Powered By Marine Collagen, La Sirène Swims Into The Beauty Supplements Segment
Anixia Rodriguez is convinced ounces of preventative powder sourced from the Pacific Ocean are far better than pounds of invasive aesthetic cures. La Sirène, the brand she founded with Mamun Haque, relies on marine collagen as an anti-aging remedy that works from the inside out. Rodriguez admits it’s no immediate fix for wrinkles, and she wouldn’t wish for it to be anyway. “My goal is to not only make it a household name, but to empower women with it. I want to encourage them to love themselves and take care of themselves. I want to change people’s minds about having to get injections and undergo surgeries,” she says. “If you take care of your skin, it’s the best foundation you can wear.” Beauty Independent spoke to Rodriguez about her background, target stores for La Sirène, product development, the growing beauty supplements segment and depending on the power of prayer to cope with her partner’s health issues.
What paved the way for La Sirène?
I think every little girl aspires to do something big, and I always thought I’d do something in skincare, but never thought it was attainable. I’m Cuban-American, and I was born and raised in Miami. I used to be in the entertainment industry. I was a model, I acted, I danced. I did a little bit of everything when I was young. I opened my first company when I was 19-years-old. It was an entertainment modeling agency. I didn’t want to be just a pretty face anymore.
The beauty industry fell in my lap after that. I was 27-years-old when I met my now business partner Mamun. I was in the finance industry at the time, and he had come to a meeting with my boss about in investment. I got along well with him, and he loved my vision in beauty. My boss looked at me and said, “If you want this project, you got it.” Unfortunately, that fell through, but I maintained my relationship with Mamun over the years. He always told me, “I want to do something with you. I think you’re going to be great in this industry.” He never let go of that hope. I went back to the entertainment company and traveled the world, living mostly in Europe. Mamun came to me one day and said, “Do you want to do this?” I decided I did, but I wanted to put in my own capital.
You were a businesswoman at a young age. How did that happen?
I come from a middle-class family. My parents came from Cuba, but they met here. When I was young, my dad had a produce company. We lived a comfortable life. We all went to private school. When I was 7-years-old, my dad lost the business. He went into the restaurant industry. He worked at a Cuban restaurant for 17 years. At an early age, my bubble was popped. We had to downsize our house, and we didn’t have the money we had before. I was an outcast at school because I was one of the youngest in my class, and I was smart. At 14, I decided to do home school, and I never stepped foot in a high school. I started working at my father’s restaurant, and I modeled. The school I was supposed to go to wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t the best, and I didn’t relate to the people there.
I had bigger dreams. I studied on my own, and I was traveling for work at 17. I saw how hardworking my father was, and I also saw that you can have everything and lose it all. I made sure I could do and get everything myself. I’ve made mistakes, but I’ve never let someone maintain me. I’ve never been one of those women who want a rich boyfriend to take care of them. I’ve actually broken up with boyfriends because they’ve wanted me to stop working. I’ve always been independent, and I never want to struggle like I did when I was younger.
Why did you want to do ingestibles?
I started looking into developing skincare formulas. That got really expensive, really quickly. I wanted marine-active ingredients. I have a huge love of the ocean, and I believe marine ingredients are powerful and underrated. Mamun called me and said, “Have you heard of marine collagen?” I became intrigued. Supplements weren’t a big thing in beauty and the time, and I was ignorant about it.
In the same month in 2015 that he brought marine collagen to my attention, I was diagnosed with Celiac disease at 30-years-old, and I found out I was allergic to gluten, dairy and soy. I started on a wellness journey, and my whole world changed. I began reading about supplements and the health benefits of marine collagen. I thought, “Where has this been all my life?” Within months, I went to Japan and met with a factory. The company was launched the following year.
What did La Sirène launch with?
I launched in 2016 with the same three products I currently have: 100% Natural Beauty Collagen, Beauty Collagen Orange With Vitamin C & E, and Beauty Collagen Blueberry With Acai Extract. I launched with all three because I wanted to provide different flavor profile options as well as the added benefits of vitamins and antioxidants. People thought I was absolutely crazy and said to me, “Who’s going to drink that?” They said people want Botox and a quick fix, but I was confident it was going to catch on.
I was the first in the U.S. to individually package collagen in sticks. The market for sticks was very untapped. There were only a couple of brands doing it overseas. The reason why I never went with the tubes of powder is I personally am always on the go. Also, when you have something in your cupboard, you really don’t pay attention to it. You don’t drink it every day. Additionally, with collagen, if you open a tube of it every single day, it gets less fresh, and that can impact the performance of the product. By the time you get to the bottom of the batch, it’s already no good.
What was the development process like?
I was blessed with my partner Mamun. He’s an expert in beauty and wellness manufacturing. That’s what he has done his entire career. I wouldn’t have been able to roll out as quickly as we did if it weren’t for him. He came to me with marine collagen straight from the source, and he told me, “This is the best.” I didn’t have to go on a wild goose chase in Japan.
How much money did it take to get La Sirène off the ground?
Including product, I started with about $100,000.
How did you come up with the name of the brand?
It means mermaid in French. Being a Miami girl, I grew up on the beach. I’ve always loved the ocean, and I wanted a name that tied into the ocean ingredients. I racked my brain thinking of different names. Then, it just popped into my head. You think of a mermaid as having beautiful skin and perfect, luscious hair. I decided to use French for a little extra oomph.
How do you communicate the advantages of marine collagen?
Marine collagen is more potent than beef or bovine collagen, porcine or chicken collagen. You would have to intake twice the amount of the other types of collagen to get the benefits you have with marine collagen. That’s why marine collagen is more expensive than beef collagen. It’s wild-caught as well, and that’s another factor. When you think about beef, chicken or pigs, you don’t know what environments they’re being raised in.
I went with tilapia for my marine collagen. Most marine collagen you see on the market is from snapper because that’s the easiest to get. Most people go the same manufacturers. I decided to go to the motherland of marine collagen, which is Japan. The Japanese have been supplementing with marine collagen for centuries and, there, I was introduced to collagen from tilapia. When I did my research, I ran across a study in Brazil in which the skin of tilapia was used on burn patients, and it helped heal their wounds. I figured, if it was so great topically, ingesting it must be phenomenal.
Was it tough to get the products to taste good?
It wasn’t that difficult because I knew what I wanted. Orange is a general flavor that everyone can relate to. I didn’t want to do something crazy like strawberry kiwi that was too sweet or something too strong like EmerginC. I went with a very light taste, so you can mix it into other things.
La Sirène is part of Neiman Marcus’ and Indie Beauty Media Group’s ShopTheExpo program. Putting that aside, what’s been your distribution strategy so far?
I’ve only done online. I haven’t gone into retail stores. My strategy has been to keep costs low and make profit online. It’s difficult and very expensive to educate America, although, as people become more familiar with beauty supplements, it’s getting easier. Before, stores weren’t interested because there wasn’t demand. Retail distribution really wasn’t an option two years ago when I launched. Now, they’re asking me, how can I get it?
When you think of La Sirène at retail, what sort of stores do you picture it in?
I’m targeting high-end stores. I don’t see this in a regular beauty supply store. It has to be at locations like Neiman’s, Barneys or Nordstrom, where it’s not just about makeup, but people are also going for skincare. It has to be at a place where people care about wellness and beauty from within.
Pretend we’re a retailer. Give us a quick pitch on La Sirène.
Collagen is a fundamental protein in our bodies. It makes up about 75% of your body. By supplementing with it every single day, you’re going to feel better and look better. You will bring out your natural beauty. It’s for women aged 18 to over 60. Once customers are introduced to it, they say, like I did, “Where has this been all my life?”
What’s the biggest challenge you have faced in building the brand?
The biggest challenge is educating people on collagen. Most people don’t even realize they have collagen in their bodies, and they don’t realize they need it because they’ve never heard about it. We have to explain it and try to get the press to bring awareness to it.
How do you go about raising awareness?
I do a lot of social media, and there’s word of mouth. I’m open to anyone who has a question. This year, I really want to go full force with it. I’m trying to do educational videos and get more press. In the last couple of years, I still had my other company, and I couldn’t really give as much attention to La Sirène as I wanted to. It was a challenge balancing both businesses.
At what point did you decide to leave your other job?
I had a client overseas, and I was traveling all over Europe. The winter before last, I tried to quit, but it was difficult to do so because I made good money, and I didn’t want to let it go. But, this past summer, I said to myself, “I have to focus full-time on my company or let it go.” I didn’t want to let it go. This is my passion. I want to make a difference, and I feel this is my path to make a difference.
What goals do you have for 2018?
For 2018, my goal is to get distribution in the right locations. I don’t want to just settle for somebody who wants me. Being invited to ShopTheExpo was huge for me because Neiman Marcus is where I want to be. I don’t want to explode and have my product at every single place. I want it to be exclusive, whether it’s at Neiman’s, Barneys, high-end spas or hotels. My price point is not for Whole Foods, and I’m not gearing La Sirène to be just a supplements company. It’s going to grow into an entire system. This year, I plan on launching a few products to combine topical skincare with the supplements.
What’s been the hardest day in your business to date?
A recent hard day was the day that I got an email from the factory that my partner had emergency open heart surgery. That happened one week before IBE LA. My whole world dropped. It wasn’t about the business. It’s about my friendship with him. He’s still in recovery. Thank God, he made it through after a 10-hour surgery. He’s not allowed to work for months. He can’t walk long distances yet. He says he sometimes feels like a child, but he’s getting stronger every day. He lives in Australia, and he deals with the manufacturing. He also knows different languages. To work on a couple of products I’m coming out with, I asked him, “Do you want to give me the contacts?” He said, “Do you want to learn Mandarin?” I said, “OK, I can wait.” The products are on hold right now, which is OK.
That sounds really hard. How have you gotten through it?
I am big into the power of prayer. I kept a positive mind and prayed everything was going to be OK. Thankfully, a friend of mine came with me to IBE, but I ended up getting extremely sick after IBE because I had run myself down. I didn’t sleep or eat enough, and it wore on me, but I stayed positive and moved forward. If you let yourself get depressed, you might not get out of a funk. I always say, “God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle,” so I try to figure it all out.
When is La Sirène going to branch into topical items?
God willing, I will start launching products this year. I will introduce one product rather than do a seven-product collection. A seven-piece collection would be extremely expensive, and I want to see what the consumer loves before moving on to the next product. I’m going to start with a lip relief product with marine collagen. From the lip product, the line will go into face and body care. The skincare products I put out will have marine collagen in them. You will be able to assist your collagen production internally and externally.
Assess the state of the beauty supplements market today.
There is a lot more than there was two years ago. There are good brands out there, but I think there are those trying to jump on the bandwagon, and they aren’t making good quality products because they aren’t saying where their collagen is from. They don’t give you the details, and that can be misleading. With something as important as an ingestible, there should be information available to the consumer, so they know what they are taking. A lot of people may not know what bovine in and, when it’s explained to them, they are disgusted by it. Some products have great marketing, but reviews show their quality isn’t great. I don’t want to only have pretty packaging and nice marketing. I want to have a quality product. This is something I believe in. I’m not pushing it out for a buck.
Are you looking to attract outside funding?
Later on this year, if I come out with all the products I would like to come out with, I will most likely need an influx of capital. I’ve been able to sustain myself for now with the money I’ve saved up and by reinvesting income from the company back into it. It’s maintained itself, but, if I want to scale, external capital will be a necessity to get it to where I want it to go. I’ve had friends who are investors and who own firms, and they’ve told me, “We love what you have done. So, please talk to us.” I’m a single woman. I don’t come from money and, because I’ve gotten this far by myself, it makes me want to work even harder.
What are your dreams for La Sirène?
When people think of collagen, I want them to think of La Sirène. I want them to think about it like how they would vitamin C and for it to be a necessity in their lives. I want to go from supplements into skincare and hair care, and have an overall beauty, wellness and lifestyle brand that’s integral to people’s lives.