Saturday, 3 December 2016

Victoria Fantauzzi | La Bella Figura + Giveaway

When buying skincare most of us are looking for effective formulations. The delightful Victoria, from La Bella Figura, strongly believes that there is a lot more to the bottled up potions than meets the eye. Beauty products have an ability not only to make us look good, but also feel good. It is all part of the experience.


How did you get involved in making skin care, what was your journey?


It was really a decision to change careers. We experienced this decline in the economy, it was 2007-2008. Karen and I were freelancing, working with autistic kids. One day we were talking about how heavy the job was and what we would if we weren’t doing this job. Both of us wanted to do something creative with cosmetics or perfume. The thought was kind of crazy at the time because we knew absolutely nothing other than the products that we loved. We started researching, and I thought we could do this, it would be a lot of work but we could do it. That’s how it started.


When we first planned it, we were going to do mostly perfume, that was something we really wanted to get into, to be a perfume brand. Never ever, not even in our wildest dreams did we think we would be where we are now. Like when you start a hobby, and you love it so much, you make that hobby a career and it becomes successful, that is just so joyous. That is what happened for us.


You must have fallen in love with some ingredients.


We did! At the time we were really in love with argan oil, and we still are, but then I started to notice that it was being used by everyone. It was even used by not so clean brands, these big brands, that were taking notice because everyone was talking about argan oil. We thought we can’t really use it, what would set as apart from everyone else? We started researching and that is when we found barbary fig seed oil, and we thought ‘wow, this is better, and it’s not being used in formulations here in the States’.  We are so glad that we went with barbary, as now it is kind of popular here and more widely used. This was when we realized that if we focus on the quality of the ingredients and education, we can really connect and do our job of proving that these [natural] types of products really do work. But you really need to understand, where and how they are made, where the ingredients are coming from. We decided to focus on that.


Even to this day, there are many people who are confused about organic ingredients. There are organic ingredients that are used that aren’t raw, they are processed, but are still certified and are called organic. What we do is, we look for raw, unrefined, unprocessed ingredients. Sometimes the end result looks different from one production to another, that’s why our products might have  slightly different coloring from one batch to another. To us, having the consistency or the color of the cream to be exactly the same, every single time, is not the most important thing, I care more that the ingredients are not touched. This is where there will be more antioxidants, and that’s the value of the ingredient. We learned that from dealing with the barbary fig seed oil, and how hard it was to get into the United States produced raw.


From wanting to be a perfume brand, to gradually moving into skincare, did you always intend for La Bella Figura to use natural and organic ingredients?


Yes, from the very beginning. The idea was that we wanted to do these beautiful solid perfumes, and then we didn’t, because we started to get into skincare. The perfumes in our range were created later on. We knew that we wanted to be natural and organic. It doesn’t matter to me that we are not certified USDA organic because a lot of ingredients that we bring in are grown in the wild, where plants aren't sprayed with chemicals, but our suppliers either can’t afford to get organic certification, or it is not worth their time. As long as we know that they aren't treated with chemicals, we are ok with that.


Why did you want to go with natural?


When we were working with a lot of autistic children, we noticed that there was a correlation between their diagnosis and having lots of issues with food, allergies, and chemicals that triggered certain behaviors. We have studied that for a long time, and we knew about it. My great-aunt, who recently passed away, was a nutritionist. She was always very healthy and she taught us about all things natural and organic, about growing your own. That was always part of my personal makeup and how we ate. So when it came to LBF, we had to do it the right way. We weren’t going to add junk and then tell people to buy it, knowing full well that we were adding terrible things into our products. We set out with the idea that we are going to do this as clean as possible, and use as high-grade ingredients as possible, and we are going to have a lot of integrity.


We knew this was going to be a hard job, and a hard educational process. At the time, a lot of people were in the mindset that natural just doesn’t work. We were going to have to break some stereotypes that were ingrained in people’s heads (like oil is bad for your skin). We knew from the very beginning that we were going to be natural and a natural brand.


How do you ensure the quality of the ingredients you source?


Recently we were sourcing grape seed oil for our capsule collection and I tried a few different ones, and I wasn’t happy. A friend told me about a winemaker who was producing grape seed oil in California. I went to meet him, see the whole process and try the oil. It was just so beautiful, dark and pure, I was so happy. A lot of the times we will travel to the place where we can see how the ingredient is being produced to try it. We go through a lot of trials.


Ingredient picking is the most important thing. This is where I am very picky, I am very passionate about us having the best quality. I will just keep looking until both Karen and I are satisfied with how good the raw ingredients are.


Has it ever happened that you loved the quality of an oil and then, a year or two down the line, it wasn’t the same?


This is the hard part of having this kind of business, we have had to deal with that. We have also had a supplier that just couldn’t do it anymore, it wasn’t cost effective to produce certain ingredients. We have had to beg people sometimes, 'please keep making this for us'. It is always very challenging. We’ve had years when an ingredient was wiped out from the market because of a storm. There was one year when helichrysum oil was impossible to find. The consistency is not there, and that is the hard part of the job. When you are using natural ingredients, you are also relying on good weather and good seasons for the producers, and that is when things get tricky for natural brands.


Do you think it is possible to focus on the quality and scale-up the business?


Yes, I do. This is how I figured it out. The more educated our customers are about ingredients and how products  work, the more excited they get about new and upcoming releases. They are willing to talk to their friends, and the more benefits they see the more involved they get. I see it as being very honest and having good conversations with people who buy our products, about how things are. Those customers appreciate the work that we and other brands do, what it really means to make skincare this way. They do seem to understand if there is an issue because an ingredient isn’t available and we can’t produce a certain product for a while.


I think that the hard part about scaling is not really the customer because the customer is so patient and understanding when they are in love with the product. It is actually the middle person who gets impatient, the retailer. So if we run into a problem where we have a sourcing issue and can’t produce a certain product, then it is very frustrating for them, and the retailers get very scared. But I think those retailers are also in a position to have a conversation with their customers, explain what is different about the products, and why it is taking longer to come back when it is sold out. People get scared because they are so into money-making and not losing customers. But I think really good customers, the ones that get it, are understanding. They do not want us to change the formula by using lesser quality ingredients. I think people would be very disappointed if we did that.


Just imagine if we chose ingredients on the basis that it was something that was always in supply, even though it didn’t really give results.  I would not be ok with that, this is not how we wanted to build our business. At some point, this will be a challenge, but our customers are so savvy that they are ok with that. It is really about changing the conversation not only between brands and customers but also between retailers and customers, explaining why something is out of stock. I know this is scary for a lot of the brands trying to grow their business, there are so many people talking about how to scale up, whether or not to manufacture out, and it’s really up to the individual brand. But here at LBF, I just could not imagine doing that, and telling my customers 'we changed the formula and now it’s completely different'.


Does sustainability come into question when you are working on formulations?


It does a lot. When we are making something new, we always think about sustainability, it is a really big thing for us. We want to make good quality things and we want to be sensitive, kind to the environment, but we do have a footprint that we are making. We send things across the country, or the world and we try to be mindful of all of that. From the packaging to where the ingredients are coming from, it all goes into consideration.  We try to find a couple of producers in the same area, so we have fewer things flying in from all over the world too.


You mentioned having a nutritionist in the family, how important is food to you when it comes to beauty?


Oh, as far as making a difference, it is very important. We know that food, the way you eat and take care of your body, do manifest in your appearance. It affects how you feel, how your hair looks, and your health. Of course, that matters. A lot of times when we get customers asking for skincare advice, we will ask them about their diet, lifestyle, stress levels and so on. We want to be really honest, we definitely want to help people choose products that help transform their skin and make them look as good as possible, but we don’t want to tell people 'this is going to change your life, this is the cure'. That is not true. A lot of times when we are talking to people directly when we meet them at events, and they tell us some of the things that they are going through related to something that they are eating, or they recently figured out that they are allergic to something. We hear it all the time, we know that there is a definite correlation between food, health, and beauty.


Do you think it is important for food to be organic?


I personally feel that it is, for several reasons. I consider myself an environmentalist, just the thought of sprayed chemicals, GMOs(I know it is a very political issue) and all that, makes me really upset with how it impacts the planet. Also, I really can taste the difference. If you have an organic peach and one that isn’t, I can really tell. Conventional fruit and vegetables are picked so early, that they don’t get a chance to ripen. They are sold at the grocery store and it looks very beautiful, people sometimes don’t even know what a strawberry is supposed to taste like. The taste and the flavor is a big thing for me because I like to eat, and I want to eat well.


What environmental issues are you concerned with most at the moment?


I am really concerned about pesticides and bees disappearing. Of course, I am concerned about climate change, but I am really troubled  by the fact that people either don’t understand or don’t appreciate how severe of a problem this is, bees disappearing, and the crazy amount of pesticides sprayed on flowers, fruits, and vegetables. We don’t have good legislation to monitor that, we have big companies, big corporations behind all sorts of research. I don’t feel that research is very fair, and that is really scary to me. Bees disappear, we won’t have food, we can’t live. Colonies are collapsing and we are not really doing anything about it.


With having a business and a family, how do you find balance?


I am going to tell the real truth: when you are an entrepreneur, there is no balance. It's about priorities. We do things on a priority basis, you make decisions everyday on what is most important to do today. What is going to affect my business today? What is going to affect my family today? There is no real balance. Anyone who runs a company and tries to pretend that there is a balance, or says that there is a balance, is not telling the truth.


I know a lot of other brand owners, I know them well, and we all have some of the same issues. I don’t have children, and those of my friends with businesses who do, I am just amazed. How do you throw kids into the mix of how we are living our lives? Every day is a different day, it is never the same. To me, that is very exciting, to some people they wouldn’t be able to handle it because they need things to be calm and consistent. There are days when I could be up at 3 o’clock in the morning, and I’m being interviewed by someone in London that is 6 hours ahead or talking to a producer in Tunisia and the day won’t end until midnight. Those are long days. Other days I’m in production or doing creative things, like a photo shoot. There is a lot of guilt all the time.


Your company is like your baby, you need to nurture and focus on it all the time. When you have a relationship, partner, kids, family, it is really hard. The last few weeks have been really tough for me, with the crazy elections that we had, it being the holiday season , and my great-aunt getting really ill. I am lucky that I have a great business partner, who understands and who took on a lot of extra responsibility when I needed to go be with my family. You have to make decisions like that every day, but there is no balance.


As far as doing things that I find pleasurable, I love going to the art museum. We travel for work all the time, but whenever I can I take a break, I travel for fun. I don’t want to check my work emails and stay so connected, I want to take photos and meet people. Have coffee, and go for long 3-4 hour dinners with friends. I really try to appreciate that time. Even trying to find some time on the weekend, just a bit of time for yourself, I think is really important. When you own a business you work on the weekends too. Having that time when you can disconnect and be in your present life is a good thing, so I try to do that as much as I can.


You mentioned that traveling was something that you like to do to unwind. Out of all the places, you have visited, which ones stood out?


There are still so many places I haven’t been to! I really love Spain a lot, and Europe in general. I like places where food is good. I am more of a 'cultural' type of traveler. I do like hiking and nature, and I do that all the time, but I feel antsy if I can’t see a museum and I want to go to every art museum. I love food markets and staying at air BnBs, I think this how you get a real sense of what it is like to live in that place. I don’t want to be a tourist, sometimes you are a tourist you just can’t help it, but I want to experience things, and occasionally that means getting on a wrong bus or train, getting lost and trying to find your way back. I really love that.


Where do you find inspiration?


I find it in art, music, food, cooking and listening to people, finding out what makes them happy. One of the things about beauty products is that everyone who uses them, men or women, can say that they make them feel good. Using things that you really love, doesn’t just make your skin look good, it really does make you feel good too. The smell, the packaging, it is all an experience. This is really important to us because we want people to connect with LBF as not only a brand that produces good quality products but also gives them a unique experience. I think we do this really well, and that is always what we aim for. Every time we think of something new that we want to do, we really think about what we could do that would be different, makes people excited.


Have you ever had days when things weren’t going so well and you just wanted to give up?


Yes recently! The capsule collection was really hard, it was a hard thing to put together. To make those spheres we use a process called reverse spherification, and we do this ourselves in our studio. It was hit or miss every time we were making the spheres. If you make a tiny 2-second mistake, it would ruin the whole thing, you would need to start from the beginning. It was getting really frustrating, and with all the delays, I was starting to think maybe we shouldn’t launch this for another year. Eventually, we decided to push through and got it all together, but it was really hard.


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Where did the idea for the capsule collection come from?


Both Karen and I love to cook, we have tons of cookbooks. I just watched a documentary about a chef. We were having a meeting about new products and what to do, and I said, “what if we did something really crazy, and created a product where our customers would make their own products”. Karon asked, “like what?”, and I said, “like a capsule".


We included some formulated products, and others are single ingredients, that allow people to design their own serum, moisturizer, whatever they need. We both thought the concept was a bit crazy because people buy products from us so they don’t have to make their own, and not everyone can make products. Yet we also knew that some of our customers were already customizing. They would tell us that they mix Aria with Crema Virtuosa and so on. I was hearing that they were doing that with some other products, and other brands. So I thought we had a very interesting customer demographic. They are so smart and savvy about ingredients and skincare, about how antioxidants work. Why not allow them to create their own products, based on what we choose to put into this capsule? That is how it came about.


Because of the spheres, it really takes no time to mix something together, and it is a lot of fun. The product is very potent because you are using it right then and there, the need for an emulsifier is also eliminated. It was a bit of a wild idea, but people are really getting into it.


What do you do to de-stress? Do you have a special “happy place” you go to?


It varies. If I am at work and it is a really stressful day, and I am sitting at my desk in front of a computer, going through tons of emails, I will put my headphones on and I will go for a walk. We have a beautiful park down the street. Sometimes it will be a 5-10 minute walk, other times it will be 30. Being outside makes me feel really good.


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When I really want to de-stress I go to the art museum. The art museum here in Chicago is my favorite. I know it so well, I could direct people on how to get to different paintings. I often don’t go there to see something specific, but just to be there. I find it so soothing and so beautiful. I get really inspired every time I am in this beautiful building, with all the amazing paintings. I also find cooking to be very therapeutic. Shopping for ingredients, making something for my family, I like that a lot.


Now here comes the surprise... GIVEAWAY! 


We have teamed up with Reina Organics and La Bella Figura to giveaway a Capsule Collection to one lucky reader! To take part you need to share a picture of your "Happy place" on Instagram or Facebook by 21/12/16 tagging @theperidotmag + using #happyplace and #theperidotchristmas. The winner will be announced on 22/12/16, open to European Residents only.

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