Comme Avant, a French family business reflects on the reasons why it is important to go back to the basics and reduce waste, and why to create a soap that can be used to wash one’s hands, body and/or hair, bathe a dog or a cat, wash the dishes and do laundry, moisturise one’s skin after make-up removal or use it after shaving, clean the floors and prevent moths and mites in the closet.
Comme Avant, how do you define yourself?
Comme Avant is a family-sized business located in Marseille, France. We make cosmetics by hand (soap & shampoo & cream bar, powered toothpaste and deodorant). All our production is 100% made in Marseille. Our cosmetics are all natural, containing no more than four ingredients and following a zero waste approach. We don’t categorise ourself as activists or anything else, but we know for sure that we stand against industrial manufacturers and their products full of harmful and toxic chemicals.
If you are a vegetarian/vegan, then what is vegetarianism/veganism for you?
We personally aren’t vegetarian or vegan, but we have considerably reduced our meat consumption (once or twice a week maximum). We also try to use as many vegan products as possible, whether it’s in our clothing, our cosmetics (of course!) or in our everyday products.
What can animals teach us?
Animal welfare is very important to us. For our Earth to evolve in a good and positive way, animals are an essential part of this process. We also consider that they need to be respected, just as all living species on our lovely planet.
What were your reasons being establishing the brand Comme Avant? What has been the most difficult and most empowering for you while co-running the brand?
Our adventure started just after Nael’s birth. When he was a baby, we made sure not to use any products that could affect his health. Concerning his hygiene, we opted for organic lotions. However, even with these lotions, his skin became irritated. Due to his sensitive skin, we found it really hard finding any reliable soaps (especially without any shady ingredients!). And then we thought: could we make our own soap? By doing this, we would sure what ingredients were in the soap, their quantity, how it was made, etc. And this was an eye-opener for us. We did some research and tests, and came up with a very simple formula based solely on olive oil. We, as well as many friends and family, immediately fell in love with it! Our natural soap reduced Nael’s rashes and we stopped applying any additional moisturising creams, as his skin was perfectly soft and hydrated by using our own soap.
The hardest parts of running our company would be encouraging its growth whilst remaining humble and well-grounded. Of course, we also fear our adventure just stops from one day to the next and put all the people who trusted us in a bad situation.
However, there are also many positive aspects such as being able to work with our family, seeing our company grow and expand, and being surrounded by so many rich and varied personalities by recruiting regularly.
What is the most important product you have launched so far, and why?
Even though all our products are important to us, I would say that our own soap is the most special one. Once we had found a good soap formula that worked for Nael, our friends and family convinced us to share it with other people. It’s the first product we ever launched and that’s how our Comme Avant adventure began nearly two years ago!
Many of your products have several purposes, like Natural Olive Oil Soap, which is suitable for personal hygiene purposes (body, face, hair) and for housekeeping (laundry, dishes, and floors), or Solid Natural Cream that can be used as a face, hands and body cream; lip balm or hair wax, and also as a bath ball. Why did you choose to create multi-purpose products?
Our consumer society has created/invented a need for consumers to buy lots of different products when sometimes only one is enough. As you’ve mentioned, many of our products are multipurpose. This highlights our philosophy: going against multinational industries as well as leading a zero waste life. If you think about it, it’s a lore more cost-effective. You can do the math by replacing all of your household products, shower gels, and laundry detergents with our soap! In the end, we don’t need that many products, this is why we prioritise high quality and multipurpose products.
What does sustainability mean to you (also in your daily life)? How do you implement sustainable viewpoint on your activities?
Everyone is now aware of the climate emergency and this is why we decided to set this environmental issue at the heart of our business. We wanted to focus all our future developments on ecology, zero waste and respect of our planet.
Just in one phrase, what does zero waste (lifestyle) mean to you?
At Comme Avant, we place the environment as the heart of our business, meaning we are doing our best to reduce the impact on the planet.
How did you start living zero waste? What was the easiest and least complicated?
We started by mainly focusing on the bathroom and then we moved on to the kitchen. We got rid of kitchen-roll, industrial yogurts, and cellophane, and reduced our packaging by buying as much as possible in bulk or by limiting our use of plastic. The hardest part, of course, is with the children but we are now using reusable nappies for our second son Joan and we are very proud of reducing our quantity of waste by not buying (or nearly not) single-use nappies!
Everyone’s lifestyle is different, so your zero waste lifestyle needs to be adapted to your needs. Don’t rush, take your time to think things through. There are so many possibilities, so you will find a way that suits your life! It’s way better if 1000 people lead an “imperfect” zero waste lifestyle than just 1 person living completely zero waste.
What are the grand challenges in producing environmentally and socially responsible cosmetics?
One of the biggest challenges is to please everyone and their needs. We also aim to limit our carbon footprint by choosing raw materials, which are as local as possible, even though unfortunately it isn’t always achievable.
What do you see for the future of vegan, sustainable and zero waste cosmetics?
All our products are vegan and not tested on animals for ethical and moral reasons. We hope that people will pay more attention to the products they are using and all the packaging involved. Awareness and conscious buying are the two key points.
How does one become a successful entrepreneur in the field of vegan and sustainable cosmetics?
It’s important to take risks sometimes. I also think that it’s essential to be totally transparent with the consumers regarding our way of working, the ingredients we use in our products and their origin, etc.
The practice of greenwashing is wide-spread in marketing. How do you see sustainability marketing?
It’s true, greenwashing can be a big issue. We believe that transparency is one of the key foundations of our business. We want to offer cosmetics that are 100% natural and, to ensure that you can put your trust in us, we don’t keep anything hidden from you. This is why information about where the ingredients and packaging come from, and photos of our day-to-day operations in our workshop and offices are regularly posted on our social media platforms.
What creative entrepreneurs, sustainable brands, etc would you say have influenced you the most?
We attentively follow brands that are older than us such as Lamazuna or Pachamamaï. We also closely follow brands specialised in ethical fashion, an area in which there’s still a lot to be done.
What’s next up for you?
We have a lot going on at our office, in the workshop and in our heads at the moment! We will present soon our new vision for the future for Comme Avant, so keep an eye out!