Irene Forte: “All women have the capacity to become independent leaders”
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You will have heard of Irene Forte skincare, the Instagrammable brand being a favorite with beauty gurus and celebrities alike.
Known as the ‘Mediterranean Skin Diet’, the collection ranges from orange blossom face oil and hibiscus night cream to pistachio lip balm and cream. for almond eyes – whose ingredients are grown in a Sicilian organic farm.
If you want Mediterranean wellness and luxury in a bottle, this is it, with ‘Natura e Scienza’ as your vision.
But you probably don’t know Irene Forte herself, the amazing founder, leader and driving force behind Irene Forte Skincare.
“The business world is tough and without working hard and giving your all you will never be successful,” Irene told Marie Claire, adding, “All women have the capacity to become empowered leaders.”
Our Women Who Win interview series celebrates pioneering founders who are shaping the future and changing the game for all of us. Irene, her vision and determination to uplift those around her are it in a nutshell.
MC Features Editor (and Irene Forte Skincare Addict) Jenny Proudfoot sat down with the wonderful and empowering Irene to talk about skin care, business mantras and her hopes for women…
Take me back to the beginning of Irene Forte Skincare…
I launched the line two years ago. I had been working at Rocco Forte Hotels for nine years, overseeing their spa and wellness offering (among others), and only recently became a consultant to get them to focus on my line. During this time and through my experience working with spas, I saw the opportunity to improve natural and experiential formulations through scientific insight. I also wanted to create a company with sustainable development at its heart. I had the perfect basis to start a natural line with our organic farm in Sicily, but I knew I needed a brilliant scientific mind to help me formulate. After a lot of research in Italy, I came across my formulator in early 2014: Dottoressa Francesca Ferri, who had started formulating clean cosmetics and food supplements more than 35 years ago. Her philosophy matched mine, and I thought she was the perfect person to help me bring to life a “natural skin care line enhanced with the guidance of science”. After several years of development, then trying and testing them with elite spa professionals at Rocco Forte Spas, we have created natural herbal formulations inspired by the Mediterranean diet, using ingredients grown on our farm. organic in Sicily. They are guided by science and clinically proven with exceptional scent and feel and low allergenic potential. I have also built a brand with sustainability at its heart.
How has the pandemic changed business?
Our “bread and butter” business was spas, and we have now lost that business for over a year. This led us to turn our attention to retailers. We signed with 24 new retailers over the past year including Liberty in London, Frasers Group in UK, Niche Beauty in Germany and Luisa Via Roma in Italy. It also really pushed us to focus on digital, and our e-commerce has grown three times compared to last year. It also gave us time to work on the “novelty”; we’ve worked really hard over the past year to take the brand to the next level. Above all, I focused on clinical tests. We have clinically approved a number of our products for sensitive skin and are now testing the full line. We’ve shown hydration results in clinical trials, we’ve proven our ability to fight free radicals in lab tests, and are currently conducting a number of anti-wrinkle trials. Responding to new scientific knowledge, 2021 also sees the deployment of a series of new products; five will launch over the next six months alongside the brand’s first travel kit, containing six flagship products. In line with our guiding principle of sustainability, we have improved our packaging. All packaging is now 100% made in Italy and the boxes will continue to be made from 100% recycled fibers with vegetable inks. Each bottle and jar will be made from recycled glass with a stone finish inspired by the volcanic rock of Etna. Most will be refillable with bio-based plastic components that can be recycled through our recycling program with First Mile. We present to you an olive wood spatula made by a carpenter from Puglia in Italy. We’re also incorporating more zero-waste recycled ingredients, made from nutrient-rich plant scraps, as well as being newly certified vegan.
What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?
I am not sure I am very brave. It was a very difficult decision for me to stop being a full time employee in the family business so that I could focus on my skin care. I love the hospitality industry and am very attached to Rocco Forte hotels. Staying there might have been the “safest” option. When you go it alone, there is always the fear of failure!
What has been your biggest challenge?
There are challenges every day, especially with a start-up. I learned to persevere, to be resilient, and to never give up. I also learned to adapt!
What achievement are you most proud of so far?
When it comes to your own business, every little step is an accomplishment… And there have been so many! To be honest, if I think back to two years ago when I launched the Rocco Forte Spas brand, never in a million years would I have imagined being here today. If I was in a hurry to choose, signing Net-a-Porter was definitely my first big achievement. The signing of Liberty in London, the Frasers Group stores across the UK, as well as a few other major retailers were also exciting times. Also, in December I closed a big investor raise which is extremely important for me to take the brand to the next level. I am also proud to have built a wonderful team of people around me.
Have you ever felt discriminated against?
I have been very lucky ; I went to great schools and managed to go to the University of Oxford. I then had the opportunity to start my own business in an industry dominated by women. So to say that I have been “discriminated against” is not quite right. However, I often see people rolling their eyes when I say I have a skin care brand; many just say “what a nice little hobby” or “that’s good”… Nevertheless, these kinds of comments have never bothered me – I love what I do and I am very passionate about it, so it doesn’t doesn’t matter.
Do you have a favorite product in your collection?
Choosing a favorite product is a bit like choosing a favorite child. I like them all for different reasons. However, if in a hurry, I would probably go for our pistachio face mask. It is an award winning fivefold mask that is clinically proven to hydrate the skin for 12 hours after a single application, as well as giving an immediate plumping effect to the skin. It is also clinically approved for sensitive skin and ideal to leave on overnight. It is fortified with olive oil and rice fractions, rich in nutrients and skin-enhancing antioxidants, and a multivitamin supplement (Pro-B5, C and E) to revitalize and protect. Pistachio, pumpkin seed and avocado oils replenish the skin’s natural moisture barrier for smooth, supple skin.
How to achieve a fair balance between professional and private life?
It is really difficult, but vital. I focus on personal care, which helps me to be more balanced. Sleep is extremely important to me and I never put my sleep at risk for work; I sleep about 8.5 hours a day. I have a healthy and balanced diet. I exercise regularly. I also think it’s so important to take time for the people I love.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
My dad always told me that the business world is tough and that without working hard and giving your all, you will never be successful.
When were you most proud?
Take the plunge to really launch my brand.
How can we all ask for more?
All women have the capacity to become empowered leaders. However, I have noticed that we often have lower expectations. The problem with lower expectations is that we end up performing lower because expectations determine behavior. If it’s something like a promotion, I would suggest getting ready; you should be ready to share your strengths and why you’re right for the job – don’t underestimate yourself. Also in terms of preparation, you should also know what others in a similar role have, what your company usually offers, what other similar companies usually offer, etc. Also, have a plan b; you will be a much stronger negotiator if you have another option. The more competition there is for your attention, the more people want you.
What is your super power?
I don’t think I have any. Rather boring I would just say this ability to focus / stay focused for hours.
How to celebrate success?
With COVID, and having to work with my team virtually, we haven’t been able to celebrate success properly. However, we tend to celebrate with a great meal together whenever something great happens.
What will you never compromise on in business?
When it comes to the production of our products, we never take shortcuts; our ethical standards come first.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?
I don’t think there was a “bigger” mistake. I made a lot of mistakes, but I don’t regret any. I am a true believer that you learn from your mistakes; you learn by doing.
What’s your mantra?
Treat everyone the way you would like to be treated.
What would you like to change for women?
There are so many changes that I would love to see. Here are my top three:
1. Protection against violence and sexual harassment.
2. Equal pay and opportunities.
3. Equal care, like parental leave.
What could we all accomplish if we supported each other?
A lot. All women have the capacity to become empowered leaders.
Irene Forte skin care available at ireneforteskincare.com