The Ecologist meets… Korres co-founder, Lena Korres

The Ecologist meets… Lena Korres
Greece might be in dire financial straights but for the country’s best-known natural beauty brand, things have never been better. Ruth Styles caught up with Lena Korres to find out why

In the midst of the doom and gloom surrounding the Greek economy, one bright spot stands out and it isn’t the still-functioning tourist industry. Despite tough times at home, Korres is an all-natural Greek success story. ‘When we started, we didn’t have an international customer in mind,’ says head of product development and co-founder, Lena Korres. ‘I still remember George [Korres – her husband and co-founder] saying that he only wanted to make products that would make his friends and loved ones happy. Our intention wasn’t to build a global brand.’ But despite Korres’ initial misgivings, the natural beauty brand that began life as a small range in a family apothecary has gone stratospheric. But that doesn’t mean the company compromising on its principles.

‘We try not to lose track of what we initially set out to do,’ explains Lena. ‘When we started Korres, we wrote down what we felt should be our core principles and these four core principles are still the same as in the early apothecary days. [They are] the use of natural and certified organic ingredients of the highest quality, skin- and environmentally-friendly products with clinically tested efficacy, products that are affordable for everyday use but have interesting aesthetics that can inspire and make us happy. It’s comforting to be able to go back to that piece of paper and check that the values are still in place.’

And those values have helped produce some seriously exciting products. From the Wild Rose brightening day cream to the Pomegranate lip balm, Korres’ apothecary-inspired products have become cult items. What’s more, all are made with the environment in mind, which means recycled and recyclable packaging, no parabens, propylene glycol, ethanolamines, GM or triclosan, and steam-powered heating in the company’s Athens factory. But while they avoid the nasties, they make full use of nature’s goodies – even employing ‘plant hunters’ to assess the benefits of new and undiscovered species. It’s quite a task: Greece alone boasts 5,500 varieties of plant. Not that Korres stops at plants when it comes to eco-friendly ingredients. From yoghurt to honey, the company is also a fridge raiding front-runner.

‘Our portfolio currently includes over 500 products, all developed based on four groups of natural and/or organic ingredients,’ says Lena. ‘[They are] herbs with pharmaceutical properties, Greek flora herbs, food ingredients and high-efficacy natural active ingredients.’ But with so many botanicals invoived, why not make the entire range organic? Because it’s not, sighs Lena, as easy as you think. ‘Our philosophy has been built on the most natural formulations available but with safety and effectiveness on top of our agenda. The organic ingredients market is still in its early years of development, making it difficult to source all necessary ingredients needed for our formulations. To improve this, we have formed long term partnerships with organic farmers, local communities and agricultural unions, including amongst others the Mastiha Growers Association of Chios island, the Cooperative De Saffran of Kozani, the American Farm School of Thessaloniki, the Aromatic Herb Growers Association of Agrinio, the Robola Growers Association of Cephalonia and the Organic Chestnut Tree Growers of Arcadia to name a few. We teach our partners organic farming and sustainable agricultural systems, help them throughout all stages of cultivation and harvesting in association with the Agricultural University of Athens, and support them financially through purchasing their produce to be used in our formulations.’

If Korres isn’t an entirely organic brand, it is an entirely natural one but that brings problems of its own. Natural in particular, is a term that’s come to be strongly associated with greenwash thanks to the numerous brands selling ‘natural’ products that are in reality loaded with synthetics. This, says Lena, is something that Korres are anxious to tackle. ‘When it comes to natural products, making a buying decision can be very confusing as greenwashing has been extensively and growingly employed in cosmetics. Many brands make all-natural claims despite only using an extremely low percentage of natural ingredients,’ or, she continues, ‘stress they avoid specific substances when instead they are using several others that can be even more harmful. The level of misunderstanding and the overload of information surrounding natural cosmetics combined with difficult to understand ingredient lists as those featured on standard packaging, make it even harder for consumers to choose the right product for them. Bearing this in mind, we introduced a FORMULA FACTS panel on our packaging that clearly states the natural content percentage as well as describing the formulation synthesis in a way that everyone can comprehend. We use everyday language instead of complex terms that could not be decoded by consumers.’

Good formulations, particularly when it comes to making the most of herbs, is where Korres streak ahead of the competition. Here, you won’t find greasy formulas or sour scents: almost everything smells practically edible and probably would be safe enough to eat should you tuck in. But fabulous fragrance and efficacy aside, according to Lena, the market for natural products is changing as more and more turn to green beauty products in the wake of health scares and increasing interest in the fate of the planet. ‘During our pharmacy years, we were exposed to an audience that was driven by natural choices,’ remembers Lena. ‘We were passionate about the plants, we had a deep understanding of their properties and a vast experience in over 3,000 herbal remedies; and an audience – admittedly niche - that was seeking out a more natural approach. The pharmacy customers were the ones that led us to the next step - skincare.’

But while the pharmacy clients were interested in natural remedies, the mainstream market back in 1996 was a very different story. ‘The natural beauty industry has only blossomed over the last few years,’ says Lena, sagely. ‘People nowadays pay much more attention to what goes on the skin, they are savvier than before and do their own research on ingredients and efficacy. Science has also developed to the point that organic certified or natural cosmetics can ‘speak’ the language of conventional skincare. We think it’s the way forward and it’s very encouraging to see the number of natural enthusiasts increasing. It is certainly very encouraging for us as when we first started, this was far from a trend. Working with natural and organic ingredients is an extreme challenge especially for those of us who selected this direction when the whole green approach was far from a trend and most of the desired ingredients did not even exist in organic form; it requires a vast experience and knowledge of the ingredients and their attributes along with advanced scientific input to develop highly efficacious, safe products.’

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Inspired? Try one of these

Wild Rose cream, £19
Korres’ first, and some would say most successful, foray into skincare, the Wild Rose cream smells sensational and does a brilliant job of brightening up dull, dehydrated skin. Packed with anti-oxidants, it also contains plenty of vitamin C to help see off fine lines.

Yoghurt sunscreen face and body emulsion SPF30, £19
A real summer essential; not only does Korres’ yoghurt-based sunscreen keep you safe in the sun, it’s also full of organic aloe extract to provide an extra shot of moisture. It also smells wonderful and is gentle enough to use on children.

Pomegranate lip butter, £7
Korres’ lip butter is a tinted lip balm with a difference, offering deep hydration and a flattering shiny tint. With seven colours to choose from, our pick is pretty Pomegranate – a soft coral that flatters all skin tones.

Basil Lemon shower gel, £7.50
Gentle enough to use every day, the Basil Lemon shower gel is perfect for the morning, when the lemony scent provides you with a zesty wake up call. Organic althea and helichrysum plus wheat proteins help to leave skin soft.

White Tea, Bergamot and Freesia EDT, £24
An affordably gorgeous addition to the world of natural perfumery, White Tea, Bergamot and Freesia is a fresh floral that doesn’t overpower.


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