A Caribbean Esscential

Sunday, August 25, 2019

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SO. .. here's the back story. I was gifted a beautifully packaged gift by my Beloved, who resides in Trinidad. The one trait (not sure if there are any others worthy of mention) she got from her mother is a passion for shower gels, lotions, sprays and perfumes. I opened the box and remarked at the attractive containers. That said, they were dutifully lined up against the many other exquisite bathroom gems.

Rushing one morning and, sans glasses, I reached for what ought to have been Jo Malone. It smelt different, but hey!

The smell lingered all day and the compliments were effusive and in abundance. Glasses on, I made it my duty later that evening to examine the bottle. It read Immortelle Beauty Esscentials Sheer Moisture Spray Oil. The fragrance was Gardenia Morning Mist made in Trinidad & Tobago by Immortelle Beauty Ltd. #20 Geridot Drive, Diamond Vale, Diego Martin. It's been my signature scent since. Beloved is suitably chuffed that I am obsessed with her gift which also includes the body lotion and shower gel.

The next stop was to track down the individual and the story behind the product. Thankfully it was not that hard!

If the name Kathryn Nurse, creative director/CEO, Immortelle Beauty Ltd (out of Trinidad & Tobago) does not ring a bell, that's okay; it soon will.

Style Observer (SO): Immortelle Beauty was founded in 2010 to create “little local luxuries.” What exactly was the thinking behind that tagline?

Kathryn Nurse (KN): It's been a frustration of mine that as Caribbean customers we naturally expect foreign products to be superior to ours in quality and presentation. The words “local” and “luxury” rarely ever go together and I wanted to challenge that and give us something that we could really choose to be proud to call locally made. Something to show off! So when it comes to the formulation I try to make them as luxurious as possible with wonderful fragrances and decadent textures, while still maintaining an affordable price point.

We try to apply this across all three of our lines, our flagship Esscentials line: our pedicure line, Foot Rehab, and our luxurious home fragrance line of candles and diffusers as well. Packaging and presentation are always at the forefront of our minds. I am always asking myself, how can I present this in the most beautiful way possible? The hope is that eventually our consumers come to expect this standard from our local brands across the board.

SO: How much of your dream to create a beauty line has been realised?

KN: Very little! My dreams are so big but the pathway there isn't super-clear yet. I want to be producing make-up and colour cosmetics, I want a full skincare line. I foresee Immortelle Beauty branded spa retreats up and down the region. I originally thought things should happen very quickly, but now I am learning to take my time and enjoy the process to getting there more.

SO: How did you prepare yourself to helm Immortelle Beauty?

KN: I studied biology at George Washington University, but went straight into a cosmetic chemistry lab right out of university, so I trained as a formulation chemist. After that, I went back to school (International Fashion Academy Paris/ Polimoda) to get a Master's in Luxury Brand Management so I could see where there were synergies between large-scale, high-end branding and local product manufacturing.

SO: What was the first product to hit the shelves?

KN: The first Immortelle Beauty product to hit the shelves was our Foot Rehab system, a wonderful indulgent at-home pedicure kit, which we still sell today.

SO: What was consumer response like?

KN: So it turns out…people aren't that excited by foot products! I always joke that the feedback has changed throughout the years. First, it was my father forcing people to buy the product. Then over time people would use it and they would come back and tell me, “You know, I tried those products I bought and they were actually really nice!” It's only in the past few years that I have excited customers actively seeking me out and being advocates of the brand. It's been quite a journey.

SO: How much trial and error took place?

KN: When it comes to the formulations I have strong personal intuition attached to the chemistry so the product development actually doesn't take a lot of trial and error. The trial and error parts come in the business management and marketing functions of the job for me. Is this the correct pricing for this item or do I need to adjust? I sometimes release things that I think would be great sellers, which they are, and then I realise that they make me no profit, and how do I manage customer expectations going forward? Time also flies really, really fast in an entrepreneur's calendar and so there's a lot of going back and readjusting annual goals when you realise that maybe you were a little over- ambitious. But then there's also a lot of unexpected great things that happen as well, such as the opening of my first retail location, The Immortelle Beauty Bar, at the Normandie Hotel in Port of Spain this year. That was an opportunity that appeared completely out of nowhere and a welcome surprise.

SO: And your plans for the next five years?

KN: Definitely to get regional distribution both via retail and hotels in more than a few islands.

SO: In a world where Caribbean women, notably Rihanna and Pat McGrath, have taken make-up to the world and become moguls, how do we engage more players and position a cosmetic chemist as a worthy career option?

KN: In the past 10 years, because of the conversation around diversity and inclusion within beauty brands (which Rihanna's Fenty Beauty blew wide open in 2017), people have just starting to become aware of the fact that products are developed by actual human beings and these human beings are the ones who dictate what should be on the market based on their own worldview of what is needed. Therefore, if black and Caribbean women want to be catered for, they definitely need to be the ones making the decisions and I think women are slowly realising that. I get e-mail and DMs all the time from women who want to get into cosmetic chemistry, and it's wonderful that we live in a time where there is so much information and education available to us for free on the Internet. The other great thing about beauty is that competition really doesn't exist. True beauty lovers tend to have a 'more is more' attitude and want to support as much of their demographic as possible. Once they have the money, they want to purchase from Fenty and Pat McGrath; not one or the other. However, as these huge brands have been invested in and monetised on a global scale based on the influence and reach of their founders, what needs to happen is similar levels of investment need to be given to home-grown local brands. Increased visibility and investment funding will allow other local supporting players like marketers, designers, and managers to realise that they can be part of the teams of these exciting companies as well, without ever leaving their countries.

SO: The Caribbean woman has long taken care of others, often to the detriment of self. Have you seen a shift?

KN: Funnily enough, that is the inspiration of the brand. The Immortelle tree was planted on the cocoa plantations to shield the cocoa plants from the sun, and I felt like it was such an apt metaphor for Caribbean women who always seem to be bending over backward to make sure that someone else is safe. So the brand, though it's inspired by this image, is really all about us Immortelle women taking care of ourselves and taking a moment for self-care. I see small changes in the positive direction especially because of the self-care movement on social media which is really encouraging women that not all selfishness is bad and taking time to indulge yourself so that you can be better in a position to take care of others is valuable. However, I do talk to a lot of women who don't use, for example, a body scrub because they don't have time for all that, or who want the quickest easiest mode of moisturisation because their lifestyle cannot accommodate anything else, so the changes are gradual. We try to cater for that woman as well.

SO: Describe the woman who uses Immortelle Beauty.

KN: For us, the Immortelle woman is one who wants to tap into the experience of an aspirational Caribbean lifestyle, no matter where she might be.

SO: Which leads us to ask: why is Immortelle Beauty not available in more Caribbean countries?

KN: Unfortunately, I personally have been so focused on getting the brand established at home, and because the brand is still more or less a one-woman show, I haven't been able to do the market research about what retail locations would be appropriate for the brand in the other islands yet. I have to move very slowly. But I'm excited to say that I'm planning to have a presence in Jamaica soon at Keneea Linton Boutique and later this year through MoDA Market.

We export through our website, www.immortellebeauty.com, but ship to a wide variety of regional and international locations.

SO: Where would a visitor to Trinidad & Tobago pick up your “little local luxuries”?

KN: They can find my products at my store, The Immortelle Beauty Bar, at the Normandie Hotel in Port of Spain, but also at Starlite pharmacies in Marvel and San Fernando and if you're in East Trinidad, Kastor Beauty Bar in Aranguez and from our website, www.immortellebeauty.com


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