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Aurélie Le Gall : Helhem, an eco-luxury brand “à la française”

Aurélie Le Gall, 38, is also known on Youtube as Clelia2612 by her 20 000 subscribers. This hard-working girl tells us about her high-end natural skincare brand Helhem that she launched in August 2018.

How did you get into the green beauty industry?

I saw an internet video about the book The Truth about Cosmetics. This book has been talked about a lot because it points out everything that comes from chemistry, petrochemistry, including endocrine disruptors and highly disparaged ingredients. From that moment on, I checked all my products. At the time, I was a fan of conventional cosmetics brands, and I was not particularly interested in analyzing products.

Reading this book and discovering the world of conventional beauty has been an eye-opener. I wanted to use products that would not just look good, but also do me actual good. Once you realize that, you start learning to formulate. There is no coming back, although it is sometimes difficult to find equivalents of your favorite products.

How was your brand Helem born? How did you switch from a beauty addict to a brand creator?

I was having coffee on a Monday morning, chatting with my boss. He knew that I wanted to launch a project of my own without leaving my job. “Why not cosmetics?” he asked me. I told him why I was so reluctant. I did not feel entitled and lacked some skills. I thought that passion was not enough to create something.

I am a cartesian, very down-to-earth person. The perfect accountant!
My boss encouraged me to associate myself with someone. However, this was, again, a problematic matter to me. You need to trust your partner. Then he said to me: “why not do it together?”. So that’s how Helhem was born. Today we are four partners: my boss, his wife, my husband, and me. We have been working together for a long time and know each other very well. It was a natural choice to make because I trusted them, and they were bringing me new management skills.

photo Helhem

How did you start developing your product range?

If you’re an aficionado, you’ve probably already imagined your ideal product. My perfect product, the one I had in mind from the beginning, was Cléopâtre. It’s a milky foaming powder, made with dehydrated coconut milk, fruits, and exfoliants. I always wanted a product like that in my bathroom, and It never left me since I created it.

How did you go from the idea to the final product?

I am not a biologist. When I imagine a product, I have an idea of what I want, but I do not know precisely how to get it. The first step was to find a lab. In France, you’re not allowed to make your cosmetics in your kitchen. This interdiction is the first challenge compared to American or New Zealander brands, for example. Many market leader companies started this way, at home. We had to see a lab and draw their attention to a new category of cosmetics, that is still very little known. There is no eco-luxury skincare in France. We had to convince them and introduce them to new composing elements, as they were doing traditional organic cosmetics with water, alcohol, glycerin. There were very few active ingredients. We use no filler elements: each chosen component is useful. The main issue in France is that we don’t have products, both premium and organic. We also had to set a minimum ordering quantity, which differed from established brands. It was hard: we started with five references, we could not make five thousand pieces of each in the beginning.

Then, we had to source components. Professionals rank these according to their quality. I had one condition: I wanted only premium ingredients, in their organic version if available. In the green beauty industry, active elements mainly come from nature. If we do not use high-end components, it will not do. We have to seek for the best botanical extracts, cold extraction processed ingredients, find the right concentrations. We had to go through a broker because we couldn’t meet all the suppliers. Finding and testing ingredients took us six months.

Finally, there have been countless tests to reach the expected formula. So that was the longest part. Today, we are developing two new products. I received samples this morning: we are close to the final result, but we are not there yet. We have been working on it for almost six months! Now we have the lab, the components. We can focus on the texture, the perfume of our products. I am very impressed by the brands that can release new products every month!

photo Helhem

You established yourself in Provence, which is the birthplace of many cosmetics brands. Did that encourage you to adopt a local strategy?

Yes, we developed a local strategy: most of our components come from Grasse, Nice, or Marseille. However, we went for the best elements wherever they originated. For example, to make our honey mask, which contains 56% of raw honey, we worked with a producer in Spain. He is a true fanatic, and his material is of exceptional quality.

Our lab is a small structure where we work by hand. A small family company makes and silk-screen our boxes by hand. We also silk-screen by hand our glass jars. Our silk parcel paper is French and made from recycled material. Our packing peanuts are made from potato starch bought from French farmers! We chose local suppliers to keep our ecological footprint acceptable.

You have chosen to go without organic certification. Why?

We started with a limited budget. We chose to focus on ingredients supply and product development, which were our priority. Getting an organic certification represents a considerable cost, and so we have decided to do without certification for the time being.

Our products are organic. The Nefertiti oil contains 91.6% of organic ingredients. The certification means that 14% of your total ingredients are organic. I did not find it significant for my brand, Helhem. Our buyers can read a label. I understand, however, that it can discourage buyers who rely on certifications. Maybe in a few years, we will be able to afford it, but it is not a priority.

You say that your customers can read the labels. Who are your buyers?

My Instagram followers have become my clients! The word spread and I now have two distributors: The Green Jungle Beauty Shop and Creaminal Beauty. For now, the brand is young, and my audience still mainly consists of my subscribers. They followed me through my transition to the green beauty, and I dragged them into this new adventure. They are demanding, know how to read labels, and are not fooled by greenwashing.

photo helhem

You have been on Youtube since 2012. You have now more than 20,000 subscribers. Is it complicated to promote your brand to your community?

I have never been so anxious as the day of the launch. I know how bitter the critics can be on the internet. I spend much time reviewing products and giving my opinion, explaining whether they match my expectations or not, or why I find them too expensive. Suddenly, I was starting my brand!

In the end, it has been a real boost: the beginning was beyond our expectations. Customers feedbacks are excellent, and it’s the most beautiful reward. However, I do not talk much about my brand on my Youtube channel. It is not intended to become teleshopping: it would be of no interest to my customers and would eventually discourage them!

What are your ambitions for your brand, Helhem?

We will work with more distributors, which will increase our brand notoriety. Instagram is a pretty small, exclusive world. My project is to go beyond the limits of the french green beauty community and export our products in England or Australia, for example.

France has a good reputation as far as luxury goods are concerned, but not regarding the green beauty industry. Most American people find our organic products tasteless, while they do indeed have charming brands. Our new baseline is French eco-luxury. Eco-luxury is what we stand for: Beautiful, adequately formulated, and sustainable products that are also luxurious. To me, this is what is sorely lacking on the market.

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