China’s first organic beauty brand – an exclusive interview with founder Jean Zimmermann
Ba Yan Ka La is a pioneering Chinese body, hair and skin care range rooted in herbal traditions dating back several millennia. CPP-LUXURY.COM has recently interviewed Jean Zimmermann, Founder and CEO of Ba Yan Ka La, first organic beauty brand developed in China.
How did you come up with the idea of setting up an organic based beauty line?
As a long time resident of China (18 years) I’ve been all along the years very involved in the local culture, the history as well as the market evolution for brands. At the end of my tenure as GM Operations for Lane Crawford in Mainland I came to realize that there was an absence of luxury and premium brands in the lifestyle (fashion, shoes and accessories), cosmetics, design area. With a family background deeply rooted in alternative medicine, healing by the plants, essential oils and natural remedies and organic food ( since the early 1980’s) and having grown up on the border with Switzerland and Germany 2 pioneer countries for organic and healthy living, It seemed a natural fit for me to endeavor in creating a premium label of organic ingredients based in China, making full use of the long history of China for herbal medicine. Furthermore, I believe that while the Chinese market is currently focused on foreign imported brands, we’ll see a shift of interest in the decades to come and a desire to reconnect with traditions and culture closer to China.
Organic certification is still in its early days as an international standard. Where do you source the ingredients of your products and how do you ensure they are organic? What about packaging?
We have a double approach here: On one hand we work with identified growers of natural ingredients who have passed testing and certification and obtained the Ecocert Organic certificate for all our ingredients. Since there is no local organic label and certification in place, we decided to go along with a strong organization already well implanted in China. We work alongside with cosmetic retail concept Sephora, which is pushing many Ecocert Certified brands to educate further the market to a reliable and recognized organic label.
We also source some of our ingredients directly in remote areas of China, dealing in fair trade with local farmers to source some clean and pollutants /herbicide free ingredients. After rigorous testing we include them in our formulas. While this only concerns 2 lines of products we work to extend this practice as we identify further partners who understand that less can mean more, and that quality supersedes quantity. It is a long term project where again, education is key. Our packaging is offering recycled materials and we use highly bio-degradable containers for our products. We offer to have on offer the latest in organic plastic polymers to any hotel client willing to invest with us for a greener future. Our PHA corn starch polymers are not only bio-degradable, they are compost-able and can disappear in the environment under specific conditions after only 6 months, leaving no trace of pollutant in the soil. We strive to remain at the edge of technology to offer safe and clean products
Besides the ingredients, your products are made according to the Chinese wisdom and heritage. Tell us more.
Through our fair trade agreements we support growing and harvesting according to the lunar calendar. It is more commonly know in the west as the planting and harvesting calendar that points out the best time to plant and seed and harvest different varieties of herbs, plants, trees and vegetable. This practice is rooted in the millennium old Chinese wisdom and we try to revive such practices. My parents have been cultivating their fruit and vegetable garden with this unique tool for as long as I can remember.
Furthermore, we integrate in the composition of our essential oil blends notions from Yijing and Bagua, concepts that define the universe and the world according to Chinese wisdom. More commonly known notions relate to FengShui and Zen (Chan). Our aim is to bring back such milenia old concepts that used to rule and define daily life in ancient China and push them on the forefront of contemporary Chinese life.
What has been the most successful range of products?
We have so far registered great success with many items across a few lines, but the most famous line might very well be our Tibetan Roseroot ( Rodiola Rosea) which has been used by many of our prominent 5 star and boutique hotel partners over the years. Launched in 2007, this line is now used by some of the most famous boutique and 5 star hotels in China, as room amenities. This has brought us awareness and an ever growing number of faithful consumers.
Lately, our Ecocert Certified organic skincare ranges have also attracted a growing interest from both local and overseas customers and is growing to become some of our signature products.
What are the key motivational factors for consumers in China to buy organic based products versus cosmetic.
There is a growing number of consumers who start to question the relation between food, cosmetic products and chemical and artificial ingredients used in processed food and body/skincare products and the growing number of illnesses we see appearing around us across the world. While this has been a fast growing trend in the US and European markets, more and more of our well traveled local clients seek a healthier alternative to chemical based cosmetics in order to enhance life experience and lead a healthier lifestyle. The availability over the web of more information has accelerated this phenomenon of awareness and the search for better products, that don’t harm healt while offering serious benefits to the skin and hair.
With the outrageous wave of atmospheric pollution in China’s major urban centers this winter, we have gathered an ever growing an eager followership of people looking for a healthier way of life.
Your products are made in China, a label which is not necessarily associated with quality. What has been your experience? Do you see this as an impediment when expanding abroad?
Made in China is more a concept than it is a label. As a frequent traveler to Hong Kong taking the through train crossing from Shenzhen into the SAR territory I often see trains loaded with pigs, poultry and vegetables stopped at the border waiting for custom clearance. Much of the meals served in Hong Kong are prepared with ingredients coming from Mainland China. The ever so popular smart phone with the apple symbol is manufactured in China, BMW’s , Audi’s and Mercedes Benz cars are manufactured in China for some popular models. Some very prominent fashion labels or cosmetic brands manufacture in China. In fact the entire world has been living with Made in China products for decades, without either realizing it or simply purposely ignoring the origin of garment, shoes, fabric or daily items lining up the shelves of retailers worldwide. That consumer crave for cheap products has fueled the past 20 years of China’s mighty economic growth. So far China has mostly neglected it’s own labels producing famous brands as an OEM.
Ba Yan Ka La has been investing the past 6 years openly claiming this made in China label, and indeed it remains a trust issue both inside the Mainland and overseas. Our formulas are designed and produced in China under supervision of a French luxury brand expert and veteran, and strong of a high quality product, with strict quality control and operating rules, we’re winning more and more clients every day. In that regard we are rather unique and our client list in China and now in Hong Kong are a simple testimony that China can produce some of the best products in the world. It’s once again about patience, hard work and a lot of education with customers. These are values that we found in the ancient Chinese Wisdom and that comfort us that we are on the right track.
Do you have expansion plans outside Greater China?
We are currently planning final steps of our expansion in Japan ( Tokyo) and Hong Kong to start with. We are focusing our effort inside China and in Asia at first. We will be announcing some groundbreaking news in the months to come. Hong Kong’s Indigo Hotel, boutique concept based on local culture of the Intercontinental Hotel Group has opened this March in Wanchai, offering clients a whole range of Ba Yan Ka La organic Tibetan Roseroot as their feature room amenities. More are coming.
Besides hotel amenities, do you have plans for a SPA concept?
Ba Yan Ka La has partnered over the years with many 5 star hotels prominent Spa names. From Sofitel, M Gallery, Hyatt Spas, Westin Spa, Park Hyatt Spas, we have just confirmed cooperation with 4 Seasons hotels Spas in Shanghai as well as Sheraton Huzhou Spa. There is more to come here as well in the weeks to come. While we are not a 100% Spa concept, many of our partners find in Ba Yan Ka La a reputable, safe and reliable quality provider of a concept inspired by 2,700 years of traditional Chinese herbal science. We aim at growing further our partner network inside but also outside China.
Which is the ratio of your consumers – women vs men and how do you see the long term development?
We are currently enjoying a 75% female clientele across the board. Men make the remaining 25%, as they enjoy our products during business trips staying at our prominent partner hotels. Satisfied customers come back to buy retail size products from us after they’ve had a chance to experience our organic formulas in Spas or hotels. We are considering creating a man range answering the concerns and expectations of our male clients in the near future.
Overall we believe that harmful chemical free formulas can equally appeal to both male and female consumers, and with men more and more aware of the importance of taking care of their skin and hair, we believe that we will win more people to embrace the wisdom of Chinese plants and traditional approach to beauty and wellbeing. Both male and female consumers understand that well being and beauty is not only about addressing an immediate concern but that it is a long term commitment to living a healthy lifestyle, healthy diet and good dose of exercise. Again, a philosophy of life promoted by Chinese Wisdom.
How important is the positioning of your brand and what is your plan to ensure a long term strategy?
Ba Yan Ka La has been often pointed as being rather slow to develop in terms of sales revenue and in a market defined by growth alone, we have always remained focused on our mission to deliver a high quality product, authentic and genuinely faithful to its roots. Our latest successes in the markets both in China and now overseas are a testimony that brand building and short term revenue growth can be antagonistic targets. Having said that, we are definitely growing our market presence in terms of retail inside China this year. We are pursuing in the meantime some high visibility and prominent targets in major markets overseas. As the Chinese saying goes, “Good things take time”. ( 好事多磨)。
About Ba Yan Ka La
The luxury skincare line is named in reverence to the Ba Yan Ka La mountain range on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau in remote Qinghai Province. Reaching altitudes of 5,700 metres, these pristine glacial peaks form the source of China’s mighty Yellow River, known as the ‘Cradle of Chinese Civilisation’. A name with Mongolian roots, Ba Yan Ka La means ‘Mountain of Abundance’. To us, it represents a journey to the source of purity and the epicenter of Chinese curative wisdom.
THE GOURD SYMBOL
Chinese herbalists traditionally hung a gourd in front of their medicine shops to draw attention to their practice. It was used, in the past on sign boards of drug shops across China. By extension, gourds came to be used as a symbol for conventional shops selling Chinese Medicine. The bottle-gourd is very durable when dried. It is often tied to the backs of children of people living on the rivers of Canton, to help them float if they should fall overboard. Its shape makes it useful as a receptacle for medicine.
THE ESSENCE OF BA YAN KA LA
Water is the essence of life. Beautiful, clean, healthy skin starts with the purest water. All Ba Yan Ka La products are formulated using pristine water sourced and bottled at a mineral glacial spring in the spectacular Ba Yan Ka La Mountains.
Ba Yan Ka La’s all-natural ingredients and formulas use vegetable components, pure essential oils and active herbal elements cultivated and harvested according to the traditional lunar calendar. The five individual product lines are inspired by Chinese medicinal ingredients – Chinese Mulberry (detoxifying), Licorice (balancing), Goji Berry (strengthening), Lotus Seed (nourishing) and Tibetan Roseroot (Anti-oxydant). All Ba Yan Ka La products are 100 percent free of parabens, phthalates, propylen glycol, PABA, mineral oils, petrolatum, paraffin, DEA, artificial colorants and synthetic fragrances and animal ingredients. We do not conduct animal testing for any of our product ranges.
From Daoism to Confucianism, and traditional Chinese medicine to the principles of feng shui and yin yang, Ba Yan Ka La embraces 5,000 years of Chinese wisdom. We promote a world of peace, balance, understanding and health where humanity lives in harmony, with respect for each other, nature and our different cultures. In tune with the natural lunar cycle, we work with traditional Chinese medicine herbalists and native ingredients prized for their healing properties to create contemporary Chinese beauty rituals.
Environmental and Fair Trade Commitments
Ba Yan Ka La products are developed with respect for nature, people and culture. Ba Yan Ka La is the first cosmetic company in China to offer PHA polymer containers that are completely biodegradable and compostable. It only takes six months for the containers to be absorbed by nature without generating any waste. We work on fair trade agreements with local producers to ensure high quality, ethical and sustainable production. Ba Yan Ka La has also established not-for-profit cooperatives throughout Qinghai and Shangri-La where villagers craft hand-made soaps and candles, with all sale profits being returned to the local communities.