Natassia Nicolao Conserving Beauty founder

Could waterless products be the next big thing in climate-conscious beauty? This Aussie thinks so

Entrepreneurs

Typically, beauty products are made up of 70-90% water. But Conserving Beauty has managed to create a skincare brand that uses no water at all.
Natassia Nicolao Conserving Beauty founder | Image source: Supplied
Natassia Nicolao Conserving Beauty founder | Image source: Supplied

When Natassia Nicolao thought of her idea for a sustainable, waterless beauty brand, she was – ironically – in the shower.

“I always have short showers,” Nicolao explains, “And I kept thinking, ‘Hang on. I remember when I used to have to time my showers when I was growing up … Why are we not talking about water conservation anymore? We used to talk about it all the time.’”

It was these shower thoughts that got Nicolao to what she calls her “aha moment.”

She was going to eliminate the one resource that is used in the beauty industry at every stage of the supply chain. And so, Australia’s first waterless skincare brand, Conserving Beauty, was born.

But with so many companies being accused of “greenwashing” – presenting an environmentally responsible public image – Nicolao knew she needed substance. With a Bachelor of Science under her belt and a background in the beauty industry supply chain, Nicolao – founder and CEO of the business – had been mapping areas of waste and formulating ideas to combat it for years.

“Creating products has been pretty much everything I’ve done for the last eight years in beauty. I’ve had many ideas over the years, bad ideas.”

Nicolao gets asked a lot, “Why water?”. Her focus on creating waterless products can seem like a drop in the bucket against the wave of sustainability issues facing the beauty industry – pun intended.

But Nicolao believes that water conservation has been overlooked for too long.

The International Institute of Strategic Studies attributed Australia’s Black Summer bushfires in early 2020 to a “sharp decline in water availability” within the country. The United Nations found that in 2019 two billion people were living in countries that experienced high water stress.

This problem is only expected to get worse.

Only around 1% of the freshwater resources on the planet are available to sustain the entire human population. And while our population is continually growing, the amount of water available to us is not.

With water used in every step of the supply chain, and most beauty products being made up of around 70-90% water, Nicolao saw an impactful way to reduce the unnecessary use of “our most precious finite resource”.

Over the past year, Conserving Beauty has been in partnership with the Water Footprint Network, tracking their exact water footprint, and ensuring they are practising what the brand preaches.

“It has been so difficult,” Nicolao says, “because you literally have to have the most traceable supply chain known possible to work out how things were grown – if they had irrigation systems, do they use rainwater treatment? Where was it transported? What’s the water footprint?”

It’s an enormous undertaking, but Nicolao is visibly excited by the idea of customers having access to the information – which also measures the brand’s carbon and waste footprint – due to be published before Christmas this year.

It’s obvious Nicolao isn’t afraid of a challenge or a little hard work. She worked alone on Conserving Beauty for two years, only hiring her first employee just before the brand’s launch in November last year – all while keeping her full-time job.

She also faced substantial scepticism and prejudice, both for her commitment to sustainability and for her age and gender.

Indeed, with only 2% of global funding for venture capital going to female founders, and only a fraction of that 2% going to female founders under 30, it certainly seemed the odds were stacked against her.

Nicolao recalls one of her mentors at the time telling her “You’re never gonna get impact funding… You are a young 28-year-old female in beauty. It’s just not gonna happen.”

Conserving Beauty is now the first beauty brand in the world to be backed by two impact funds.

“Anytime someone tells me I can’t do something, I just laugh,” Nicolao says.

Nicolao also stresses the importance of strong female mentors, attributing her career success in part to the guidance of the women who invested their time in her.

Hence, Conserving Beauty’s impressive all-female board of directors, which includes the chair of SPE Australia Kerri Lee Sinclair, and former model and businesswoman Elle Macpherson, who Nicolao describes as a “true mentor”.

Now, with Conserving Beauty preparing to expand globally, and Nicolao being the Women’s Weekly Women of the Future Winner for 2022, the future is looking bright.

Nicolao hopes that the company’s rise will help promote Australian-made products, fight back at the ‘green-washing’ that has pervaded the beauty industry, and make ethical and sustainable purchases feel more accessible and affordable for consumers.

Conserving Beauty is among a new wave of climate-conscious beauty brands aiming to accurately index their footprint, with the intention of transparency and traceability – a practice Nicolao predicts will only become more common.

Certainly, there seems to be growing recognition for brands that are prioritising sustainability and ethics – with events such as The Circle Awards aiming to recognise the Australian and New Zealand businesses who are making a positive change.

Winner of the 2022 Circle Award for health & beauty is fellow waterless beauty brand Dust & Glow, which uses powder-based formulas for its hair and body products.

The Auckland-based founder of Dust & Glow, Gaelle Thieme, has been working in the beauty industry for over 10 years, and says that “the more I was working for the industry the more it was not sitting great with me”.

Although she had previous connections in the field, Thieme found it difficult to convince manufacturers to work with a waterless beauty brand.

“A few people thought doing something in powder was completely crazy,” Thieme says, recalling being told by manufacturers that it would be too difficult to reformulate shampoo and conditioner.

Despite this, Dust & Glow did manage to recruit a manufacturer who had confidence in their mission, and Thieme is seeing the beauty industry increasingly take water conservation seriously.

“I think a lot of brands, including some of the big corporations, have already incorporated into their sustainability strategies ways to reduce water consumption.”

Conserving Beauty’s Nicolao is also hopeful about the future of an increasingly sustainable beauty industry.

“It’s important for everybody to know what they’re actually buying… I think we’ll start to see that more which is really cool. I think we’ll go way past ‘Oh, it’s refillable or recyclable or whatever’. People will get a deeper understanding to what their new products are and the impact they’ve had.”

As the field of climate-conscious beauty continues to grow and expand, Nicolao is more determined than ever to succeed, all while staying true to the brand’s mission of prioritising ethical, climate-conscious decisions.

“I feel, having taken on all this responsibility… I just don’t have an option. It cannot fail. I need to make this happen.”