers, his wife and business partner, a practicing trend forecaster and fashion designer, helped him launch the brand shortly thereafter. With growing success, the company has been able to work with over 500 families of the Quechua-Shuar people, never losing sight of its original ethos. Outside of its namesake oil, the company also incorporates other local ingredients like buriti and sacha inchi. “The Amazon rainforest is the greatest demonstration of the majestic beauty of nature. It holds an abundance of life in full color,” Lliguin states. “Its importance is supreme for the survival of life on Earth as we know it, and its value to the world and the importance for us to keep it safe is why we started the Rahua brand.”
With business booming (an international stockist list, beauty media awards, and growing online audience), Lliguin sees his mission growing alongside it. “The sky's the limit. My goal in life is to save the totality of the Amazon rainforest, by giving true freedom to every single Amazonian tribe, and to have them hold the power on their own land … so no petroleum, no mining, no soy planting. With legal power, this will stop the burning and destroying and polluting of this beautiful land,” he explains. Lliguin also advocates for a new mindset for industries entering the space. “These companies will have to negotiate with tribes before entering their land,” he states. “And if they ever enter, they will leave things as they found them, the cost is minimum compared to other industries’ regular costs. The jungle is the nature value needed to be accounted for on a company’s initial investment and on its P&L.”
With these changes, he sees the potential for thousands of tribes to sustainably feed the world through the production of symbiotic ingredients for food, cosmetics, and medicinal products. This would benefit not only their own financial independence, livelihoods, and education, but “save the current natural exhausted world for a healthy human race future.” To date, Lliguin’s efforts, which, in addition to Rahua, includes more than three decades of active work through NGOs like the UN, have helped protect 150,000 acres of jungle, “sequestering a total 750,000 tons of CO2 per year, while producing over one million tons of oxygen for you and me and the world to breath.”
Natura, operating under the premise "when you care, you create beauty," has been promoting a harmonious relationship with nature, oneself, and others since 1969. It is the largest multinational Brazilian cosmetics company and works with 40 local communities in the Amazon to build sustainable business models that also give back to the environment, contributing to the conservation of 2 million hectares of forest. Training and technology are also provided to boost the communities' economic activity further. "With the Brazilian Amazon at the heart of this project, Natura was a pioneer in developing a business model that seeks to value the economy of the standing forest from the union of science, nature, and traditional knowledge, thus establishing a virtuous circle in which all actors in our value chain benefit," states Natura's US General Manager, Maria Eduarda Cavalcanti.
The company introduced refill models to the Brazilian market in 1983, and today also incorporates recyclable, recycled, and renewable (made from sugar cane) packaging components. More recently, its Ekos product division became the first Brazilian brand to earn UEBT (Union for Ethical BioTrade) certification. Alongside 100% carbon neutral operations, Natura ensures its locally and sustainably sourced ingredients, including tucumã, castanha, patauá, and ucuuba, are obtained via fair trade methods, supporting the 8,155 families the company currently works with. "The sustainable use of Brazilian biodiversity clearly is a platform for the innovation of Natura's products and one of its main lines of research," Eduarda Cavalcanti adds. "In addition, by developing new ingredients and working with the local community, we are able to revert deforestation and develop a local economy that generates income to people, while at the same time protecting their culture and traditions."
The result is the development of 41 socio-biodiversity bioactives and counting, acquired from 85 sustainable supply chains. "It is not enough to be just sustainable. It is necessary to enable life to recover, to regenerate nature. And for that we have developed a production chain capable of not only compensating for its negative impacts but also regenerating areas damaged by human action," Eduarda Cavalcanti proclaims. With its business model generating BRL $2.55 billion to date (equivalent to USD $493 million), Natura's approach is benefitting all parties involved.
Ultimately, the more consumers and the industry understand the importance of preserving these natural resources and the Indigenous communities that live amongst them, the better. It can be easy to brush off that which is not happening on one’s doorstep, but in the case of the deforestation and the displacement of Indigenous people, its devastation is far-reaching. “Amazonian culture is not a single culture—thousands of tribes live there. Each tribe or culture possesses its own ancient beauty secrets, medicine, and other lifesaving plant formulas. It is important for the beauty industry to respect these cultures and learn how to beautify its clients without contaminating the earth, the rivers, the oceans, and the air,” Lliguin adds. “The best way to support Amazonian culture is to honor Mother Nature as the Indigenous tribes do.” He appeals for a reduction in the usage of petroleum-derived ingredients and dependency on synthetics, as well as less single-use packaging and more refill options. A candle or body product purchase may seem like a feeble attempt to create change—and yes, every beauty product created, even the most conscious of the conscious, leaves some environmental impact—but the term “voting with your dollar” has never been more applicable.
“We need real alternatives that save our planet and ensure we can live in dignity. The environmental challenges are already impacting communities and endangering the sustainability of the livelihoods of producers. Yes, we are all affected, but the Indigenous communities that are the least responsible for the climate problem suffer the most,” Correa says. “If we can show the beauty industry that we can be successful while also helping the people and the planet, then everybody wins.”
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