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Shiseido Is Launching Ulé, Its First Brand Developed in Europe

The sustainable skin care line will be introduced in France starting May 2.

PARIS — Shiseido is on the cusp of launching Ulé, its first brand developed in Europe.

The prestige, conscious skin care line, starting with eight products, is the brainchild of Lindsay Azpitarte, vice president, new brand development EMEA, at the Japanese beauty giant.

“It’s really an entrepreneurial adventure within Shiseido,” explained Azpitarte, who had been heading up skin care brands at the company for the Europe, Middle East and Africa region. About three years ago, she spoke with Masahiko Uotani, Shiseido chief executive officer, and told him about her idea based on conscious beauty. That is in line with the group’s sustainability push and stated mission of “beauty innovations for a better world.”

“He said ‘Go for it,’ and it became official about one-and-a-half years ago,” she said. “It’s like an open innovation project, because we’ve worked with a lot of start-ups and outside experts. But we also, of course, leaned in on the expertise of Shiseido.

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“So, it’s basically like having the best of both worlds — the European Innovation Center and the [Global Innovation Center] from Tokyo, and they let us work with who we wanted to externally to build this project,” Azpitarte continued. “It’s the first time we’re creating a brand from scratch from Europe.”

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The brand’s name comes from the Greek word “hyle,” which in French is pronounced “ulé,” and means the fundamental matter of all things.

“It’s all about interconnection, that we’re all part of the same thing,” Azpitarte said.

Ulé had two executives at the outset and now numbers seven.

“It’s a very small team, and that was the intention, because we wanted to make it more like a start-up experience and keep it small, agile and quick, while leaning on all the R&D and know-how of Shiseido,” Azpitarte explained.

For her, conscious beauty is two-pronged — about being conscious of what is being put on one’s skin, its authenticity and transparency, and also about being conscious of how the brand is affecting everything on the planet.

Azpitarte watched nature thrive during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I really wanted to do something around natural skin care,” she said, adding the idea was to find a point of difference, while making the offer innovative and efficient. “We came up with an idea around vertical, indoor farming.”

The team began working with Tower Farm on the vertical farming, Shiseido R&D, botanists and nutritionists, on three plants native to India: centella, coleus and tulsi.

“We didn’t want to experiment on completely unknown plants,” said Azpitarte, explaining these had already proven themselves in cosmetics. “But we wanted to grow them differently.

“When you source ingredients, a lot of them come from around the world,” she continued. “So, we wanted to find a solution: How can we take plants that come from around the world, but actually source and grow them locally?”

It took about two years of development to grow those plants correctly in a vertical fashion and create their extracts.

From Ulé
From Ulé Courtesy of Ulé

Vertical farming cuts down on water usage by about 95 percent versus traditional farming, and employs no actual land or soil, thus is pesticides-free. Ulé’s farm has 19 parameters — including temperature control, humidity and light — which are controlled around the clock.

In traditional skin care formulation, only parts of a plant are put in the formulation. “What we do is actually use the entire plants and put them directly into the extract,” Azpitarte said.

These plants are fresh. Next, in a nearby location, they are transformed into extracts, and then assembly is done at a Shiseido factory close by, in Ormes, France.

“Our whole concept is around skin’s resilience; we are inspired by nature’s resilience,” Azpitarte said.

Ulé has three product categories, including Biome Essentials, with Le Beau Reset Balancing Floral Mist and Je Suis Chill Hydra-Fortifying CVD Moisturizer, with CBD. The Active Serums comprise Envie de Calm Restorative Serum, Oh La Plump Thirst Quenching Serum, Joie de Youth Revitalizing Serum and Tout Est Clair Regulating Serum. Within the Nutri Beauty segments, there’s Avoir It All In & Out Phyto Nutritive Oil, which can be applied on skin or ingested, and Merci Immunity Defending Nutri Cosmetics.

The products are meant to be layered.

Ulé's vertical farming
Ulé’s vertical farming Courtesy of Ulé

The packaging lists the level of ingredients with natural origin — it’s a minimum of 96 percent, and Shiseido has banned 1,300 ingredients based on its own standards — plus how much of the ingredients are sourced in France. QR codes allow access to the brand’s website, Ulebeauty.com, where it will be possible to see on map indicating where each element is sourced. On average, 84 percent of ingredients come from France.

“It’s about being local, between the point where you source your ingredients and your packaging, and when the product comes out,” Azpitarte said.

Ulé’s packaging was biosourced, including lightweight glass and 100 percent PCR for the pump.

Prices range from 30 euros for the 20-ml. balancing floral mist to 119 euros for the 30-ml. revitalizing serum.

A community is being built up around the brand, called “Ulé Makers,” which began with friends and family.

Ulé is about a laid-back, eco-conscious lifestyle, from its cool Franglais product names to its motto underlining nobody’s perfect: Do sports to stay healthy, eat pizza to stay sane.

Shiseido executives would not discuss revenues projections, but industry sources estimate Ulé will generate 15 million euros in first-year retail sales. The industry sources believe an aim is for it to become a global brand, and ultimately to reach top-five slots in the skin care category in key markets.

Ulé will be launched May 2 on the brand’s website in France and in a 530-square-foot freestanding boutique festooned with plants, located in Paris’ Marais district, at 5 Rue des Blancs Manteaux. Ulé will then be introduced in the U.K. and other European markets starting in 2023.

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