Three years ago Friederike opened her own little shop on a leafy street in Leipzig selling natural skincare products made by herself and her colleagues. With a background in science, she felt the need to use her skills for an applied profession. Skincare manufactory BETI LUE was founded by her co-workers about ten years ago and is happy to be a successfully growing business since then.
Janis: What happens on your average workday?
Friederike: Depends - there is the shop, where I attend customers. I also develop and produce our product range, not all by myself though. When creating new skincare products, there is also a lot of bureaucracy attached to it: a long list of legal conditions have to be met, before you're allowed to sell them.
Since we are a small business, I work in all areas. Having a PhD in chemistry, I see that customers respond very positively to the fact, that I know exactly what's in my cosmetics and that I can provide them with competent information. Nowadays you scarcely have people that sell products they also made.
That's true. Before you opened your own branch in Leipzig, you worked with the others at the BETI LUE headquarters.
I actually worked in science and did my PhD in Leipzig, but wanted to go back to working with people, so three and a half years ago I left my job and met my two wonderful colleagues in Chemnitz, which is actually my hometown. I supported them in the lab before I had the idea to open a second shop, here in Leipzig. Since by boyfriend also lives here it was an easy choice to come back. Still, every Monday I drive to Chemnitz, about an hour away, to work in the laboratory there. On other days I have the opportunity to do research in the small lab in the back of my shop.
But the actual production of the products happens in Chemnitz, at the bigger laboratory there?
That's right. We rented the shop next door as well and turned the front end into a transparent workshop of soap fabrication. In the back rooms we produce our creams.
We also offer soap and cream workshops in both branches, Leipzig and Chemnitz, and have an online-shop as well. So for that, it makes sense to have the production in only one place.
How did BETI LUE get started?
My colleague Dr. Bettina Luemann (hence the name BETI LUE), who is also a chemist and decides on most of our ingredients, joined with Silke Koppe, who is responsible for our marketing and graphic design. Those two are the founders and together they set up the company.
They were asked for skincare especially formulated for the skin of cancer patients, which is often cracked, rough and burns – and my colleagues came up with sea buckthorn! Ten years ago sea buckthorn was common in edibles, but not really in cosmetics. Though in Russian astronautical medicine the sea buckthorn pulp was used both internally and externally against atmospheric radiancy, that caused dry and burnt skin. Having found this out, Dr. Bettina Luemann developed a sea buckthorn fluid and cream with amazing qualities.
Here at BETI LUE we don't just use a bit of the sea buckthorn oil, but large quantities, evident in its colour. It makes the products a bit more expensive, but more effective. It also helps well against a sun burn.
After a while we had created a sea buckthorn skincare line, that had started with our Vimalsona-Cream. Still this is one of our most successful products.
How did you find your first customers?
The idea of having a cream for irradiated skin actually came from one of our first customers – when you're not affected by this, the idea that this is something needed doesn't easily occur. After launching our special cream we were on local news, so there was great demand from the beginning, that was super exciting! There was also an article in the newspaper when I opened my shop here in Leipzig, so a lot of people were interested. Many of them stayed, which I regard as pretty special, when nowadays you have such a large selection to choose from. It makes me very happy.
Yes, people tend to come back saying: this is good for me! I like this product and I'm gonna stick to it.
Do you believe having a steady flow of customers is also due to the good location and nice district you chose for your shop, or do people tend to come from further away just to shop with you, as well?
Schleußig [the district] is definitely a good position for my shop: there's an open minded community living here and if cosmetics cost a bit more, you also need to be able to afford it, I guess. Many young families live around here, who are interested in products like mine and are willing to buy them as well. Still, many of my clientele come from other districts to get fresh supplies, which is really great! (smiling)
And they originally found you through the internet?
Varies – now and then I have the possibility to sell at craft markets in and around Leipzig, for example WESTPAKET or DAWANDA-MARKT and it's easy to find new customers through that. It's good to talk to people and tell them about our regionally manufactured skincare products. Many will still research on our website afterwards, but trust is mainly built by standing there and talking to people.
So your store adds additional value to your online-shop?
At any rate. Also, many customers visit one of our workshops first because they want to know: how does it work, how is skincare produced? As soon as they get their hands dirty, all talk about price becomes superfluous and it's obvious that it's some work and we are only using precious ingredients. At these workshops, I also enjoy to be able to impart some of my knowledge and that participants can ask as many questions as they have. To be able to ask is generally very much appreciated.
Very good... and clever! (smiling)
So you went straight from graduating with your PhD into the skincare industry?
Yes. Personally, I've always created my own moisturiser, because I have very sensitive skin. Besides, I grew up around Chemnitz knowing a lot about herbs.
Working in research I missed the interaction with the people you're creating products for. You simply get a research assignment that you work on, and what happens to it afterwards, you never really find out.
I rather wanted to work on something that is actually designed for humans, on a smaller scale. Otherwise you easily loose sight of what you actually work for. Now I get direct feedback, which is naturally wonderful and very motivating to keep on working!
What were the biggest hurdles to overcome at the beginnings?
Accepting to deal with a lot of diverse issues, like accounting and pc work – you can't just busy yourself with favourite things. Also realising, that self-employment isn't made easy by the government today. To survive the first years is tough and it can drag on. To remain calm and in action, but not to procrastinate! Today people say, your business will pick up after five or six years, instead of three...
Are you happy to be one of three co-owners of BETI LUE?
To be exact, we are two companies for safety reasons and everybody has their own sector. For production we work separately in the lab, only when creating and developing a new product we like to share the space: trying out, exchanging and comparing – that's important! We need each other and each one of us brings along their qualities. To do everything yourself – I would totally collapse. Right now we are a team of five, soon six.
And you can all live off of it?
There's actually no time for a second job – I often work 60 hours during the week, sometimes also on weekends, I can't possibly work any more. But it wouldn't be enough if we had to get by only on sales from our online-shop and store. Within the company we sometimes develop skincare for business customers, for example a physiotherapy clinic. Those assignments help as buffers.
You mentioned you were well versed in herbology. Was that a reason not to work with conventional skincare?
Our main reason not to consider conventional skincare would be, that it is mostly produced abroad where it remains uncertain who is doing the job and how. We agree that this is too alarming and prefer to have things under control by doing it ourselves, so we can guarantee a certain quality level, which may sound a bit impudent (smiling).
With natural cosmetics you have to work with particular care and orderliness, so the cream doesn't thin down. Although we can't afford an organic certification so far, we spend our money on good ingredients and a good fabrication.
Where do you get your ingredients from, for example the sea buckthorn, but also the basis ones?
We source some of our main components regionally, like sunflower oil and canola oil, but olive oil or even cocoa butter doesn't grow here. Nevertheless, if you want to produce on a competitive basis, you can't just use sunflower oil - so we pay close attention to the quality of our ingredients. Of course this is also a matter of price. We mainly use oils of certified organic cultivation and work according to the rules of certified natural skincare, although we don't hold this seal yet. This means every single ingredient has been thoroughly tested and it's been made sure that there is no mildew or microbes inside. This also means, that unfortunately we can't use a wonderful self-extracted calendula oil. However, we have a line of products with prune stone oil or broccoli seeds! And our sea buckthorn comes from Herzberg in Brandenburg [Germany].
The trickiest part of running a small business?
To learn to hand over some of the work to my colleagues.
Especially if you put all your passion into it!
Exactly! Each one of us leads the workshops differently and has her own signature.
The most important thing is, that all employees are 100% committed to our product range and uses our skincare themselves, out of conviction.
What would you be happy to spend more time on?
Sleeping? (laughing) herbology... oh, I've got many interests, but hardly any time for them. And I would be delighted if my head would stand still once in a while, I'm finding it hard to wind down.
What possible risks do you see for your company?
Every year official cosmetics terms and conditions become more strict and expensive, there's a lot of people making money from our company – being a small business this affects us even more. Big corporate groups almost use this to get rid of small rivals. But supposedly it's all about consumer protection...
In Germany it doesn't have to be 100% natural cosmetics to say it is, up to 30% conventional cosmetics can be included as well.
Yes, “natural cosmetic” is no protected definition. For me it's most important to talk about this with people.
Furthermore, it's great when an old traditional craft is revived and all the specific knowledge with it! I got this soap recipe hanging on my wall from 1919 – they already used coconut oil! In earlier days around here soap was produced from abattoir waste, the idea of plant oil based soaps actually comes from the Mediterranean region.
Now, a big part of our skincare range is vegan and halal and we have a growing demand for it.
And where in Leipzig do you like to be served?
Now that I have my own shop, I completely changed my buying patterns: I almost never end up going to the supermarket, but buy my produce in small businesses around the corner, for example at REGIONALLADEN. I also became more moderate and really don't need much... sometimes some nice flowers! For a business breakfast I would go to CAFE WB few doors down and I can recommend KRÄUTERLADEN LEIPZIG where you can buy all kind of herbs and go for guided herb walks.
Thank you Dr. Friederike Fellmer for the interview! To find out more about her work visit their online shop here.
photography, interview & text: Janis Manini Claudia Kanga