Am I the only person that felt up-in-arms after hearing about all-natural Burt’s Bees being bought by the Clorox conglomerate? Having touched on the subject of sustainable sellouts once before on Victoria-E.com, the buyouts within the beauty industry have increased immensely in the past year (including Body Shop going to L’Oreal and Jason/Zia to Hain Celestial) … but WHY?
Extra investment capital and access to a wider market are the two most common reasons I’ve heard for a company being “absorbed” or bought out by another. Both are good arguments in favor of selling, but are you willing to do it at the cost of your current customers and their safety? What happened to the three-point bottom line of planet, people, and profit? Can no one be happy with their current success and not constantly insist on growing bigger and bigger and bigger?
From a sustainable angle, once smaller companies are bought by bigger ones, you are now not only funding the success of your beloved “small” brand but also the advancement of its parent company, which may care little, if any, for the planet. Green fabrics, fair trade work force, all natural/organic ingredients, recyclable packaging, efficient (non polluting) factories – these are just a few of the thousands upon thousands of factors that make a brand sustainable or just a plain stupid purchase. Let’s us an example: Body Shop; they farmed unique ingredients in cooperation with third-world countries and their citizens under fair trade conditions. Body Shop’s new parent company, L’Oreal, is proven (via the Skin Deep Report) to use chemicals that have been shown to be dangers to both animals and humans, even those that have already been banned in Europe (infamous for being much more strict on beauty standards than America). Now, by buying Body Shop goods, you are funding L’Oreal’s unsafe business practices, which also may start to affect Body Shop’s actions.
Speaking of animal safety, testing on animals is still a widely used practice that parent companies of these smaller, sustainable lines may participate in. Do you want to fund that? Similar to major media buying (i.e. Treehugger being bought by Discovery Communications), the more hands you have in the soup, the less flavorful it will be. Success is not determined only by how much you make – what about consumers that stay loyal to one brand for over 20 years? Word of mouth is the best kind of promotion and with spreading the positive, we need to share the negative news as well, informing our family and friends of the dangers that are out there, especially ones that touch their health so closely as the lotion they use or the shampoo they clean with. Can you imagine the kind of chemicals that may end up in Burt’s Bees creations now that they are being run by a cleaning products company? I don’t even want to think about it, and neither does my skin.
Making my own cosmetics is an idea that I have toyed with, though rarely does my schedule allow for creating such concoctions. If I had that kind of time, I’d have my own garden and cook my own dinner every night. Because of these constraints, millions of us need to depend on bottles and jars of beauty products to keep our skin clean, clear, and protected from all the many environmental dangers that we face. Wouldn’t it be a bit silly to use a product to keep your skin safe that, in turn, is endangering the planet even more? Over 60% of all that comes into contact with our skin is absorbed into the bloodstream – I read this fact over a year ago in a major beauty magazine and it keeps me from buying those “big” brands that use ingredients that I can’t even pronounce.
While I am not against any company’s commercial success (heck, I run my own business too), doing so at the expense of your already established customer base and the planet they care so much about is nothing but a terrible corporate compromise. These are the kinds of decisions that have lead up to the dangerous food and fashion markets we have today. I still have a shred of hope for brands like Pangea Organics, Aubrey Organics (a personal favorite), Dr. Bronner’s, and Jurlique that have yet to give up their ethics for marginal growth, though this means I’ll be spending even more money for safer skincare in the coming months (damn you Burt’s Bees).
[Image courtesy of Tracy Olson]