Be open to possibilities. A few years ago, a friend invited me to a conference and encouraged me to meet new people and create opportunities. I had just enough cash to pay for the flight and hotel, but since I love adventure, I embraced the opportunity. I was part of a panel, and while it was stressful to have to speak English publicly, it was an amazing forum to share our brand story. And from this experience, I met my U.S. partner which has allowed us to bring Kadalys to the U.S. You never know what experiences can lead to so it important to never hold yourself back and to remain open to what it possible.
As a part of our series about “Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shirley Billot, Founder and CEO of French beauty brand, Kadalys.
Launched in France in 2012, Kadalys was founded by Shirley Billot with a very specific vision to create a caring, eco-conscious luxury beauty company founded on three pillars: circular economy, green chemistry and inclusive capitalism. Beauty activist, sustainability leader, skincare pioneer, social visionary and empowering entrepreneur are just a few of the ways to describe Shirley Billot, founder of the multi award-winning French cosmetics brand Kadalys.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I grew up between East Africa and the Caribbean before moving to France. At a very young age, I learned from my parents the importance of respecting nature, being eco-conscious, and giving back to our community. Both my parents, especially my mother, are highly concerned and involved in associations aiming at protecting the environment.
When I was a child, my mother also introduced me to Creole pharmacopoeia and the virtues of plants, including the banana tree, for the skin and health benefits. This plant has amazing repairing and healing properties. Traditionally it is used to treat a variety of conditions including acne, psoriasis, and eczema. In founding the Kadalys brand, I combined my desire to enhance and respect the ancestral cosmetic virtues of the banana tree with my passion for plant research.
But what made me want to start Kadalys was a desire to make the world a better and more equal place. In 2009, Martinique was experiencing a terrible social and economic crisis due to the high cost of living and social inequities. I had two choices: either leave my island, as many did, or stay and fight for it. The project behind Kadalys was to find a way to bring together all farmers — poor or wealthy, black or white — to reduce the interracial and intergenerational gaps that were contributing to the social and economic challenges.
It made sense to me to drive change by addressing the banana industry, which is the largest private employer in Martinique and plays a key role in the economy. Martinique is a small island where natural resources are limited and precious. The banana industry enables us to be less dependent on tourism and exportation of rum and sugar cane. Without the banana industry, containers would go back to France empty. I saw this a possibility for change.
Bananas also represented an opportunity to be more sustainable given the number of ugly or single bananas that are discarded every year (ugly bananas are bananas that retailers reject because they are misshapen or not part of a bunch). Plus, the French West Indies experiences severe weather conditions like hurricanes, which generate lots of banana waste.
Furthermore, I’ve always believed capitalism should be more inclusive and that it should reward the ones who create the real value. That’s why I decided to incorporate 100% of our banana growers as shareholders of Kadalys (they represent 600 families gathered in a cooperative).
So, in 2010, armed with this vision, I launched a research program to study the virtues of the banana tree and to develop new cosmetic active ingredients, which we now call “Musactif”. These active ingredients are the real anti-aging shields that are concentrated in the banana tree’s precious molecules and they’re clinically proven to help keep skin looking younger and healthier. In 2012, I launched Kadalys, the first eco-conscious brand with these patented active ingredients from the banana plant. At Kadalys, we offer high-quality organic skincare products that combine efficacy, authenticity, sustainability, while giving back to nature and local communities.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I didn’t know what to expect when I started my entrepreneurial career, but I quickly learned that starting a business is a lot of hard work and sometimes it can feel like you are taking two steps forward — only to take three steps back. By early 2018, I had reached a point where I was feeling somewhat defeated and I was about to give up. I was trying to change the world on my own and it was exhausting. Then, in the span of a few months, I was selected to be part of a L’Oreal mentorship program, and also, I met the founding partner of Ignite Growth Brands, the organization that has since become my U.S. business partner. Having these credible, external, and professional organizations validate my concept gave me the spirit to continue. And it reinforced the adage that it is always darkest before the dawn.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
The tipping point came in 2018 when I was losing steam and wasn’t sure if I could transform the banana industry the way that I had hoped. What I started to do differently was to change my perspective and to look for the opportunities, even in places where I might least expect them. It’s been a lesson in innovation for me because I’ve found the best ideas happen when you bring different concepts or opportunities together.
The other lesson I learned was the importance of not doing everything myself. Launching a new brand, especially one that aims to have the kind of impact as Kadalys, is a lot of work. Start-ups don’t have the same resources as big companies, and when you’re working on something that you’re passionate about, it’s hard to unwind or take weekends off. I have learned to leverage my network for advice, to crowdsource solutions, and to find ways to work smarter, not harder. It helps me to maintain my energy, and it gives me inspiration and new perspectives.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve been blessed with many supporters along my journey: mentors, friends, family, and acquaintances in larger corporations who could open doors for me.
There are two people to whom I am deeply indebted. The first is the President of the Martinique and Guadeloupe Banana Producers, who believed in me and my vision when no one else did. When I suggested transforming their banana waste into premium cosmetics, he supported and encouraged me to create and run the R&D program that ultimately discovered the patented bio-actives we use in every Kadalys product.
The second person is my Chief Operating Officer Carole Nguyen, who arrived in my life just when I needed her. Carole brings an amazing array of talents to Kadalys from her strategic marketing skills to her ability to execute flawlessly. She has helped me highlight our brand commitments, build our team, and grow the business to where it is today.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. The global beauty industry today has grown to more than a half a trillion-dollar business. Can you tell us about the innovations that you are bringing to the industry? How do you think that will help people?
Through Kadalys, I wanted to create inclusive, ethical skincare products with no compromise between high performance, naturalness, and citizen engagement. Called “the plant with a thousand uses,” the banana tree has been used for centuries in traditional Caribbean medicine for its exceptional cosmetic and therapeutic properties: soothing, healing and revitalizing. The banana is a superfruit whose unique composition of anti-aging molecules gives it its powerful antioxidant and regenerating powers to preserve skin radiance and reduce skin damage. As the pioneer of sustainable banana science, Kadalys offers organic and powerful extracts to improve the health of every skin type and tone here in France and around the world.
Patented and clinically tested for their antioxidant, anti-aging, soothing, and depigmenting properties, our Banana Bio-actives are used in the composition of our high performance and clean formulas. Among the most effective ingredients in the plant world, they are also sustainable resources because they are derived from the recycling of “forgotten bananas” by the industry because they are imperfect. Only Kadalys has these exclusive and patented bio-actives extracted from the skin and pulp of green, yellow, and pink bananas. These proprietary bio-actives are obtained by a patented, dynamic, and purely physical process. The three Kadalys patents cover anti-aging, depigmenting, and soothing benefits for the skin. Our banana bio-active are 100% natural, without GMOs, allergens, preservatives or polluting toxic substances. They’re sourced and manufactured in an ethical and eco-responsible way, respecting the environment and the local economy.
Beyond their patented and clinically proven efficacy, Kadalys products contribute to a more sustainable planet and are helping to build an inclusive and circular economy. Every product is made with natural, organic ingredients, sourced from only the most ethical and eco-friendly process. There are more than 1300 ingredients on the Kadalys “made without” list, including parabens, sulfates (including SLS and SLES), phthalates, formaldehydes, formaldehyde-releasing agents, mineral oil, oxybenzone, coal tar, hydroquinone, talc, triclosan, triclocarban. All Kadalys products are safe, effective, vegan, cruelty-free, gluten-free, and satisfaction-guaranteed. Our packaging is sustainable, eco-friendly, and FSC certified.
Furthermore, Kadalys was an early adopter of the now much-talked-about circular economy model. 100% of Martinique’s Banana producers are Kadalys shareholders, and 100% of the French West Indian (FWI) banana producers are Kadalys partners. Kadalys further gives back to the community by supporting education in areas such as science and technology including sponsoring young women from Guadeloupe and Martinique to train in scientific fields.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the modern beauty industry?
- The ability to know your customers directly. Through social media, emails, and other digital tools, you can interact directly with your consumer and have a 1:1 relationship with them in a way that was not possible in the past. Our consumers give us great feedback, ideas, and encouragement. We’re so grateful for each of them.
- The shift to greater sustainability and social responsibility. The great thing about the modern beauty industry is that more and more consumers are using their voices and their wallets to highlight and support indie brands with strong commitments to positively impact our future. Consumer expectations are shifting and being green and clean is not enough anymore. Consumers now also want products that are BLUE and SAFE. They’re asking questions about how ingredients are sourced and how brands are contributing to a more ethical and healthier planet. We love the visibility this gives brands like Kadalys which was one of the first eco-conscious and blue beauty brands.
- The innovation in green and blue solutions. The opportunities to develop new innovative ingredients from traditional know-how are endless. Science can be both green and sustainable. Natural cosmetics can be effective. It’s exciting to see so much energy being directed at finding product and packaging solutions that are eco-friendly, ethical, AND effective.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to improve the industry, what would you suggest?
My passion is creating sustainable and ethical solutions, so I’d love to see these movements gain more traction across the industry to help improve our health and our planet.
- Elevation of science-led and sustainable indie brands at retail. Retailers have a lot of power and can help effect positive change for not only our planet, but also society through greater inclusivity and a stronger emphasis being placed on brands that give back. Our retail partners can improve the future for all of us.
- More value being placed on sustainability and traditional know-how that has been scientifically proven. It’s easy to be distracted by slick marketing and cool algorithms, but consumers want products that really work without causing harm to themselves and their environment. It would be great to see the investor community place more value on those types of businesses.
- More sustainable options for primary and secondary packaging. As a brand, we are dependent on our suppliers for solutions that reinforce our brand values. I’d love to see more energy being placed in more sustainable and ethical packaging solutions so that consumers could have even more options for choosing blue and safe products.
You are an expert about beauty. Can you share a few ideas that anyone can use “to feel beautiful”?
I believe that beauty comes from confidence and a positive attitude. In French, we have an expression “ça me donne la banane.” It refers to the way bananas look like a smile and can be translated loosely “as this makes me smile like a banana” or “makes me happy.” Through Kadalys, we want people to feel beautiful by spreading this positive and optimistic banana vibe and to encourage people to wear a “banana smile.” Positivity is contagious and something the world could use more of.
In our brand’s messages, we encourage men and women to embrace their uniqueness, their unique beauty as individuals, no matter their skin tone, ethnicity, gender or age. To embrace who they are no matter what “flaws” they might think they have. That’s why our products are made for preserving skin radiance and enhancing all types of beauty. It is a brand for all humans. I have a lot of passion for “allclusivity” meaning the products are good for all skin types, skin concerns, and gender. In Martinique, everyone has a mixed heritage with diverse and rich origins. I, myself, have many roots: Indian, African, White, and Asian. By embracing and celebrating our differences, we make the world a more vibrant and happier place.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, Can you please share “Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry”. Please share a story or an example, for each.
Starting your own business is an amazing adventure but without the right advice it can be pretty tough. My 5 tips for people hoping to start their own business:
- Be Bold. Don’t be afraid to be a pioneer and to want to change the world. In the beginning, many were skeptical and questioned my vision to tackle food waste using “ugly and single” bananas. I stayed firm in my vision. Today, Kadalys is helping not only the planet, but also our French West Indies community.
- Build a team of supporters. There’s an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.” The key to success is to have mentors who can support and teach you at the different stages of your business. I was recently selected to be part of the Google Black Founder Program for 2020, and it was an amazing opportunity to increase our team’s skills and meet new mentors.
- Remember your why. There will be tough times, so it is important to stay inspired and to keep inspiring those around you. If you remember your why and your mission, you will have the energy and resilience to stick with it. If you don’t love what you are doing or just working for profit, you will be more fragile. I put all of my passion, my heart and my mind into my company.
- Be ethical/sustainable. I love seeing the rise of meaningful activist brands. It is not just a trend but a deep transformation that will benefit all consumers and our environment
- Be open to possibilities. A few years ago, a friend invited me to a conference and encouraged me to meet new people and create opportunities. I had just enough cash to pay for the flight and hotel, but since I love adventure, I embraced the opportunity. I was part of a panel, and while it was stressful to have to speak English publicly, it was an amazing forum to share our brand story. And from this experience, I met my U.S. partner which has allowed us to bring Kadalys to the U.S. You never know what experiences can lead to so it important to never hold yourself back and to remain open to what it possible.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d love to see more inclusive capitalism. Our collective focus should be to develop and grow our economy in ways that benefits all people as well as nature. One of the unique things about the banana tree is that it is benevolent. It provides shade to neighboring plants, promoting their growth, and every part of the banana tree has an herbal function that promotes better health and wellbeing. It is truly a giving tree. I’d like to see more businesses become like the banana tree by giving back to their communities and enabling the health and wealth of all members of society. It is possible for a business to prosper in an ethical way, and this should be encouraged.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My mantra is to “Remember my why.” If you define a strong why and stick to it during tough times, you won’t give up. It sustains you and keeps you focused on what really matters.
My “why” was and still is to change the future for my community of Martinique, to contribute to a healthier planet, and to reduce the social and economic inequities on my island. These are challenging things to do, and there were so many barriers that could have stopped me: structural barriers, cultural barriers, and financial barriers. But the “why” is worthwhile and it has kept me focused and motivated throughout my journey.
Through Kadalys, we are creating a better future. Big picture, we’re reducing waste to make the planet healthier but at a more immediate level, we are bringing hope back to a younger generation in the French West Indies, who now see more possibilities in our island economy and its future. We are now less dependent on tourism and the exportation of rum and sugar cane. Innovation and science now play a greater role in this region as we continue to find new ways to make our local agriculture more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
And the best part is that there is still more opportunity in the “why,” which is exciting.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.