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EXCLUSIVE: Sue Y. Nabi Launches New Company, Vegan Skin-care Brand

The seasoned executive talked to WWD about her new projects and the beauty industry at large.

PARIS — Sue Y. Nabi is diving back into the beauty business with a new company and luxury vegan skin-care brand, called Orveda, poised to fill a white space in today’s marketplace.

The move represents a reinvention for the executive, who left L’Oréal four years ago after two decades at the firm. Her time there included four years as president of Lancôme International, where she launched the blockbuster fragrance La vie est belle, signed on such high-profile faces as Julia Roberts and catapulted the brand’s sales growth into the double digits.

Now her self-stated plan is “to create the Tesla of skin care, which means something that is cleaner, more efficient yet luxurious and not cheap.” Nabi told WWD that the sci-fi nature in “Avatar” and the zeitgeist of the song “Fade to Grey” were also in mind.

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“I wanted to bring this element of strangeness into this brand,” said Nabi, who described Orveda as “New-Age skin care.”

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Its formulas take cues from ancient ayurvedic, naturopathic and Taoist principles. “We all have in ourselves the power to self-heal,” said Nabi.

The introduction of the 18-unit prestige line starting in July marks a completely new direction for the executive, who had also helmed L’Oréal Paris. By launching a homegrown niche skin-care brand she’s taking a bold counter-approach to the market’s current trend involving beauty behemoths snapping up small labels that draw new consumers, not least from emerging markets and the Millennial demographic, as well as people after a healthier way of living.

“I discovered the whole world outside big companies, a whole world of small brands, new business models,” said Nabi, who officially went by the name Youcef while at L’Oréal. She was referring to learnings gleaned after moving to London in 2014 and prior to starting her company with longtime friend Nicolas Vu, a former events organizer and hip-hop producer.

“I am the classical ceo, chief executive officer, and he is the ceo, chief entertainment officer,” said Nabi, emphasizing how the structure reflects the importance of product experience.

Nabi developed the Orveda products, which are manufactured in France, and Vu, the in-store design and experience. Five people are behind Orveda’s creation altogether.

For her first product line, Nabi eschewed creating fragrance, since she wants to see if there’s a way to reinvent the perfume business, and color cosmetics, because she feels it’s become rather mass. “I would really [like to] look for ways to invent the makeup of tomorrow,” she said.

Nabi deems skin care the product segment where added value can be injected. “I also felt that high-end skin care was a little bit of a sleepy market,” she said, explaining the idea was to “really build something that has nothing to do with what exists today and at the same time be disruptive in a way that is very unique.”

Cut to Orveda, whose moniker — an amalgam of “or” (at the heart of ayurvedic philosophy and medicine) and “veda” (a nod to the power to self-heal) — was conceived to be gender-neutral. It comes with the hashtag #Iamorveda and a manifesto summarizing the brand that speaks of the power of healing from the inside out and respecting one’s self, others and the planet.

“There is a light inside me and this is my signature,” states one part, referring in part to the “glow” — billed to rival makeup, with lifting effects — given by the products that are “green, vegan, clean.”

“It’s this idea that you want to create a better version of you,” said Nabi.

It is a Taoist approach to not work against nature, and the brand’s formulas have high levels of natural and bio-fermented active ingredients, such as the signature mix of marine enzyme, natural prebiotic and kombucha bio-fermented black tea, having a good affinity with skin’s microflora, according to Nabi.

No mineral oils, alcohol, artificial colorants, parabens or irritants are used in Orveda’s products.

The range includes five cleansers, a “healing sap,” three botanical creams, one eye contour, five masks (which can also serve as night creams) and three botanical intensive care treatments.

The Healing Sap — core to the line — is a toner-serum hybrid billed to be a “glow shot,” skin “resetter” and microbiome fertilizer. It has 12 percent active ingredient content and is said after 28 days to boost skin moisture by 80 percent for up to eight hours, while bolstering illumination by 29 percent, brightening by 30 percent and re-equalizing skin tones. The 125-ml. bottle, along with compresses, will retail for 125 pounds, or $161.

The Healing Sap by Orveda
The Healing Sap by Orveda. Courtesy Photo

The Firm Brew Botanical Cream is an intensive daily moisturizer containing a formula with a botanical oil and hyaluronic acid. Among its boasts is that it ups the skin’s natural healthy glow by almost 35 percent. The 50-ml. jar and associated zamak massaging tool retail for 300 pounds, or $387.

The Ironing Effect Masque is for a lifting, firming and glow effect. The serum-textured product includes an organic oat extract formula to increase the smoothness of skin’s texture by 12 percent and boost its natural radiance by 24 percent. The 50-ml. bottle is sold for 245 pounds, or $316, and comes with a flat brush with charcoal-treated “cruelty-free” bristles.

There’s also the Clay-Mud Cleansing Powder with more than 60 percent active ingredients. It’s meant to be used with the Konjac sponge to wash away pollution. The 60-g. bottle retails for 80 pounds, or $103.

The products have transformative textures — oils turn to milks and powders to clay, for instance. Each comes with an associated beauty tool and is contained in packaging primarily made of glass. Most items are scented with a green galbanum-based fragrance created by Firmenich perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin.

Nabi plans to cherry-pick the doors in which Orveda is carried. It will be sold exclusively for a few months starting July 1 at Harvey Nichols in London’s Knightsbridge neighborhood and on its web site. The streamlined merchandising unit in the department store is to include an area where beauty advisers can create one of four mini-sets containing four products, good for on-the-go use.

Orveda will be sold in a handful of other doors and via e-tail sites within the first 12 months. should be launched by year-end, and the brand’s U.S. introduction is scheduled for early 2018.

While Nabi wouldn’t discuss sales projections, industry sources estimate Orveda will generate 10 million pounds, or $12.9 million, in retail sales in its first year on counter.

The executive noted that in the last five years, smaller players have become the disruptors, not least in the makeup space.

Sue Y. Nabi
Sue Y. Nabi Courtesy Charles Helleu

“These big brands that used to be leaders of the market are totally disrupted by small brands that come with very specific positioning, strong social media presence, a face — not a star, but somebody who says: This is my vision of the world, this is my vision of makeup,” said Nabi. “So this is what really interested me. I said OK, I have this 20-year knowledge, I am an engineer in biochemistry, I would love to create a company that creates brands.”

Nabi expects, however, that the life span of a beauty brand will be much shorter these days, with greater highs and lows achievable faster than in the past.

“There is this constant innovation, constant ideas. People are coming and saying: ‘This is not the way it should be done. I’m going to propose an alternative way,’” she said. “This was my thinking when I thought about creating a new brand.

“Brands are meant to be born, then grow and die,” Nabi continued, with a Taoist perspective.

She added her plan is not to launch one brand — for her own company or with others — to last for the next 50 years. Rather, it’s to take the time needed for its development, while creating another one.

“The world is going to change so quickly that one brand cannot do it all, so you need to invest in several ideas,” said Nabi.