Products “politically engaged” with climate action through the protection of biodiversity and regenerative organic agriculture. This is the challenge undertaken by Davines, a professional cosmetics company based in Parma, for more than 40 years. For Davide Bollati, Chairman and founder of the company, sustainability and beauty go hand in hand. The company is committed to giving back to the environment what it takes.
“For some years, we have been supporting two campaigns for the protection of the Mediterranean: one in collaboration with the NGO Sea Shepherd and the other with Ambiente Mare Italia (AMI). Through the sale of our Comfort Zone sunscreens, this year we will replant 150 m2 of Posidonia oceanica, which will produce 3,000 liters of oxygen already in the first year, regenerating and protecting the biodiversity of the Mediterranean Sea.”
A recent study by Marine Pollution Bulletin found high concentrations of UV filters in Mediterranean seagrass Posidonia oceanica; the culprits are oxybenzone, octocrylene and octinoxate, chemical filters considered unsustainable. From 2018 to today, we have donated EUR 124,872 to projects to protect the seas of Italy.
But that is not all. We also apply the same attention to sustainability in our packaging and production, which are 100% carbon neutral, thanks to our reforestation projects. For the packaging, we use recycled and bio-based plastic, made from sugar cane.
Davines is also Certified Plastic Neutral by Plastic Bank, meaning that, for every product we put on the market, we recover the same amount of plastic. In practice, thanks to this partnership, for every plastic product sold, the same amount of plastic is collected in the coastal areas of the Philippines, Brazil and Indonesia to protect the environment and in collaboration and in support of local communities.”
The story behind Davines
"Ours is the typical story of a family business in the Emilia Romagna region. In the early 1980s, my parents had a small hair care research and production laboratory, serving third parties. Over the next ten years, the company became increasingly specialized, perfecting and consolidating its expertise. After a degree in Pharmacy in Italy and a specialization in Cosmetology in New York, I returned to Parma and, in 1993, we created the Davines brand, dedicated to the professional hair care market, followed in 1996 by the cosmetics division [Comfort Zone] for spas and qualified beauty centers. These are still the two production pillars of the group today.”
How big is Davines today?
“Today, we are present in 90 countries, we have 700 employees with a turnover of EUR 225 million. Our primary market is America, the second is Italy. In addition to the main office in Parma - Davines Village - we have branches in New York, London, Paris, Mexico City, Deventer (in the Netherlands), and Hong Kong.”
How bad was the pandemic for you?
“The first two months of March and April were traumatic. There was a lot of confusion with the ATECO (business category) codes, we closed our plant; during that time, we could only make our hand sanitizer gel. Fortunately, as soon as we were allowed to restart, we got back to it satisfactorily, thanks to a highly flexible approach in terms of productivity and budgeting.
COVID has shifted the sales channels in general; we have not turned to e-commerce but the decision has been rewarding. In 2020, we exceeded EUR 160 million in turnover and this year we reached EUR 225 million.”
How do you explain these data considering that the pandemic has forced us to spend a lot of time isolated and at home?
“Cosmetics have almost become a basic necessity along with pharmaceuticals and food. Not in bulk though. The four pillars of the sector are: make up, fragrances, skincare and haircare. Sales in the first two dropped dramatically, while skincare and haircare held up very well. Not only have people not stopped taking care of themselves, but perhaps they have even increased the level of care.”
Today, many companies wave the sustainability flag also for marketing purposes. Do people understand your real commitment?
“At Davines, we have important ongoing partnerships with the CNR [TN: Italian National Research Council] and universities.
Today, we are part of the B Corp family, we perform continuous self-assessments (which are published on our website), we are guided by the GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) standards, which are the main global standards of reference for reporting the sustainability performance of an organization, of all types and sizes. We have decided to join the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and as Davines Group, we signed the declaration of commitment last May to reach ‘Net Zero Emissions’ by 2030, 20 years before the deadline set by the Paris Agreement.
That said, the measurements are complex, the process is long. These are things that cannot be simplified without falling into superficiality. I don't think our customers fully understand what we do. But they do perceive us as a serious company. And they trust us.”
How 'naive' is the cosmetics consumer?
“In haircare, two out of three clients know how to recognize performance from the perception of performance. In skincare, the ratio is one in three. It goes without saying that with skin care it is easier to fool the customer. The real challenge is not selling but selling by educating the consumer.”
To support your innovation, you have also created a Science Garden
“We have dedicated more than 3,000 square meters of our headquarters in Parma to the Science Garden, which is home to more than 6,000 plants. It is conceived as a veritable open air lab and is strategically positioned in front of the Research and Development laboratory where around fifty chemists, pharmacists, biologists and cosmetologists work. And they look after it themselves. It acts as a warning, a reminder and inspiration.”
What is your goal?
“Decades ago, inserting a synthetic molecule into a product was seen as a success; today, we celebrate when it can be removed without compromising the formula.
In our specific case, once the functional active molecules of interest have been identified, the experts go and search for them in the plants in the Science Garden that could contain them in the right quantity, and then test the effectiveness of the active ingredients in the laboratory. Once the right species is selected, the relative production chain is defined–which can already exist or be created ad hoc–, identifying growers able to cultivate these plants according to sustainable principles, so that we can enhance the extracts and thus create new, high-performance products. In this way, the Group establishes traceable and sustainable supply chains for its active ingredients.”
What does the future hold for Davines?
“We have recently purchased 15 hectares of land neighboring Davines Village to start a partnership with experts from the Rodale Institute, a pioneering and leading US institute in research on Regenerative Organic Agriculture. The principle is that illustrated in the Netflix docufilm Kiss the Ground, which explains how this technique works, enabling carbon from the atmosphere to be captured without using chemicals. The other goal is, of course, to continue to grow, but as far as possible within a circular economy.”
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