Secrets of Natural Skincare Company Weleda’s Near Century of Success

Jul 10, 2020

You don’t just survive but thrive in business for almost 100 years without identifying what drives your brand and making sure everyone who contributes to it is on the same page. Just ask natural skincare giant Weleda.

In 1926, four years after the brand we now know as Weleda was founded, the first incarnation of its famous Skin Food cream was launched. Apart from one ‘oil change’, the product remains not only unmodified, it’s more popular than ever. Victoria Beckham recently labelled it as a must-have natural skincare product on social media.

And there’s one good reason for that: it works.

The brainchild of a Dutch doctor, an Austrian philosopher and a German pharmacist, Weleda – and its Skin Food – was founded on a then-revolutionary idea that holistically formulated natural skincare products can stimulate the body to heal itself – a concept complementary medical research has proven to be true.

Ninety-eight years on, Weleda’s motto is still, “In harmony with nature and the human being”. And right from the very beginning, the brand used seven principles to stay true to that ethos – and still does. David Johnston, managing director of Weleda Australia, explains them and shares how they work.

David Johnston - Weleda

David Johnston – Managing Director, Weleda Australia

1. Fair treatment of customers, partners and suppliers.

This hinges on honest and transparent communication. “We’ve always believed in telling people as much as we can because it’s the basis of respectful relationships,” says David. “Particularly in relation to our partners and suppliers, we find this transparency allows them to take the actions they need to be in line with our principles.”

2. Management and employees work as partners.

Weleda is on a mission to make company hierarchy as flat as possible and staff members take part in regular workshops, events and programs promoting inclusivity and growth. “I recently ran a workshop with our 20-strong team here in Australia that, as well as ensuring every team member understands what their key responsibilities are, was designed to identify everyone’s individual values,” says David. “When we all understand each other’s values, it’s easier to work cohesively and in a way that benefits the company, because we have a real appreciation of what motivates and drives each other’s behaviours and decisions.”

Skin food - Weleda Skincare

3. Integral quality.

Of course, quality natural ingredients are at the heart of Weleda’s products, and the brand goes to extraordinary lengths to ensure everything is up to scratch. As well as collaborative projects with hundreds of farming families all over the world, Weleda has eight biodynamic ‘gardens’ of its own, dotted around Europe, Brazil, Argentina and New Zealand. “When I took 20 people to our calendula fields recently, and asked if we’d be able to experience what it’s like to handpick a few flowers, the head gardener wouldn’t let us. It was just a few weeks before they were due to hit the best time for harvest, but unless it’s the perfect time, it’s not happening – for anyone!” And even when ingredients are harvested at that perfect moment, they don’t get used if they’re not in ideal condition. “Our processing plants are absolutely pristine, scientific environments and any ingredient that doesn’t have the correct fingerprint of markers when it’s put to the test isn’t good enough.”

4. Combining natural and therapeutic sciences in research and development.

For the best part of 10 decades, Weleda has been committed to developing and researching innovative, path-breaking products and therapeutic approaches to improve people’s health. “Nature is truly remarkable,” says David, “but sometimes it needs a little human intervention, such as being put through a distillation process, to turn it into something that’s capable of achieving its true purpose.” And it’s in bringing nature and R&D together where Weleda excels.

5. High environmental standards.

‘Zero Microplastics’, ‘Eco Friendly Production’, ‘Preserving Genetic Diversity’, ‘Cruelty Free’, ‘Biodiversity in Action’ – you name it, Weleda has got the certification. Not only do more than three-quarters of the company’s raw ingredients come from certified organic or biodynamic farming, responsible-packaging practices mean cartons are printed using mineral-oil-free inks. Also, peel-back labels eliminate the need for pack inserts and 85 per cent of Weleda’s glass bottles are made from recycled glass. In Australia, the natural skincare company is committed to helping save the nation’s native bees with its Bee B&B Hotel project, which teaches primary school children about biodiversity and the importance of pollinators by building ‘bee hotels’. “To date, more than 110,000 children have taken part in the project, which is something we’re extremely proud of,” says David.

skin food flat lay - Weleda skincare

6. Ethical and value-creating business practices.

Long before the concept of fair trade existed as a global initiative, Weleda was hard at it. From building a day-care centre as part of its rose project in Turkey, to helping create a medical centre for its lavender farmers in Moldova, giving back to communities Weleda works with is at the brand’s core. “Today, we’re one of only two natural skincare brands to be certified as a member of the Union for Ethical BioTrade,” says David.

7. Cultural diversity as an inspiring force.

Weleda is now represented in more than 50 countries on all five continents, so what started out as a purely European operation is truly global. “As a brand, that means we get to experience and embrace a beautiful diversity of cultures from around the world, which is a really powerful and inspiring opportunity to help create change,” adds David.

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