From the deep blue sea to e-Residency

E-resident Lucie’s journey from a passion for pure skincare to her business, Phaedra Botanicals OÜ

E-resident Lucie diving in the Mediterranean Sea. Photo: Phaedra Botanicals OÜ

Meet e-resident, Lucie. Through her Estonian company, she has turned her passion for natural cosmetic products into Ex Prūnīs, a heavy metal safe, multipurpose treatment oil made sustainably from French Ente plums.

I interviewed Lucie earlier this year over Skype and heard about her entrepreneurial journey, which started deep under the Mediterranean Sea, and which led her to found her company in Estonia using the e-Residency program. Now she manages her unique, scientifically-backed cosmetic business, Phaedra Botanicals (Phaedra Botanicals OÜ), from Greece, and distributes Ex Prūnīs from Estonia with the support of Estonian corporate and logistics firms. In addition, Lucie strives to raise awareness of hidden ingredients contained in the cosmetics that people use on their skin.

Lucie’s entrepreneurial journey began in the sea

Photo courtesy of Hellenic Institute of Marine Archaeology

Czech e-resident Lucie’s entrepreneurial journey started deep under the sea while diving among ancient 1st and 2nd century BC shipwrecks in Greece. She spent hours in the water each day studying the wrecks to gather evidence for her PhD research on maritime archaeology of the Late Hellenistic period.

As the days went on, her research progressed, but her skin and hair became more and more damaged. She searched far and wide for products to combat her dry and irritated skin and tested many products promising to alleviate her condition. Many such products claimed to be ‘organic’ or ‘natural’, but upon closer inspection contained traces of impure ingredients such as heavy metals that further irritated her skin.

Over time, Lucie dropped more and more products from her skin regime and became distrustful of the beauty industry. She also began to investigate the laws regulating cosmetic products and discovered something interesting.

Under EU regulations, heavy metals are banned from cosmetics, but traces are allowed if they are technically unavoidable and not harmful to consumers (see EU directive EC 1223/2009). There are no specified rules and few guidelines as to what precise trace limits are allowed. However, when it comes to traceable contaminants in food products made for human consumption, the EU prescribes strict limits (see EU directives EC 1881/2006, EC 629/2008, and EC 420/2011). There is thus a discrepancy between the allowable levels of external contaminants found in cosmetics and skincare products versus food for consumption.

Lucie realised that the type of pure skincare product with traceable ingredients she desperately needed did not exist. If she wanted a solution, she would need to find it herself. Luckily, she had the drive and passion to do so, in addition to a feeling of responsibility to spread awareness of traceability in cosmetics among consumers.

“I think when you have a deep interest in something driven by love and passion, it can take you halfway there. It applies to both personal and professional life.”

Lucie certainly had the ambition and the purpose. Once she submitted her other consuming passion – her PhD dissertation – to her university, she also had the time. She grabbed the opportunity and set about trying to create a solution. She began to investigate the science of skincare in collaboration with specialist laboratories and to research and test samples of possible ingredients and combinations of ingredients that would both meet her high standards and be effective. She analysed the levels of external contaminants across a range of possible ingredients to assess whether trace levels were compliant with the limits set by the EU for consumption. Her motto was in line with the Ayurvedic principle that, ‘if you cannot eat it, don’t put it on your skin’.

After months of research and testing, Lucie came across a fruit cultivated for centuries in the Lot-et-Garonne department in France — la prune d’Ente — the French Ente plum. This particular plum, which can be eaten fresh but is more commonly known in its dried form — la pruneau — is revered in France as much as champagne or foie gras. It has ‘Protected Geographical Indication’ certification in France and the European Union.

French Ente plums in the tree. Photo: congerdesign from Pixabay

French growers and producers have over time developed numerous ways to develop the fruit and therefore have substantial experience in finding the best methods to ensure there is little waste and all parts of the fruit are upcycled as much as possible. For example, producers have for centuries used the same special machine to cold press the French Ente plum seeds and squeeze out their sweet-scented oil in a sustainable way. The plum’s seed is revered for its fragrant and nutrient-filled oil.

“Everyone thinks the principal thing to the tree is the fruit, but in point of fact the principal thing to it is the seed.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

Lucie became passionate about this special fruit and the sustainable production process of the oil from the fruit’s seed. She was intoxicated by the sweet-smelling scent, which she dreamily describes to me over Skype while delicately cradling the oil in her palms as having notes of marzipan, almond, and apricot. I can almost smell the scent through the screen of my laptop.

Lucie soon found a producer selling the oil with traceable ingredients and importantly with levels of external contaminants well under the prescribed EU limits for consumption. She then lost no time in setting out to create her own product using this oil, all the while staying true to her original intention of creating a product containing only pure, traceable ingredients. Through international cooperation with responsible businesses chiefly from France, the Netherlands, and Greece, Lucie eventually settled on a multi-purpose treatment oil for both skin and hair.

Ex Prūnīs was born.

From plums to the perfect product

Ex Prūnīs surrounded by French Ente plum seeds. Photo: Phaedra Botanicals OÜ

Ex Prūnīs means ‘from plums’ in Latin and is an ode to Lucie’s other passion, classical studies. The product is packed full of antioxidants and nutrients, including full-spectrum vitamin E.

What differentiates it from other products on the market though is that it complies with the levels of contaminants set by the EU regulations for human consumption. That is, it is heavy metal safe not just within the regulations for cosmetics but also the more rigorous regulations for food consumption. In fact, it is probably the first in the world as, according to Lucie’s investigations, Phaedra Botanicals is the first skincare producer reviewing heavy metal trace levels to this level of rigour.

Lucie took a centuries old product made from a well-known delicious fruit and introduced it to the world in modern form — Ex Prūnīs. And where Lucie’s frustration had been that nothing existed before, it was ironic that the solution had existed for centuries but was only really known in a tiny agricultural community in the French countryside!

Turning Ex Prūnīs into a business took a lot of time, reading laws and standards, and ensuring careful compliance. Selling cosmetic products is subject to intense regulatory scrutiny in the European Union and beyond. Such products must undergo testing and safety assessments before they are accepted and registered by the regulators of different countries. In addition, there are strict standards related to the labelling, packaging, and advertising of cosmetic products. Lucie’s advice to those considering launching a cosmetic product in the EU is to “be ready for extensive reading or paying a specialist lab a considerable amount to do it for you!”

Lucie spent about three months reading and understanding relevant laws, in particular European Commission Regulation № 1223/2009, interacting with the Cosmetic Products Notification Portal (CPNP), developing the product, glass container, special dropper, and designing the packaging.

Finally in early May 2019, Ex Prūnīs was accepted by the safety assessor and registered within the CPNP.

By June 2019, Lucie had the regulatory ok and a great, timely product: in a world anxious about scarce resources, unsustainable production, and obsessed with everything organic, her product had a potentially enormous, loyal, and enthusiastic market. And reality reflected this… interest and pre-orders already started to come in early June 2019.

Who knew that when your skin feels like a prune, using the oil of a prune would fix it! Photo: Phaedra Botanicals OÜ

Lucie’s path to e-Residency

In parallel with ensuring EU regulatory compliance, Lucie also spent considerable time researching a business model to suit her circumstances – an adventurous, budding entrepreneur wanting to start a location-independent business with easy access to the European market.

As a meticulous scientist herself, Lucie researched many options for selling Ex Prūnīs. After asking around in her circles, she heard about e-Residency from Lithuanian e-resident friends based in Crete. She looked into the program and realised that it was a great solution for her. E-Residency met her two main priorities: (1) it allowed her to run her business from anywhere in the world, and (2) it gave her the opportunity to base her company in Europe, her home.

If you’re also interested in setting up a company with e-Residency that trades good in the EU, read chapter seven of our Business Guide first. And learn more about applying for e-Residency here:

Lucie applied and received her e-Residency digital identity card in April 2019. She then opened her Estonian limited company Phaedra Botanicals OÜ smoothly and easily with the help of e-Residency marketplace service provider Nordic Consult. Lucie stores Ex Prūnīs in Estonia and ships worldwide. Logistics are handled by a local Estonian firm and Nordic Consult continues to provide business administration support.

“It was such an easy process to sign up to e-Residency and a wonderful experience picking up the digital ID card from the Estonian Embassy. The Embassy representative even told me at the end ‘See you in 5 years for the renewal — or who knows maybe not… maybe in 5 years you’ll have a chip in you!’”

While e-Residency has no plans to start implanting our e-residents with ID chips (!), we are investigating many innovations to make the program bigger and better than ever. These include, investigating whether to drop the digital ID card in lieu of a mobile ID, opening more pick-up locations, and streamlining the company creation process.

Ex Prūnīs started shipping pre-launch orders at the end of June and normal sales commenced in July. While it has been a slow process to grow her business, Lucie has ultimate confidence in her product, which is slowly growing in popularity and sales, particularly in Europe, the US, and Asia, by word of mouth and testing.

What’s next for Lucie and Phaedra Botanicals?

Lucie has big plans to expand her product line based on other super ingredients. She is currently researching such ingredients in the Mediterranean, Finland, and Estonia, and is looking for partners in the science and skincare space. She is particularly excited about exploring Estonia — learning more about its history and culture, visiting as both a tourist and for potential business opportunities.

“E-Residency has definitely made me feel closer to Estonia. I can’t wait to visit the country and explore it as a tourist! I am also interested in meeting Estonians engaging in similar businesses to see if we can partner and showcase Estonia’s research potential in natural cosmetics to the world.”

Lucie is also planning to become more involved in the e-Residency community. After attending our 5th birthday celebrations in Athens with her husband Nikos, she is keen to meet other e-residents, hear their stories, and connect with potential business collaborators from within this growing community.

Like Lucie, you can hear about other fantastic e-residents on our blog here. Plus, read our recap of the e-Residency 5th birthday week celebrations here:

Closer to home, Lucie’s husband also recently became an e-resident (in fact, after attending the 5th birthday event in Athens) and had coincidentally picked up his digital ID card the day I interviewed Lucie via Skype!

Welcome to the digital nation, Nikos! It’s great having an e-Residency power couple in our community and we look forward to hearing more about your plans as an Estonian e-resident!

Lucie and Nikos, e-resident power couple. Photo: Phaedra Botanicals OÜ

“What is more mortifying than to feel that you have missed the plum for want of courage to shake the tree?”

Lewis Pearsall Smith

Lucie certainly had the courage to give the tree a good shake. She didn’t miss the plum (literally!) and is now living and sharing her passion for pure skincare with a little help from e-Residency.

Her actions have also spread awareness among her customers of the potential for hidden ingredients in the products they use on their skin.

Perhaps eventually, traceability will be the norm and not the exception, and Lucie’s passion will also change the nature of the cosmetics industry itself.

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