Unhappy with the skincare products available to pregnant women and armed with a background in cosmetics, Asmar, along with her husband, birthed the concept of Bionée and brought the idea to the Wharton Venture Initiation Program at the University of Pennsylvania, where Asmar's husband was a MBA candidate. From here, the Bionée concept grew-eventually winning the Snider Seed Award from the Wharton School of Business.
Essential to transforming Bionée from a concept to an actual business was establishing relationships with suppliers. "I have almost 10 years of experience in developing products," Ewa Asmar explains. "I've worked a lot with suppliers in France and all over Europe." Although her experience had given her a tremendous amount of knowledge about developing beauty products, not all of it applies to building supplier relationships for a much smaller business. "For a small company, MOQ [minimum order quantities] is always the big issue," Asmar explains. "This wasn't a worry I had working for L'Oreal, Yves Rocher in France or The Body Shop."
Accustomed to high-end beauty packaging, Asmar didn't want to compromise on Bionée's packaging, though. She was able to procure shapely bottles and handsome jars in small quantities through Eurovetrocap Srl. There was one catch: Eurovetrocap would only supply undecorated packaging in such low order amounts. "It's very difficult to find a company that would silk-screen a small quantity of product," Asmar remarks. "Eurovetrocap would just silk-screen products of a quantity above, I believe, 10,000 pieces. So I needed to find another company that would take all of our components and silk-screen them."
Leveraging her network, participating in industry groups hosted on LinkedIn and making a good number of old-fashioned phone calls, Asmar was able to locate a package decorating company located near Bionée's contract manufacturer and packer-1 fois 1 jour-which operates in southern France.
The contract manufacturer also was able to provide access to its small, in-house packaging facility for young brands. Most of the products, including the Stretch Mark Lotion pictured in accompanying photographs, are filled using a customized Agro-Alimentaire & Technologies Industrielles A2TI machine. Bottles and jars are manually placed under the filler. Workers manually close the packaging after filling and position the filled containers next to a Markem-Imaje inkjet head to be batch coded.
Although 1 fois 1 jour does have packaging facilities for startups, its real forte, says Asmar, is in the research and development of health and beauty aid formulations. "As you can imagine, pregnant women are very careful about what they put on their skin," Asmar explains. "Your skin is your biggest organ, so you have to be really careful that whatever you put on it is safe for you and for your future baby. We really took extra precautions in terms of formulation. Our contract manufacturer really loves this kind of work."
As Bionée has grown, Asmar has found working with 1 fois 1 jour to also be an absolute pleasure. This has not been the case for all the vendors, though.
"Unfortunately, we'd experienced a lot of quality issues with the printing of the [primary] packages," Asmar comments, grudgingly. "I've learned from my experience that it's really important to be close to the production of your product. It helps to have a direct relationship with your partners to be able to see them, to be able to meet them, to be in the same time zone even." (The beauty products are manufactured in southern France; the company, though, is based in the U.S. It was first incorporated in Philadelphia and, currently, is headquartered in New York.)
She expressed a preference for a package printing company located in the U.S., preferably the Northeast, that would have low minimum order quantities and experience screen printing different types of materials, especially PET and HDPE.
Careful about material choice
"Our packaging is mostly HDPE and PET," Asmar explains. "We are certified by Ecocert-the certification house that certifies the majority of personal care products in the world, so we are not allowed and we do not wish to use plastics such as SAN [styrene acrylonitrile], which is not easily recycled."
Asmar is further encouraged to move her packaging work to the U.S. by a positive experience with Disc Graphics Inc., the American converter that is printing cartons for products such as Bionée's Revitalizing Face Cream, and at time of publication was printing the first run of Bionée gift boxes.
The cartons use a specialized folding technique that eliminates the need for hot glue. "I discovered the idea when reading about a project, involving several companies in France, that studied environmentally friendly packaging for personal care products," Asmar remarks. "We do not use any glue for this type of carton, everything is just folded. Not only is it really pretty but it's also environmentally friendly."
Disc Graphics' four-person structural teams created a box made from a single sheet of 14-pt SBS; the converter's 12-person prepress team processed the art files using software from Rampage Systems Inc. A Kodak NexPress digitally imaged the coated side of the Forest Stewardship Council-certified (FSC) stock from Clearwater Paper Corp. A matte coating was applied to offset any gloss effect from the coated sheets, which were then finished using a die cutter from Bobst Group North America Inc. and a custom die.
The gift boxes also were digital printed using the NexPress, but they were made from two sheets of 18-pt board. "The digital press limits us to 14x19-in. printable area and her box is about 26-in. long," David Wolf, account executive of Disc Graphics Inc., remarks. "We still were able to print it digitally by designing the box so it's two pieces that are brought back together postpress."
The gift box design also incorporates a highly decorative representation of the Bionée lotus flower symbol.
The lotus flower
Asmar says the blossoming of the lotus flower symbol is a metaphor for conception and birth. Bionée packaging uses graphic representations of the bud, opening and full bloom states to communicate which products are best for each stage in a woman's pregnancy.
The flower is the centerpiece of a design created by Naya Yehia, a freelance designer in Beirut, Lebanon. "She developed the design in collaboration with me," Asmar remarks. "She is extremely knowledgeable in terms of design. I really learned a lot from her, and Wharton School helped us find her."
In a short time, Bionée has come a long way from the Wharton School program. The brand sells product from its website, and Asmar has plans to increase distribution at small retail markets around Manhattan. After this development phase, she plans to leverage the support network at Wharton Business School to approach larger distributors. "We would love to see our products at Diapers.com, Destination Maternity and Giggle, which is a children's store chain expanding really well within the U.S.," Asmar comments. "We'd also like to be working with companies with philosophies like Whole Foods, which always is looking for safe, natural and organic-ingredients-based products."
1 fois 1 jour, +33-5-5398-5030.
Agro-Alimentaire & Technologies Industrielles,
Bobst Group North America Inc., 973-226-8000.
Clearwater Paper Corp., 509-344-5900.
Disc Graphics Inc., 631-234-1400.
Ecocert Inc., 415-773-5320.
Eurovetrocap Srl, +39-2-48-4431.
Forest Stewardship Council, 612-353-4511.
Kodak Graphic Communications Group, 866-563-2533.
Rampage Systems Inc., 781-891-9400.