Thanks for sitting down to chat to us, Irene. Could you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got here in your career?
I launched Irene Forte Skincare (IFS) at the end of 2018. I had been working at Rocco Forte Hotels for the last nine years, overseeing their spa and wellness offering (amongst a few other things), and only recently became a consultant for them to focus on my line. During that time and through my experience working with the spas, I saw the opportunity for natural and experiential formulations to be improved by scientific insight. I also wanted to create a business with sustainability at its core. I had the perfect base from which to start a natural line with our organic farm in Sicily, but I knew that I needed a brilliant scientific mind to help me formulate.
After a lot of research in Italy, I came across my formulator in early 2014: Dottoressa Francesca Ferri, who had started formulating clean cosmetics and food supplements over 35 years ago. Her philosophy lined up with mine, and I thought that she was the perfect fit to help me bring a ‘natural skincare line made better by the guidance of science’ to life. After a number of years of development, as well as then trying and testing them with elite spa professionals at Rocco Forte Spas, we launched natural, clinically proven formulations inspired by the Mediterranean diet, using ingredients grown at our organic farm in Sicily; they are also clinically approved for sensitive skin.
How would you summarise the essence of your brand?
'Natural Science’ thanks to clinically proven natural formulas, that combine outstanding fragrance and feel with low allergenic potential and proven effectiveness.
Why is it important to you that your brand is clean and ethical?
Since the brand’s inception, it has been hugely important to me that my line is as sustainable as possible, always thinking about governance, community, environment and our customers. I wanted to be able to create products based on sympathetic natural ingredients that did not ignore scientific understanding and scientific testing. While doing this, I wanted our products to be sustainable, so customers would be reassured that we are doing extensive work and research to ensure we are being as ethical as possible.
We have taken many steps to achieve this. First and most importantly, we believe in doing no harm to the environment, so we have maximised our use of sustainable packaging. Our boxes are made out of paper with 100% recycled fibres, and our bottles and jars are recyclable glass. We have developed refillable products with bio-based plastic components, which can be recycled through our recycling programme. We avoid harmful ingredients. We only use what is necessary and use naturally derived alternatives to petrochemicals, synthetic colours, harsh surfactants and preservatives. We have also integrated zero-waste upcycled ingredients, made from nutrient-rich plant-based leftovers. And, our insistence on plant-based sources means all of our ingredients are vegan. We also recognise our responsibility towards sustaining our local community. Where ingredients cannot come from our Organic Farm in Sicily, they come from neighbouring areas in Sicily or from reputable farmers in the Trentino region. Just as we support local farmers, we also support local artisans who create our display materials, tools and special gift packaging. We have also launched our first official charity product, our Pomegranate Hand Cream, in partnership with the Lady Garden Foundation. For every Pomegranate Hand Cream sold globally, Irene Forte Skincare will donate £1.50 to the Lady Garden Foundation. The Lady Garden Foundation is a UK- based charity women's health charity, raising awareness and funding for gynaecological health.
In recognition of our ethical standards, we are a Certified B Corporation. B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. We have also been awarded the Butterfly Trust Mark by Positive Luxury for sustainable excellence.
What does considered mean to you?
My skincare line has been formulated by Doctor Francesca Ferri and her team of biologists and dermatologists. Ferri has over 35 years of experience in creating skincare. We both believe in products that are considered and healthy for your skin. Our products contain no artificial colours, abrasive fragrances, parabens, paraffin, Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) or Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). They are also free from essential oils, which contain common allergens that can irritate the skin. Our fragrances have been purified from allergens. Our products are also packed with the highest-quality active ingredients, that are extracted in the most efficient way to preserve their beneficial qualities. Considered for me is also about growing your own ingredients, using the freshest ingredients, sourcing everything from Italy, and having a 360 degree approach to sustainability.
What do you think makes Sicilian ingredients special?
The Mediterranean diet has been long considered the healthiest diet to follow—and I strongly believe that it is also the healthiest diet for your skin. We have some amazing ingredients in Sicily that really work wonders on the skin. Some of my favourites include Prickly Pear Polysaccharides (considered a plant-origin Hyaluronic Acid and proven to be anti-inflammatory); Hibiscus Seed Peptides (proven to visibly reduce wrinkles)); Pomegranate (rich in Vitamin C, flavonoids and anthocyanins, which are strong antioxidants for the skin); Olive Oil (rich in polyphenols and Vitamin E); and much more… We have over 80 active ingredients across our entire line that boast serious skin-boosting benefits, many of which are clinically proven.
What’s the best piece of skin care advice that you have received?
To pre-cleanse with a face oil when the skin needs an added boost. This involves a face massage 'cleanse' using an oil. I do this with my Rose Face Oil. It's a lightweight and fast-absorbing oil, which contains 30% stabilised Vitamin E to soften and moisturise the skin, and a powerful blend Omega-rich Oil (3, 6 & 9) that condition and protect. Before washing my face in the morning, I apply the oil directly on my skin using effleurage sweeping movements. I then do a little 'face workout' with deep circles, knuckling, and some lymphatic movements. This helps to stimulate circulation, lift and sculpt the face; it also boosts the lymphatic system, eliminating toxins, and de-puffing the face. I then follow with my usual AM routine, so cleansing (Almond Cleansing Milk and Helichrysum Toner), followed by serum, eye cream and moisturiser.
What products would you recommend for those looking to start a new Irene Forte Beauty regime?
I would recommend starting off with a few simple steps. Start with a cleanser (such as our Almond Cleansing Milk), follow with our Hibiscus Serum, and finish with the Aloe Face Cream or Prickly Pear Face Cream, depending on your skin type.
Once you have mastered the basics, you can then add in a few extra steps for maximum results. I would recommend adding our Helichrysum Toner to your steps, applied after cleansing, as well our Olive Eye Cream, applied after serum. I would also recommend adding our Hibiscus Night Cream or our Rose Face Oil as your evening post-serum moisturiser. For weekly maintenance, I would do our Almond Face Scrub or Apricot Face Peel, and one of our two face masks, Pistachio Face Mask or Lavender Tetra-Acid Mask, each of which deals with specific skin concerns.
What have been your career highlights so far?
There have been so many moments that have felt like career highlights while being CEO for Irene Forte Skincare. I believe it is also just as important to celebrate the small wins, as it is to hit those big milestones, especially when you are a fast-moving start-up like Irene Forte Skincare.
To give a few highlight examples;
- We have expanded into 50+ retailers and spas globally, and have launched four Irene Forte branded spas across Italy. We have achieved fantastic global distribution, and are pleased to welcome A Little Find into this portfolio
- We have invested in clinical and consumer trials, and achieved astonishing results. As en example, the trial results from a blind independent consumer trial for our hero Hibiscus Night Cream achieved the best consumer results an Independent Research Organisation has ever seen - “out of the hundreds of independent blind consumer trials we have conducted on skincare products of all price ranges, Irene Forte Skincare’s Hibiscus Night Cream had some of, if not, the best results we have ever seen.” - Stewart Long FRSC, Chief Executive Officer at Cutest & President of the Society of Cosmetic Scientists
- We also achieved our B Corp Certification earlier this year. The B Corp Certification is one of the most demanding certifications that evaluates a brand's social and environmental impact. Irene Forte Skincare scored 99.5 on the assessment, which is significantly above the 50.9 mean point score, and the 80 point threshold needed to certify. This is our greatest environmental and ethical achievement to date and was a very proud moment for me
Is there anything you would have done differently, or any lessons you’ve learned that you can share with someone looking to start their own business?
When starting your own business, you will face challenges every day. I have learnt to persevere, be resilient and never give up. I have also learnt to have a team that I can trust and that complements my own skill set. There are always things you could have done differently, but I think the important thing is to try and learn something from every decision and always look to improve.
My advice to someone starting their own business would be to try and connect and meet with as many experienced people in the industry you are involved in; get as much advice from these individuals as possible. Surround yourself with the right support network. Have a team that you can rely on. Learn to take criticism and adapt things following feedback. Things will always go wrong and you just need to be strong enough to keep persevering.
Where do you see the Irene Forte brand going next? Do you have any exciting projects in the pipeline?
Over the next year, the brand will launch proprietary products that have market-leading clinical trials results, as well as continuing its rapid multi-channel expansion plan, with several more retailer and spa launches scheduled globally. My focus this year is to build on our growing momentum and to continue expanding across the US and Europe. My goal is for Irene Forte Skincare to be recognised as the natural brand that is performance proven, while keeping sustainability at its heart.
In terms of newness, we have our Lavender Line relaunching this summer, which includes our Lavender Face Cream with Glutathione and our Lavender Tetra-Acid Mask. It is a purifying and brightening collection. The face cream has been reformulated to include glutathione which has been proven as a potent antioxidant in our scientific trials; it helps to lighten dark spots and brighten the skin. Early next year, we will have our A* launch which is our Rejuvenating Phytomelatonin Serum. We can’t share much more on this at this stage.
We are very excited to continue our journey which has been filled with success and excitement thus far!
Very informative Q & A.