When Alex Grima was a teenager her first perfume was Daisy by Marc Jacobs.
“When you’re young and you’ve used up that first bottle you don’t want to throw it out because it’s so beautiful and you have an emotional connection to it,” says Grima. “You end up lugging it around in your bag or hoarding it in your bathroom.”
If Grima had wanted to get rid of the bottle sustainably, she would have had a problem. Like many beauty products, the perfume comes in a complicated packaging – plastic, glass and metal – that can be hard to recycle. But it was a keeper and “it’s that sense of permanence and value that we want to connect with today”.
“We” is Grima and Sue Tuttle, who have drawn on those teenage memories to create a refillable beauty store in Sydney. Australia’s beauty industry is taking steps towards more responsible disposal for packaging. Jurlique, Biome and Innisfree all have partnerships with the recycling company TerraCycle, and offer discounts in exchange for empty packaging. MAC Cosmetics’ “Back to MAC” program rewards recyclers with free lipstick.
As the first high-end recycle beauty concept store in Australia, Foile aims to push these initiatives further by getting rid of disposable packaging.
“Beauty and skincare is such a high consumption industry: you use your face wash and out it goes, you use your makeup and out it goes,” says Grima. “So many products are packaged in plastic so there’s also a high environmental impact, but it doesn’t need to be that way. If we switch to refillable vessels we can save up to 70% of the waste that ends up in landfill.”
Australia has affordable options for low-packaging and refillable beauty products, like The Source, Scoop and Lush, but Folie aims to feel luxurious – less hemp fisherman’s pants, more Stella McCartney. The store is lined with green tiles, and visiting it feels like stepping inside an expensive aquarium, not a wholefoods store.
High-end refillable beauty is a growing movement around the world, with New York fragrance brand Le Labo and French bodycare brand L’Occitane offering the service in its stores, while the entire line by Danish makeup artist Kirsten Kjaer Weis consists of refillable compacts.
“It’s the same model we’ve seen in bulk foods that is now moving into other markets such as cleaning products to promote zero waste and minimise packaging,” says Grima.
In the Bondi beach store you’ll find glass bottles and tubs that can be filled from 14 different oils, gels and clays – running from marula, jojoba and rosehip oils to sea salts, blue clay and rosewater – as part of the company’s Foile Classics range. Customers are encouraged to mix and match the ingredients to suit their beauty regimens. A 60ml bottle of Moroccan argan oil costs $37 but once the bottle is purchased, refills are just $22, which makes the Folie Classics range slightly cheaper than masstige beauty brands like The Ordinary.
Launching a store where the focus is on sharing, touching and sampling has been complex in the pandemic. Grima and Tuttle had spent 18 months working on their refillable concept when Covid-19 hit. “We had to consider whether our business model would even be viable in the changed climate but I’m glad we persevered,” says Grima.
All refills are done back-of-house in a controlled and sanitised environment and Grima is quietly confident conscious consumers will still come through her doors.
“We’ve all spent a lot of time at home and as we emerge back into the world it’s a chance to rethink our behaviours and adopt new ones,” she says. “People want to use cosmetics and skincare but they don’t want to feel bad about it.”