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 French cosmetics brand gets first fair trade label

8/4/06 PARIS (AFP) - Moisturisers made of cane sugar and cocoa butter, coffee grain exfoliants and palm oil sunscreen -- some of the organic products made by the first French brand of cosmetics to win a fair trade label from the Max Havelaar group.

"Environmentally-friendly out of respect for the environment and fair trade to guarantee a revenue for small producers," said Corinne Paulet, 29, who with her childhood friend Henri Sauphar set up the Ethis comestics company.

"But be careful, we are true professionals in cosmetics and we started off with the strong principle that we wanted to have high-quality, modern products," added Sauphar, aged 32.

After graduating in law studies, Sauphar spent five years working in the cosmetics industry in Italy.

"I saw where the supplies were coming from, how the products were made, and on returning to France wanted to do something else, products which are adapted to consumer habits in texture and perfume, but with the added element of being organic and fair trade," he added.

"Our first reflex was to go and see Max Havelaar which at the time (2002) in France was still a small network. They were very welcoming and motivating."

They were also helped by the Ile de France regional council which gave them a 7,000 (8,500 dollars) euro grant to carry out a feasibility study, followed by a second sum, once the results were known, of some 15,000 euros for technological innovation.

They also broke into their piggy-banks putting in 10,000 euros of their own money each and a year ago started production of three products initially -- a body cream, a restorative face cream and a shower gel.

Max Havelaar, which aims through fair trade to improve the living and working conditions of small farmers and agricultural workers in disadvantaged areas, was quick to give their goods a coveted label.

The label signifies that the basic ingredients -- such as the sugar cane from Paraguay, and the cocoa butter from Peru, or the Amazonian palmoil as well as others from Sri Lanka and Nicaragua -- have been harvested and transformed into cosmetics respecting both the environment and the local people.

Even though Max Havelaar has been successful in placing its certified products into some major supermarket chains, Paulet and Sauphar chose a different path.

"There is nothing lasting about a relationship with a major chain. One day you are on prominent display, the next day it's over, even though you have to commit yourself to providing a certain volume and a regular supply," said Sauphar.

Instead Ethis opted to work with chains which are committed to the environment.

In its first year, the couple have already more than doubled the number of products they make, with eight now available in some 250 shops. They are hoping to be available in some 500 shops by the summer.

Their products contain no conservators, colourings, potentially toxic chemicals known as phthalates or synthetic perfumes. Even the aniseed-green pots and tubes are non-polluting and recyclable.

The couple ruled out the use of colouring because most are made from tar and many are banned in the United States and Japan, and they opted against sythentic perfumes as most come from the petrochemical industry.

"Its like phthalates. There is no proof that they are toxic but there is a fear they could be, and so Ethis decided against them," said Saupher.

"Both of us were conscious of the power of today's consumers and our original idea was to find products that today's generation would support as women today pay attention to what they put on their skin," added Paulet.

"We started off without any clients, apart from our mothers who were the first to test the prodcuts, and no communications budget.

"But as soon as the products hit the shops, it went really well."

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