Interview: How A Sustainable Beauty Brand Upcycles Fruit Waste
Terence Chung, scientist and founder of Fruu, discusses repurposing food waste to make sustainable, organic beauty products accessible to younger consumers
Today’s consumers are conscious of not only what’s in their beauty products, but also how they were produced. Natural and organic alone do not necessarily mean sustainably made, and there is a growing demand for environmentally-friendly products.
As part of a podcast on clean beauty, PSFK founder and editor-in-chief Piers Fawkes sat down with scientist, university professor and entrepreneur Terence Chung to discuss what motivated him to start his natural cosmetics line, Fruu, aimed at providing young people with affordable and sustainable products made largely from fruit by-products.
Terence: When I started off, I could see that there was quite a big trend moving towards natural beauty and organic beauty. I think it’s partly to do with general marketing trends and customers starting to have awareness about synthetic ingredients and how they may be damaging to your skin. Even though that might not always be the case, that’s the marketing trend at the moment.
When I started I was a school teacher. I was looking at the type of cosmetic products the teenagers in my lessons used, and I realized that none of them was what we call sustainable. Right now what the beauty industry considers sustainable is something that uses natural ingredients, but natural ingredients alone does not necessarily mean sustainable. Most of these products also tend to be targeting the premium markets, so people like teenagers and young adults probably don’t quite have the disposable income to access them.
When I looked into it, I realized I wanted to create something that’s as sustainable as possible and as close to mass market price as possible so that it’s accessible to everyone, including younger people, whom we want to try to encourage to be sustainable.
Piers: There’s a comment there about food products—that maybe a natural product is not always sustainable.
That’s right. Nowadays we consider green beauty something that’s 100% natural. When we use the word “natural,” we’re considering something that is mostly plant-derived, meaning it’s a raw material that’s extracted from plants, maybe slightly chemically altered to make it perform better. At the moment, with these natural chemicals, people think they’re sustainable because it isn’t made from petroleum, which is what we’ve been doing for the past 30 years or so or even longer. I think the perception there is slightly flawed. We see with a case of palm oil that it causes a lot of deforestation to produce this type of material. You’re damaging the environment just as badly through deforestation as through extraction of petroleum from the ground.
From our point of view, the most sustainable way of producing a material is actually looking at whatever we are already producing. For example, if you go to the supermarket and you see a lot of veggies and fruit, most of these are available in the whole form. However, some of them will be discarded, or some of them will be processed into juice where 50% of the weight of these fruits will go to waste. These so-called waste products still contain a lot of very interesting chemicals, such as oils, fats and various different vitamins that we can turn into something useful. That’s what we’re trying to do at Fruu.
You found an opportunity there to take waste and turn it into a beautiful thing.
Most of the crops that we grow are trees. If we send the complete crops to supermarkets, people buy mostly all of them, but then there’s quite a lot of waste when they are used at home. The same thing would happen with mass-produced canned food or foods where there are tons of materials going into the factory.
Fruu is a made-to-order beauty brand—what goes into your product?
Natural products age a lot faster than synthetic materials. To keep them as fresh as possible, we have a quasi-monthly cycle of replenishing all of our stock in small batches, replacing half of our stock at a time. The consumer basically gets the fresh version of whatever we have to send them.
The production involves a lot of natural ingredients—I read that there are about 15 types of organic ingredients or fruits within the product. Is that right?
There are about 15 different fruits across the whole range, with each product containing at least six or seven fruits. Coconut, mango and banana are the major ingredients. If you were buying a mango lip balm, you would actually have mango in it accompanying other ingredients like avocado oil or watermelon seed oil, all of which are essentially waste material coming from the juicing industry. Whoever is producing dry mango will have excess of the mango stone, which then will be turned into mango butter and used in our products.
How do you see your brand and your product range evolving?
We are at a point where we could explore more cosmetics like bath products and potentially skincare as well. Since our brand started out differently compared to most other brands, we have the capability of branching out to other products that are a part of upcycle waste. We are currently looking into exploring pineapple-led concepts as well as a bath soap and a face mask. Ultimately, we want to become a natural, eco-sustainable lifestyle brand.
You’ve obviously seen a lot of change in your personal life going from being a teacher with teenage students to being an entrepreneur. Could you comment on that story?
I think my career is very unconventional: starting off with university, getting a PhD as a research scientist, then going back to school to be a teacher and now starting this business, while also having a more-or-less full-time job at the university teaching cosmetic science. I really like what I’m doing right now because it reminds me of going back to school. Back then, I actually wanted to be some sort of designer or architect. What I’m doing now is an extension of that interest, looking into graphic design, work design and then also tapping into science with cosmetics. All of my skills come together.
Your full-time job is being part of the academic staff at a university, but your moonlighting job is running an international beauty brand.
Pretty much—I do this during the weekends and evenings. My girlfriend helps out every now and then if there’s a big order coming. With my production method, I can cope with it. We actually manufacture products as well. It’s not what people do usually. People usually outsource it when they get to thousands of items. We keep everything in-house.
Listen to more experts discuss clean beauty on our PurpleList podcast episode.
Lead image: Fruu via Facebook