Under the harsh sun of the southwestern Sahara, the Berber people know how to look after their skin. Women have used argan oil for centuries: its healthy fats, vitamin E and other antioxidants sooth the face and slow ageing.
Aucklander Chrissy Fletcher saw the benefits firsthand on a trip to Morocco in 2009 and has been developing argan oil based skin care products ever since. Her Vede & Crede brand was recently launched on the New Zealand market, offering women here rare cosmetic substances from the sensual heritage of the southwestern Sahara Berbers.
Argan trees grow only in that part of the world and the oil is cold pressed from argan nuts. Ms Fletcher imports the organically certified oil from a small group of Moroccan companies and cooperatives, and the Vede & Crede products emerge from careful blending and bottling in a similarly certified laboratory on Auckland's North Shore. For Ms Fletcher, quality is everything the extraordinary quality of the raw ingredient and the quality of its processing into highend skin care products.
"I wanted something for women like me who read labels and really care about what they're putting on their skin," she says. "Everyone who has used it so far has had great results, they have other women asking what's going on and wanting the product themselves."
Skin appearance and comfort are boosted by argan oil's rich content of omega 6 fatty acids and anti-oxidants. They help reduce irritation, reddening and scarring of the skin, while softening its surface and reducing the appearance of lines. Berbers have long used the oil for beauty (hair and nails can benefit as well), for healthcare (especially burns treatment) and for cooking: French cosmetics industry giants jumped on it also during Morocco's period as a French protectorate (1912-1956).
The initial Vede & Crede range has three oil based products, with differences in scent for younger and older women. "It's great for women who don't want to spend a lot of time working at their appearance ... application morning and night is a 30 second job, it's quickly absorbed and you can put sunscreen and makeup over it without any problems," she says. There is a French rosewater and date extract based skin cleanser on the market as well, and eight more argan oil based products under development.
Plans also include exporting into Australia and, in time, further afield. "New Zealand is a small and crowded market for skin care products, and you have to export a product like this as soon as possible if you want to make money," says Ms Fletcher. She has trademarked protection internationally. She recognises, too, that GS1 membership and bar
coding are other critical steps in taking Vede & Crede into consumer markets, locally and globally and better managing product lines.
And the brand name? "Vede" and "crede" is Italian for see and believe (from Latin) exactly what Chrissy Fletcher wants her customers to appreciate about her products. "What you see is what you get ... the results simply reflect the unique qualities and purity of the argan oil and other ingredients we source, and the care taken with every aspect of making our product range."
It is a philosophy she applied from the beginning when her first samples of oil already certified organic in Morocco were subjected to rigorous lab testing back home. Ms Fletcher then worked with a cosmetics chemist on developing and trialling the best blends for Vede & Crede.
"It's been a pretty scientific process because I want to be absolutely confident about what we are offering," says Ms Fletcher. The approach extends to packaging in violet glass bottles that have been especially designed to protect essential oils and reflect 97% of ultraviolet light: UV can reduce product quality while it is being displayed or stored for use. If early market testing is correct, however, Vede & Crede may soon be flying off the shelf in this country's more expensive cosmetics outlets.