Sweat, Skincare And Sales: FRÉ Gets Active With Products For Fitness Enthusiasts
Getting healthy shouldn’t come at the expense of good skin. That’s the philosophy of FRÉ Skincare, a Tel Aviv, Israel-based direct-to-consumer brand that distinguishes itself in an oversaturated beauty market by focusing on the needs of fitness enthusiasts. Started in 2016 after co-founders Michael Azoulay and Mickael Bensadoun spotted a jogger running on the beach with a face caked in white sunscreen that was running into her eyes, they turned to botanical dermatologist Sharon Rozenblat to help develop formulas that would do better to suit the skin in action. FRÉ’s assortment is centered on a three-step system combatting the unwanted effects of sweat that contains the cleanser Purify Me, moisturizer Protect Me and serum Revive Me. Beauty Independent spoke to Azoulay and Bensadoun about what makes FRÉ’s products unique, fostering a business driven by social impact, using social media as a tool for community development, and their brand’s recent $1.5 million funding round.
What were you doing before you launched your brand?
Azoulay: I was born in Paris and moved to Israel when I was 21. I worked as an investment banker for three and a half years and, then, I moved to a luxury and premium brand of coffee shop. It was the luxury version of Starbuck’s in Israel. I started with the founders when they only had eight branches, and we moved to 50 branches in Israel. I became franchisee of two franchises, one that I sold and the other one I’m still financial partner of.
Bensadoun: I was born in Morocco and lived there until age 18. I studied in France and the U.S. and, then, immigrated to Israel when I was a young adult. I was the CEO of a non-profit organization called Gvahim, which means “heights” in Hebrew. We helped highly-skilled immigrants find quality employment and create their own businesses, knowing that immigrants are very important for the development of any country.
What does FRÉ mean?
Bensadoun: It means “fresh” in French. We chose the name because it expresses the values of active women: FRÉ has freedom, FRÉ has freshness, FRÉ has fitness. We like to say that FRÉ is for “fit, resilient, elegant” like our ambassadors and customers.
Tell us about the brand concept.
Azoulay: The first thing we did was research what’s going on inside the skin of women who work out at least once a week, and we found a very interesting and tangible need. We didn’t find any skincare brands that were targeting them. We wanted to understand how sweat indirectly and directly affected the skin of women when they work out and when combined with environmental factors. After research was done by Dr. Sharon Rozenblat, we found that there were two big topics that were related to this. What we call inflammation, which is the family of irritation, breakouts, redness, blemishes that can come indirectly by sweat, especially if you’re acne-prone.
The second part is the photo-aging. We found that, when you sweat and work out a lot, sun damage is exponentially damaging to the skin. What we see in our research is that you are in the process of accelerating aging. Your skin is burning thirty times more with sweat than without sweat when you’re exposed to the sun. With this research, we found that there was a tangible solution to bring to the market, and we started to develop it. The outcome is the argania active complex, which happens to be the best solution on the market to target breakouts and sweat-induced skin problems from UV damage to dehydration and premature aging.
The argan itself has the best ingredients to prevent and combat exercise and sweat-induced skin problems. And what we did was something much more advanced because we don’t just use the argan oil. We use three key parts of the argan tree and together they form the argania active complex, which is the stem cell, the leaf and the organic argan oil in proportions that we know are very much efficient.
What do you separately focus on?
Bensadoun: I’m passionate about social change. I believe brands can be much more efficient than non-profits, and that they [play a] role and [have] a responsibility. I’m passionate about creating a community. I focus on managing our community of over 2,000 ambassadors, customer service and retention, which I feel is more community than customer service. Michael takes care of the products, visual branding, the website and the financials. On my part, I take scientific part because I have a PhD in political science and international affairs from Columbia University in New York––not too relevant––but that’s the way we do it. At the moment, I think that Michael can get deep into the product. I’m more macro.
Azoulay: What makes us so successful is that we are very complementary. I bring the product branding and the business side of it. What we decided to do was very challenging. We started with the face. We wanted to create very quality products. From beginning to the end, we never compromised on any ingredients or anything that would compromise the quality of the product. Today, when you see the customer reviews and the way that we’re organically growing, it’s definitely paying off.
How much money did it take you to launch the brand, and how long did it take you to develop it?
Azoulay: The initial investment of $250,000 was for research and development of the argania active complex and the first products: The 123FRÉ Set, the base of our skincare system, which consists of Protect Me, the moisturizer; Purify Me, the cleanser; and Revive Me, the serum.
Bensadoun: From idea to market, it took us 18 months.
When do you plan to reach profitability?
Bensadoun: In one year, we will break even. And after one year and a half, we will be making a small profit.
Who is the brand’s target customer?
Azoulay: Our core target customer is a woman between ages 25 and 35. We know 75% millennials work out on average at least once a week. I would say three out of four women are our potential target because what we provide is a routine for everyday use.
What is your e-commerce strategy?
Azoulay: We’re sold only through our website, and we have very small activity on Amazon, 99% of our activity is [through] our website. We have a direct-to consumer model. We like to be in touch with our consumer without any middlemen. It’s very important for us to understand the needs of our customers and engage with our community, which we call our FRÉnds, about our new products and social mission.
Do you have a branded Amazon store?
Azoulay: Yes, we have our own Amazon store, but we aren’t pushing it. We are there because sometimes it’s more convenient for people to buy through Amazon Prime. But we don’t have a very big foundation on Amazon. We are much more dedicated to our website.
Do you want to stay exclusively with a direct-to-consumer model?
Bensadoun: At the moment, we are very focused on direct-to-consumer and partnerships. We’re developing new partnerships with fitness clubs in New York. We are often approached by fitness clubs because they’ll hear about us through fitness coaches.
Who are the brand’s ambassadors?
Bensadoun: The FRÉ Ambassadors are fitness coaches or professionals and strong role models who want to empower women and move the world forward. They believe in our values and are the heart of our community and are generally very active on Instagram. To become an ambassador, we have to make sure they love the product. I didn’t mention what we do for our social mission. We plant argan trees in Morocco to give back to nature. For every 123FRÉ set that we sell, we plant an argan tree in Morocco to protect the environment and empower the women who harvest the argan Oil. We plant 500 times more argan trees than we use.
Beyond giving back to nature, we give back to the women in Morocco by women’s cooperatives, which are made up of strong women who are mostly divorced or widowed and support their families through their work there. There is a strong message of women’s power and freedom in our social action. We believe that strong women help societies and humanity move forward in a positive direction. We are very happy to support them even beyond planting the trees to make sure they are reaching their full potential.
Beyond that, every month we focus on an important social mission, and [we] ask our ambassadors to help us bring awareness and action around it. It can be body positivity, breast cancer awareness or postpartum mental health. Having a community of ambassadors who talk and who are followed by young people is an amazing chance because we know that the messages they deliver are very powerful. So, if we can help them create quality content that is social and ethical, and we can have a positive influence on their followers, we feel we have done something good.
What key functions do you outsource?
Azoulay: We outsource manufacturing, fulfillment and PR. Almost everything that we’ve done in the last couple of months has been in-house.
Bensadoun: We don’t plant the trees ourselves. We partner with a big American philanthropic foundation, the High Atlas Foundation, which helps the environment and the women in Morocco.
Pretend we’re a retailer. Give us a brief pitch on why we should take your brand.
Azoulay: Today, working out is kind of a religion in the U.S., especially in the millennial population. And, if you look at the landscape of the industry, you won’t find something that’s a treatment that’s also very efficient for women that workout. We are the only line that can answer to the needs of post-workout breakouts, irritation and redness. Functionally, we are the best comprehensive solution for active skin because we focus and specialize in treating exercise and sweat-induced skin concerns. We think about every single skincare need of active women. Our moisturizer with sunscreen won’t sting eyes, is non-comedogenic, ultra-light and sweat-resistant for up to 90 minutes. A week or two ago, we were mentioned in Shape as the one of the best creams for runners. We already have maybe 20,000 people that bought our cream who are sport enthusiasts, and they have endorsed that our cream is the most efficient cream for this kind of activity.
Bensadoun: Beyond that, we use non-toxic ingredients, which is very important. We are a very natural solution that’s cruelty-free and 100% vegan. We’ve just been PETA-approved. It’s a brand that does something good.
Azoulay: In a nutshell, we have a very unique positioning, and it’s very hard for us to be compared to other brands.
For other entrepreneurs in your boat, what suggestion do you give them on how to pull through the tough times?
Azoulay: Stick to your gut. Sometimes your best decision is based on your first instinct. So, believe in what you think. You will be in an unknown environment with a lot of unknown parameters and the only way to succeed is go with your feelings and instinct.
Bensadoun: I would add that you need to be courageous and not to be tempted for short-term gain. The direction in the short-term may be amazing, but, if you think strategic-wise, it’s not the best. You should go with your long-term strategy. And I would add to not be afraid of making mistakes. We all make mistakes, and what’s most important is to keep on taking risks and dreaming big. You should dream big and wake up with that dream every morning and you better not stop. And be persistent. If you have a dream, there will be hardships everyday. You have to remember that it’s just a day or a challenge in the way in order to reach your dream.
What’s the company’s growth been like?
Bensadoun: A year ago, we were only two guys working and doing everything. Now we have a team of 15 staff members and 90% are women, which is very important to us. We have to shift the focus from us being the owners and doing everything to empowering our team and bringing leadership to the team. It requires us to be flexible. Our team is very diverse in terms of countries of origin. We hire almost all of our staff from the non-profit I co-founded, Gvahim. The immigrants come from all around the world: India, Russia, United States, France, Paraguay, Argentina, Ukraine.
Two days ago, we did a brainstorming at the park, and it’s amazing to see that when you ask people to be more proactive in their ideas and creativity what they come up with. Sometimes, you are looking for solutions outside your core team, but, in fact, the answers, the solutions and the creativity is inside. You just have to hire well and trust the power of the talents of your team. But, at the same time, if you don’t encourage your team to be leaders and be creative, you might limit them and miss amazing energies and creativity. What we’re trying to do is to have a team of leaders who are not afraid of taking initiative and themselves being entrepreneurs within FRÉ.
What have you found works for the brand on social media?
Bensadoun: Authenticity. It doesn’t happen a lot, but if someone doesn’t really love FRÉ, we ask them not to post or be an ambassador. Business-wise, I think you can see when something works and when it doesn’t. We want to promote the difference in beauty and be a part of the body positivity moment in our own way. When we stick to what we believe in and don’t try to please followers or what we think millennials will like, we are more successful.
Azoulay: Our last three products we launched, most of them were the result of a survey we did among our community. We launched those products based on the needs that we discovered by specifically asking our first 5,000 customers.
What can you share about the fundraising you did few months ago?
Azoulay: We raised $1.5 million and are grateful to benefit from the trust and support of an amazing group of investors who are super experienced including in e-commerce and luxury. We are proud that our investors believe in us and in FRÉ because we have a lot of respect for each of them.
What was your approach to securing investment?
Azoulay: Our approach was to choose the investors we wanted to be part of FRÉ. We were looking for partners, not for money.
If your target customer had a name, what would it be, and what would she be doing right now?
Bensadoun: Wonder Woman. She would be sweating to be the best version of herself and be strong to lead her community by example. More simply, a young adult or active mother who works out at least once a week.