Biotechnology may have sustainable implications for beauty, but executives on the front lines see larger opportunities than just a single cause.
At the 2022 WWD Beauty CEO Summit, Jasmina Aganovic, chief executive officer and founder of Arcaea, sat down with John Melo, CEO of Amyris and Suveen Sahib, CEO and cofounder of K18, to discuss biotech’s growing impact on beauty.
“As it was predicated on making money, ingredients were about extractions, from plants or animals, in some cases. What we used to do is take those materials, put them in a factory, put the temperature, pressure and heat to get all of those things we use,” Aganovic said. “With biology, we can grow these ingredients in a way that is not extractive. We scale them up through fermentation, which has a series of benefits. It’s more sustainable, it’s precise, and it creates a lot of opportunity.”
Although biotech’s applications have most moved the needle in sustainability, Aganovic’s goal is to look beyond that cause to find other solutions.
“There’s been a lot of conversation about biotech as it relates to solving some of our challenging sustainability issues. One of the things that Arcaea looks at is that many of the other biology-centric technologies that have also emerged adjacent to biotech have started to move beyond just sustainability,” Aganovic said.
At Amyris, the company is “driven by a single purpose, which is making sustainability mainstream,” Melo said. “Beauty is one of the most impactful ways to make sustainability mainstream, because there are amazing storytellers, amazing creators, that can connect those stories to the consumer in a way that really helps change the game. It’s a powerful way to invest. What we do as a business is really deliver the infrastructure to enable the industry to execute.”
Amyris derives squalane from sugarcane, which has historically been harvested from shark livers. “We’ve been disrupting everything from flavors, fragrances, vitamins, skin care and now, hair care,” Melo said. “It’s finding a way to make it clean and sustainable — using the power of biology and fermentation.”
The ingredients are not without controversy, however. Genetically modified components have proven polarizing, but Aganovic noted that those processes were only developed to find cruelty-free ways to manufacture ingredients.
“GMO was not really something that was viewed in a negative context at all in the industry, and has actually been a really common way that ingredients and materials were made across many industries,” she said. “Hyaluronic acid is made through a genetically modified yeast. While GM might sound controversial and scary, I want to use hyaluronic acid as a fantastic example of what is possible when we use technology in a powerful way,” she said.
Biotech has also allowed K18 to build its entire business around a single stock keeping unit. The brand’s proprietary peptide repairs damage at the molecular level. “When you bleach your hair, you have this entire structure that cannot just be patched together. That’s where K18’s peptides come in to strengthen the hair,” Sahib said. “It connects the cracks in the hair at the molecular level with keratin-associated proteins, and brings back the original structure of the hair.”
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