Christophe Fargier, 46, is the co-founder of Oppidum. After a fruitful career as a computer engineer, he left his job in 2018 to dedicate himself entirely to soap manufacturing. He established himself in the Tarn, a french southwestern region near Toulouse, where he grew up. He told Petit Poudrier about his vision of the green beauty industry and his entrepreneurial adventure.
How did the idea of Oppidum come to you?
I was a sales director in a big consulting firm for 23 years. I left Paris 8 years ago and settled in the southwest of France while working in the same company. We did set up our home in the countryside, in a beautiful place near the town of Albi. For a long time, my partner and I had experienced a desire to change our lives.
The Oppidum project originates in our personal lives. Five or six years ago, we had to stop using shower gels due to skin problems. We tried to move to natural skincare, and in the end, like many people, we end up creating our soaps in our kitchen! We used a cold saponification process; we had a lot of fun. We liked the result very much: all our dry skin issues were gone. We came to the idea that this activity could allow us to change lives, and go back to closer to nature and handwork lifestyle. Every week, I was flying around the world for my job and was tired of it. I wanted something else.
How did you switch from making your soap in your kitchen to launching your skincare brand?
It took us time; We spent five years learning about soap and natural cosmetics. We received training with an English soap manufacturer in the Dordogne region. Our project truly began after that: we asked our family and friends to try our soaps. They loved it, and so we chose to launch our company. We decided that we would keep our job in the beginning. Our friends encouraged us.
We planned to take part in a British Christmas market in a small village. It was in the summer of 2017 and boosted all our plans. We did not want to sell our products without complying with the regulation: in a three month time, our company existed.
We set up a professional lab in the old country house where we live. It is located in a former snail farm. We turned everything upside down to build it. Some friends of ours advised us to create a showroom that could welcome the many tourists we have in the region. We finally began to sell our soaps in June 2018.
How did you define your marketing strategy?
We have worked during the year of 2018 on a more specific definition of our project. At that time, we anticipated that it was going to be hard to make a living with soaps. We immediately decided on a high-end natural skincare range, which is still quite unusual. That’s why we use precious herbal extracts and homemade perfumes containing essential oils. All our ingredients are 100% organic. We make our coloring with spices, minerals, and clay.
We aim at selling through niche perfume oriented retailers, which would be complicated if we had only soaps to offer. That’s why we are launching a cosmetics line in 2019.
Can you tell us more about this new cosmetics range?
It will consist of balms and skincare oils. We were not interested in reconditioning argan oil or almond oil: these are excellent products, but it exists already and has no interest technically speaking.
Our goal is to work on the texture and create synergies between the ingredients. We also worked on the brand image. In the skincare industry, you have to work a lot on the packaging to exist as a brand. Until now, we have worked alone on these issues.
We thought in terms of products more than in terms of brand. We first made our soaps and imagined our balms and oils, and only then, we wondered how to sell them. This approach is very unusual in the cosmetics sector, where packaging often comes first, even in organic cosmetics.
In the beginning, we took a straightforward approach: we intended to create a product that would be the best possible for the skin, regardless of its cost. That’s why our prices are what they are.
We worked along with a conventional cosmetics designer to define our brand identity. We went for glass jars and flasks with wooden stoppers.
Whom do you target with these new products?
We are working on defining our target markets. We focus on people who wish to switch to natural skincare, people who follow a “slow cosmetics” approach. We gained the “Slow Cosmetics” certification earlier this year. The next step for us is organic certification, which is in process. We are also members of the Cosmebio association. Our motto is skincare and well-being expertise based on natural cosmetics: We address people looking for both useful and enjoyable care. My partner is the perfume expert in our team; the olfactive dimension is crucial to mix care and pleasure.
Have you had moments of discouragement during the process of creating your company?
We are still there. Oppidum is a very young brand in a highly competitive market, so we are continually doubting whether the product or the line that we are working on has a purpose. Also, after twenty years in business, I can guarantee that creating your own company is not what people imagine.
Why is that? Can you tell us more about your experience as an entrepreneur?
I thought that starting a business was extremely complicated, especially in France. I completely changed my mind. It is quite easy from an administrative point of view. We created the company in three months. However, it has been complicated to write a Business plan or define our brand strategy. It was hard for me to work B to C while I was used to working B to B. These skills are not always accessible. One has to accept guidance to be sure to progress. Networking is also crucial: when you start, there is a risk to feel isolated. It is essential to receive advice and meet other entrepreneurs.
Then there are the day-to-day difficulties. The four or five years of preparation have been the most exciting. We did not wonder about costs and products: we had fun with the ingredients. Once the company was created, and we had to make money, we came back to more down-to-earth goals. It has been hard.
Another challenge was to decide to leave my job as an employee. Having a job is helpful because it provides the resources that you need to start your business. On the other hand, it holds you back because you progress very slowly. It became impossible for me to share my time between my job and my business creation. At the end of the year 2018, I decided to focus exclusively on Oppidum. It allows me to go faster and give a real existence to the brand.
How do you make your brand come alive?
When you are a manufacturer, you spend a considerable amount of your time in fabricating, sourcing ingredients and suppliers. This work is the most exciting part of the business, the reason you choose to do it. However, if you do not sell your products, it is pointless!
In the cosmetics industry, from the moment you exceed the limits of your native community, it is necessary to spend much time on making your brand come alive. We have been immediately on line. We are beginning to develop our presence on eCommerce platforms -mainly dropshipping platforms like DreamAct.
We also sell directly in our showroom. The most complicated part is to find distributors. I am currently looking for opportunities in the niche perfume retail sector. We also work with organic and independent retailers. Getting organic certification could help us to work with big organic retailers such as “La vie claire” or “Bio c Bon.”
What are your ambitions for the future?
Our goal is to split the tasks between my partner for the fabrication, and I for the sales. For the moment, we keep focused on our primary goals: 5000 soaps for our first year, 15 000 for our second, and 50 000 for our third. Our second year is looking good so far! We will probably launch pre-sales for our balms and oils. Having a complete cosmetics line will be a real boost for us. This full range will give a clear vision or our brand. Our ambition is to create one or two jobs quickly.
Website : www.savonnerie-oppidum.com