Julie De Sève, 38, lives in Montreal. She jumped into entrepreneurship after an early career as a social worker. That was in 2015 when she launched The Green Jungle Beauty Shop. Her website has become a leading online natural beauty store distributing more than 150 brands all around the world.
For Petit Poudrier, she shares her experience as an entrepreneur and her philosophy of the green beauty industry.
How did you come up with the idea of The Green Jungle Beauty Shop?
As a blogger, I was getting more and more requests from brands around the world. More and more readers would ask me where they could buy the products I was talking about. The answer would often be: “nowhere!”
Existing online retailers offered top brands such as RMS, Tata Harper, or Kjaer Weis. Independent brands, however, were not available. There were very few green beauty e-shops in Canada at the time, so I decided to get started.
Who is on The Green Jungle Beauty Shop team?
We are two people working on the site. My husband left his job in January this year to come work with me. I couldn’t do all the work by myself anymore. I have someone in Europe who is in charge of managing social networks in English. My sister and mother also help sometimes. Many people think we are a large team, but we do everything ourselves. From stocks to shipping, we manage everything, without logistics outsourcing: it’s a considerable amount of work!
What obstacles did you encounter in your business?
The first issue is doing everything yourself! Then, importing products is extremely difficult. You have to deal with custom fees and taxes. Not long ago, we had to pay a 25% tax on US imports, bringing the total profit down. It lasted a year and a half. We fought to enforce free-trade agreements.
Another challenge is to increase your notoriety. My favorites communication channels are Instagram and Youtube. I don’t have many partnerships within the US because they are expensive. Our reputation has developed a lot through word-of-mouth. I have set up YouTube partnerships, only based on trust and friendship: I send products to those YouTubers, without payment or affiliation.
You offered international shipping from the beginning. Why?
As a blogger, I built relationships with people in Europe, especially in Luxembourg, Slovenia, and France. My audience has been international since the beginning, which has opened many doors for me, strategically speaking. The Canadian green beauty market is very competitive: Sephora offers brands like Kosas or Herbivore, for example. It is not at all like in France. International shipping is a way to reach new customers.
How do you choose the brands you distribute?
The brand musn’t be already massively available. Then I have to love the energy. Instagram is an excellent monitoring tool to identify emerging brands. I also read some blogs, mostly American, that have been existing for a long time. These bloggers get lots of products. All the new brands work with them.
Regarding makeup, I ask a makeup artist about her opinion on new products. There is also the Indie Beauty Expo in New-York and Los Angeles. I look at the exhibitor list. You always find new beautiful brands.
I rarely do business with brands that contact me directly. It may seem odd, but I know instinctively whether a brand will be successful or not. Sometimes I decide to give visibility to small brands, but I know they are missing something. The problem is that in the natural beauty sector, products have a limited shelf life: if they do not sell, they end up in the trash. We can not afford to be wrong.
How do you figure out if a brand will sell or not?
Packaging and marketing are essentials. Sometimes we face strong-willed creators, who have spent much time making beautiful products, and yet something is missing.
I like very natural brands that offer oils, but the green beauty industry has changed. The demand for products with basic formulas has declined. Customers are looking for more refined products: they want textures, colors, and active ingredients. The sector is becoming more and more competitive. For example, a cleansing oil that does not emulsify with water is unlikely to sell.
Do you ever advise brand creators?
I want to do more, but people are not always open to feedback. I can’t do it with everyone, also because it would be a full-time job! I see more and more marketing specialists helping young brands: it’s a good thing because a good consultant can change everything.
The inside of a product is essential, but the outside is just as important. The strategy is crucial: sending your product to a blogger is far from enough. Too many brand creators start for the wrong reasons: they put almost nothing in their products but offer pink Glossier-like packagings. The competition is ruthless. One must leave nothing to chance to stand out.
What would be your advice to someone who wants to launch their green beauty brand?
Do a market analysis before you start – Don’t propose a face oil; there are already a thousand on the market! One has to be true to his purpose, but also think about how to sell. Today, the product experience is essential. The product has to be beautiful, creamy, and efficient. Finally, one has to innovate a little, but not too much.
There is no list of banned ingredients on The Green Jungle Beauty Shop. What is your definition of green beauty?
I used to ban lots of ingredients. It made me lose customers who wanted to switch to green beauty but didn’t want to use just a basic oil. I stand for customer education. Being no chemist myself, I don’t feel entitled to tell people what is good or bad for them.
It has been rough recently in the green beauty sector. Some people went under attack for using certain ingredients. I don’t want to enter this controversy, and I don’t want to make promises to customers without encouraging them to read labels. In my opinion, that’s where greenwashing starts. Sephora puts green labels on products whose formulas are not clean at all. I think customer education is the only way to fight ignorance.
Of course, there are no conventional brands on The Green Jungle Beauty Shop. However, there are products whose composition is not perfect. I need to mention it. I provide the lists of ingredients, and everyone can make their choice.
One tree plan, an initiative to reduce The Green Jungle Beauty Shop carbon footprint
Advocating a more responsible way of life can be tricky- Especially when you run a store that ships products all over the world. Julie recognizes: “I have four children, I am very concerned about the future of the planet. I try to buy less in my everyday life. However, I put parcels on planes that flight to the end of the world”.
To reduce the carbon footprint of her business, she has just set up a partnership with the NGO One Tree Planted. The principle is simple: for every purchase on the site, a tree is planted somewhere in the world. An initiative that appeals to customers: “Customers can buy as many trees as they want. The response is very positive, as many choose to donate to plant more trees when they order “.