Jessica Newfield

Brave Leadership in the Beauty Industry: Stories of Two Women

Jessica Newfield
Brave Leadership in the Beauty Industry: Stories of Two Women

The cosmetics and beauty product industry is notorious for its environmental and social impact at all points of its supply chain. When looking at the life cycle of mass-produced cosmetics, whether it be at the raw material procurement, employment processes, or packaging and distribution practices level, there are many challenging factors that amplify their ethical and carbon footprint. However, the sector is changing as consumers are growing concerned about the ethics of their purchasing power and choosing non-chemical product alternatives.

Lotta Kristiansen and Pernilla Rönnberg are two women who are changing the face of the beauty product industry, setting the example as industry leaders in Sweden. They have made ethical sourcing, organic and industry certification, and green waste management, pillars of their organizations.

Kristiansen is the CEO of Vasco AB, a chemical company that manufactures products for a variety of companies including hygiene and beauty care, in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark. Their mission is to develop and produce environmentally adapted products with close cooperation with their customers. They are certified according to ISO 9001 since 1997 and ISO 14001 since 1999. Vasco AB is a family business and Kristiansen has been the CEO now for over ten years. It is her philosophy that there are no limits to sustainable growth. It was proven last year when they won the prize of Responsible Care.

What is something important to you that has made a big difference to Vasco AB?

Lotta Kristiansen: Orderliness is important to me and to the company. Long-term planning is crucial for long-term growth and to assure client satisfaction. We never let clients fall through the cracks.

Where do you get your personal energy?

LK: It is the result of knowing that we can generate happiness, clarity or profitability for our clients- tangible outcomes that they want.

Do you have advice for leaders who want to develop their leadership further?

LK: Believe in yourself and like what you are doing. Develop a good network with people outside of your organization- people you can trust and who can advise you. Don’t micromanage, people can achieve a lot in ways that might be different from your way of doing things. And finally, don’t forget to take vacation and time off.

And in terms of bravery?

LK: It is about maintaining openness with all stakeholders and using common sense. 

Pernilla Rönnberg founded Estelle & Thild in Stockholm, Sweden in 2007. The certified organic brand draws from cutting-edge scientific research and uses pure bioactive ingredients. Pernilla had become uncomfortably aware of the harmful chemicals and unnatural ingredients liberally used by many skin care brands. Pernilla began to reflect on the world in which her daughters, Estelle and Mathilde, would grow up. She wanted to develop an innovative beauty brand rooted in high impact results and organic ingredients. Shortly after launching, Estelle & Thild became an instant success throughout Scandinavia and received accolades in the international press.

“A typical morning routine can contain over 200 chemicals. Many chemicals are added to cosmetic formulas to create pleasing textures, scents and colors. These additives can also extend a product’s shelf life. I believe this is unnecessary and potentially harmful. Using synthetic and impure ingredients can be damaging to the skin and body.”

Pernilla Rönnberg: The idea to create the brand came to me when I had my children Estelle and Mathilde and I wanted to do something meaningful. I saw the amount of chemicals used to produce conventional beauty products, and grew painfully aware of the effect these have on our bodies and the environment. I wanted to make a difference, to do my bit to help the world become a better place. So I set about developing a sustainable business to produce organic innovative skin care without compromising on luxury or results.

Have you ever thought of yourself as a Brave Leader?

PR: No, I have never thought of it as being brave - never when it came to the sustainability of the products. I see it more as a duty. It was definitely a risk though to start a cosmetics company in an already saturated market with many big players. However, the implementation of sustainable practices in our operations differentiated us quickly.

Before that, I worked with a beauty company that was later bought out. I completed an MBA but still didn’t know what my next move would be. At the same time, I became a mother and was increasingly concerned about their future. They gave me the inspiration to develop Estelle & Thild. When I had my children, I was very focused on food. I wished to give them wholesome food but it was hard to find. Today it is different, you can buy it almost everywhere. Skin care products are improving too.

What gives you the energy to keep working today?

PR: I would like to influence the giants, the big players of the industry. If more and more small actors work together to grab a larger share of the market for sustainable beauty products, then the big companies will eventually have to open their minds and take a look at their due diligence.

Why do you think that some leaders are more prepared to stand up for their values and beliefs than others?

PR: To be alone pushing for a change in an organization is very difficult. You must have a group of people whom you can trust and who want to support you. Financial gain still is a larger priority for many leaders. However, today in Sweden, an increasing amount of companies have developed a sustainability strategy. But I don’t think it is yet the same globally.

What do you think about the young generations?

PR: I am very positive about the future. The young generations are very conscious and don’t buy into the traditional capitalist model and marketing schemes.

Do you have advice for future leaders wanting to develop their skills geared for bravery?

PR: To stand up for what you really want. It is much more rewarding for you and also for the others in the organization, if they can trust you. Leadership, after all, implies the responsibility of being fair and open.


This article was written and edited by Margareta Barchan and Jessica Newfield.