Curiosity Gap Spotlight: Botanic Affair

It hasn’t been the easiest of years for beauty retailer and pandemic has only been partially to blame. But while in-store retail seems to be running in the sand, rather than making tangible progress when it comes to customer service, online retailers who mastered it have not only been growing, but thriving. San Fransisco-based beauty platform Botanic Affair is a perfect example of growth when you give customers exactly what they are looking for.

Botanic Affair founder Laia Esteban (image courtesy of Botanic Affair)

Laia Esteban was born and raised in Barcelona, lived in Zurich and trained as an engineer. While she is now US-based and haven’t given up on her main job just yet, pandemic set her off on a new creative loop – she launched Botanic Affair and hasn’t looked back. With her conscious approach to skincare and passion for beauty, Laia is particularly fired up about small, niche and at times still undiscovered beauty brands from around the world, but what genuinely sets her platform apart from the many others is that hers is plastic-free. It’s not even about talking the talk, but rather waling the walk – even though Laia is as eloquent, as she is knowledgable.

I think apart from curating a really special selection of international beauty brands, Laia really wants to make a difference – to both the health of the skin and the planet we all inhibit. There is focus on natural ingredients, respecting nature through ethical sourcing, zero waste packaging and small batch production. All the brands that are represented by Botanic Affair source ingredients themselves and don’t have outside formulators to gloss over ingredients lists. So with quality of production and ingredients, customers can be assured that they are truly getting exactly what is being described on product’s labels for their skin and its needs.

Botanic Affair box of skincare

When it comes to packaging, the focus at Botanic Affair is on practises, materials and shipping boxes. With recent investigation on ITV News into Amazon in the UK, notably a practise of destroying perfectly woking equipment and products that were simply returned to them, this element of our shopping practises really comes into focus. According to statistics shared on Botanic Affair, our world has accumulated over 8 billion tons of plastic since the 1950s, which can take over 400 years to degrade. And the shift from single use plastic items is painfully slow, so to observe a small retailer trying to accelerate this much needed change in a thoughtful, not forceful way, is inspiring. The platform carries brands that use glass bottles and don’t use plastic for any of their products – the only plastic is the one in the lids of some products such as toners, cleansers and serums – less than 10% of the total packaging.

Botanic Affair unboxed

Laia kindly sent me three products to try – a Lumen Moisturiser by Cleban and two suncare products from Zoca.

Lumen is a versatile and indulgent moisturiser, best suited for skin in need of deep hydration. I enjoyed using it in the evenings, but did put it aside for when the weather becomes colder – I think winter is truly the time when this particular moisturiser shines the brightest. The herbal apothecary brand Cleban has Dutch roots, but brand’s entire operations are based in the sunny state of California. Run by two sisters, the work is divided creatively – Liana is the the herbalist & chief formulator, who crafts and creates the products to support both skin & wellbeing, while Roxane makes things happen when it comes to business operations, distribution & marketing.

The moisturiser feels very nourishing, yet light on application – you need a ‘blueberry-sized amount’ for your face. A smile-producing description, as you picture the summer berry bursting with goodness in your mind’s eye. The decadently earthy scent reminds of the freshly brewed black tea with honey and light flowery undertones, with notes of Rosa Damascena adding a feminine touch and the light green colour adding an element of visual calm.

Cleban Lumen Moisturiser

Zola on the other hand is the reef-safe sunscreen made with plant-based ingredients. I was actually quite curious to try the sunscreen that feels quite concentrated, almost like a balm that you spread all over the skin. While it did leave behind a ‘white’ film, making the skin look paler, it did feel more nourishing than most sunscreens upon application. What I didn’t expect was to burn my skin, after spending the day on the beach and re-applying it. In the evening my skin was lobster-red and feeling very hot – suffice to say I was upset. I did share the feedback with both Laia and Emily, Zoca founder. Both replied very quickly, with Emily trying to re-assure me that indeed it wasn’t the normal result of using her product.

She also kindly offered to send me the Sun-Soothing Salve, a blend of peppermint, geranium and lavender that helps to sooth and repair burnt skin. I kindly declined, as that was one of the products that Laia originally enclosed in my Botanic Affair box. Skincare and suncare are very personal, so I would say that my personal experience with Zoca SPF shouldn’t put you off trying it, but I can also add that the salve indeed helped to calm and sooth the skin with twice daily application within a couple of days. Emily also shared a thought that ‘zinc can cause sunburn if the product loses dispersion, meaning that if the zinc starts to clump together, it can leave gaps on the skin that aren’t protected and can magnify sunburn’. In this particular instance my whole upper back was quite burnt, even though sunscreen was thoroughly & vigoriously applied, so I truly am not sure what happened. I wouldn’t use this particular sunscreen myself, but I certainly would use the Sun Soothing Salve and want to highlight that the brand didn’t shy from responsibility and tried to address my concerns quickly and efficiently. Emily also said that all of her products are tested for efficacy.

Zoca Lotion duo

When it comes to shipping orders, boxes come into play – both it terms of helping deliver products without damaging them in transit and their later disposal. At Botanic Affair shipping boxes are 100% recyclable and manufacturers of those boxes are FSC & PEFC certified. They also support the World Land Trust by way of offsetting any emissions produced during the manufacturing process – something that took Laia a while to find, as she is still a small business for the time being.

Laia is not just the heart, but the face of her beauty platform as well (image courtesy of Botanic Affair)

Botanic Affair boxes arrived packed with Eco Flo Chips which are 100% biodegradable, fully compostable and are low energy. Interestingly enough, when I have asked a few people in the beauty industry who talk about sustainability, no-one could actually answer whether dissolving those packing chips can affect the quality of the water. Laia, however, told me that she dissolves hers in water and uses the water on her house plants and. With that practise taken on board, that’s exactly what I do with my house plants now and am glad to report that so far al of them continue to thrive and purify the air that my family breathes at home. Circularity in action!

One of Botanic Affair brands: Cleban (“born in Amsterdam & crafted in California”)

When it comes to niche beauty brands a term “Small Batch Production” is used to describe a small production run, typically less than 500 units at a time. Beauty brands that Laia curates at Botanic Affair run the production of the products themselves, knowing exactly what goes into each product, while using ethically sourced ingredients. And when the founder of the brand knows every aspect of their business, including ingredient lists & sourcing, consumers can count on such brands to provide the best results when it comes to their skin maintenance. Ultimately its not the words that matter, but the deeds and for that reason smaller, artisan productions can certainly give a run in terms of efficacy to a multitude of mass or even luxury products. If a beauty brand also safeguards botanical-rich eco systems that nature creates and maintains throughout the seasons, then we all are better, not worse off. Fever products, thoughtfully bought, from retailers that are customer-facing and have customer service as one of the core pillars of the business. Pandemic certainly highlighted how invaluable that type of service is to any one of us.  

Tried and tested by Botanic Affair (image courtesy of Botanic Affair)

Right now Botanic Affair stocks just under thirty brands, from the more well-known and established like Shiva Rose, Arcana (the founders are in the process of moving from Scotland to Arizona this summer), NINI Organics, Maya Chia, RUA (who I plan to profile for you soon), Earthwise Beauty, Fifty 7 Kind, Earth Tu Face, Dafna’s, Heart of Gold to the newer entrants on the market like Among The Flowers, Berlin Skin, Oxalis Apothecary. I know of a couple more brands joining the Botanic Affair stable soon and can say that they are both exciting and effective, their founders perfectly in tune with the needs of modern consumers looking for nurturing & efficacious skincare that also helps improve one’s sense of wellbeing as well.

Hand-written notes are part of Botanic Affair personalised customer service

As to Laia, she sees the potential in the small, emerging brands and spotlights them, while at the same time supporting the more established niche brands that also need someone in their corner when it comes to spotlighting them for consumers & being their retail conduit into the wider world. With the focus of educating the consumer, rather than confusing her or him or using questionable marketing practises, Laia showcases brands and products, as well as shares her own lifestyle and skincare tips with a genuine passion and conviction that she can make the difference in the world by doing what she does best, uniting like-minded consumers and brands.

To learn more about Botanic Affair, its brands, blog or shop, please click here

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