Seeking Natural Beauty: Fighting The Tide Of Organic Marketing


Every time you shop for cosmetics you’re surrounded by a sea of green. Promises of gentle, organic skincare that will return you to your pristine, healthy state are ubiquitous. Confused by the labels, how do you choose the product that is actually naturally best for your skin? Unfortunately, it may be that all these wondrous products are nearly identical and not very natural at all.

This is the mantra of Deborah Burnes, CEO and Co-Founder of SumbodySkincare,and author of Look Great, Live Green and Natural Beauty Skin Care. Burnes entered cosmetology school following her career as a model during which, posing for surrealist painter Salvador Dali drove her to develop an appreciation for makeup and fashion. But for the young model cosmetology school was not a lesson in beauty trends, but rather the beginning of her conversion from a makeup enthusiast to a leading authority in skincare.

This “passionate love affair with skin”, as she affectionately describes it, started the entrepreneur’s fruitless search for transformative, natural beauty products. “Everything was just chemically filled,” says Burnes reflecting on the nineties, a decade obsessed with silicon-based products and pore strips— a painful application used by all relatable girls on all favorite TV sitcoms.

Burnes, disillusioned by the contemporary skincare market of the nineties launched Sumbody, a natural product line designed to transform skin with its fast acting and organic formulas manufactured by the CEO herself. To a modern consumer, a commitment to creating pure skincare is perhaps the most enticing quality. However, Sumbody began advertising in 1999 long before anyone was concerned about what was in their face wash.

"Everything is about results and solution driven, luxury driven, skin transformation. I think that is the true story with beauty" - Deborah Burnes (Photo Courtesy of Sumbody)

“We never really had the conversation on our packaging, on our labels or anywhere about being a natural or organic brand,” Burnes contemplates. She recognized the benefits of all-natural skincare years before it captured the market’s imagination, “At the time I started, it wouldn’t have worked. I really wanted to create this modern, fresh, cutting edge, highly effective skin care— but if I had done too much advertising with that it definitely would have come off too hippy.”

“We never really had the conversation on our packaging, on our labels or anywhere about being a natural or organic brand. At the time I started, it wouldn’t have worked" - Deborah Burnes (Photo Courtesy of Sumbody)

Despite (or possible because of) the company’s limited campaigns broadcasting their all-natural formulas, Sumbody was an immediate success, “Everything is about results and solution driven, luxury driven, skin transformation. I think that is the true story with beauty—that’s what we’re ultimately looking for,” she explains, “And, as it so happens, being natural helps you get there faster than the chemicals.”

Following the establishment of Sumbody and the publication of Burnes’ first book in 1999, like-minded members of the beauty industry began advocating for conscientious advertising and healthier products. And as all trends do, the organic beauty movement captivated everyone. But Burnes knew that there was little or no credible information behind this trend, “It was all the rage, everybody was looking into it and were like, ‘Hey natural skin is actually effective and does amazing things.’”

However, Burnes insists that this superficial interest in “green” products is not actually changing the beauty industry in any substantial way. “It became such a comedy of itself,” she groans, “Everything is supposedly all natural and organic, but we’re greenwashing the planet—and everything is still filled with chemicals.”

Although there has been an increased demand among consumers for organic beauty products, most brands continue to use the same formulas— disguised behind green advertisements boasting organic properties and natural compounds. The number one factor that sustains these false proclamations Burnes argues is a lack of knowledge regarding manufacturing among brand creators. “I believe that people have the highest amount of integrity to think that they’re creating an all-natural, green brand but they have to buy into what some chemist is selling them,” Burnes reflects, disclosing that almost all of our favorite small, “indie” labels are actually manufactured by the same three labs. “It breaks my heart when I look at their ingredients and I have to tell them that their brand isn’t any better than what’s already out there.”

Despite these companies chasing the zeitgeist Burnes maintains that the only way to have created and sustained Sumbody’s success was controlling every aspect of the line and preserving brand transparency, “As the chemist behind all our products, I make each and every formula,” she states, effortlessly naming the sources of each ingredient in her line. “Being the chemist, having our own manufacturing facility and sourcing each and every ingredient really makes us unique and our products extremely powerful.”

While typical beauty companies have altered their brands various times since their launch to match contemporary trends, Sumbody has largely remained unchanged. “When it comes to skin, it doesn’t change. Skin hasn’t changed, skin is the same,” remarks the CEO, “If you really know skin, and know what you’re doing, you really don’t need to change that much.” And although you won’t find Sumbody entering the contest between the major labels over who’s the greenest, the company continues its mission from the beginning to be environmentally friendly, “We don’t have any secondary packaging. When we started the company, we had three stores as well. We still have bamboo floors and recycled lumber. All of our plastic is PET and is recyclable, and we use glass whenever we can.”

“Being the chemist, having our own manufacturing facility and sourcing each and every ingredient really makes us unique and our products extremely powerful” - Deborah Burnes (Photo Courtesy of Sumbody)

Burnes took the next step in promoting a truly environmentally conscious line, with the publication of her second book Natural Beauty Skin Care: 110 Organic Formulas for a Radiant You!In 2016. With recipes, tips and tricks to creating DIY skin care products Burnes aims to both contribute to the no waste movement and, “empower women so that they can make effective and transformational products in their own home.”

In 2018 Deborah Burnes fulfills the same role that she did when she started 20 years ago. The CEO of Sumbody is still a leader to those concerned with what they’re lathering on themselves, providing an honest and clear path to organic skincare.

7min read

The Middle East And North Africa Are Brimming With Untapped Female Potential

Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.

A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.

To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.

The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.

In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.

Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization ( publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")

The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."

This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.

Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.

She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."

Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.

"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei

While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.

Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.

The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."

This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.

Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.