Author’s Blurb: When it comes to skincare, I doubt any of us are new to the usual “clean, chemical, toxic and paraben-free, natural and organic ingredients” tagline. With each brand jumping on this marketing bandwagon, skincare shopping has become more about watching out for these requirements rather than our individual skin needs.
“We think all these marketing claims are bullshit. Simply put, this is not what we believe in,” said Shuyi, the founder of À La Carte.
Having a background in chemistry coupled with a passion for skincare, Shuyi and her friend’s (now co-founder) favourite pastime back then was spending hours in pharmacy or cosmetic stores to analyse skincare products.
“We used to laugh at products on the market that put on extravagant claims or that were formulated with nonsense ingredients that come with hefty price tags.”
“This was how we started with the idea of very basic ingredients-skincare with proper knowledge of what they do, that could be easily incorporated into any existing routine,” they shared.
Upon graduation, Shuyi was working in a pharmaceutical lab that did research on generic medicine before she decided to follow her passion and venture into the cosmetic industry.
Her initial interest was in colours, but she later realised that skincare ingredients fascinated her more.
Taking A Different Marketing Route
Two common marketing strategies that local skincare brands employ are influencer marketing and customer reviews.
While it is a strategy that has worked well for many of these brands, À La Carte still insists on skipping these marketing strategies.
“We think it is unnecessary to put out a review because we don’t like the idea of making it look like a paid sponsorship.”
“I guess our strategy is just having no strategy, but having a lot of faith in the products we created because good products will speak for us,” Shuyi said.
Aside from the “no-bullshit” selling point, the founders wanted their products to be affordable and accessible to everyone, hence, part of lowering their price comes with cutting out the middleman.
They’re also a brand that prides themselves on being scientifically backed.
Some international skincare brands you might be familiar with that run on a similar concept are Krave and The Ordinary.
Just like these brands, À La Carte regularly educates their followers on skincare 101’s and skin chemistry, even if it’s irrelevant to their products.
Being a brand that markets their scientific background, the founders would regularly look into online published papers to back up their products.
“We usually search through all kinds of publications because all these information are shared and very easily accessible by everyone nowadays, thanks to the internet,” Shuyi shared.
Because they give the typical marketing tagline of being “clean” or cruelty-free a pass, however, some of their followers have doubted the legitimacy and safety of their products.
“Not only the doubt on the absence of these claims, but also as a new brand.”
“But we don’t disagree with all the claims. For example, while we do not test any of our products on animals, we test it on our friends and family,” they shared.
Cutting Through The Competition
If you look at their website, they only sell three serums so far (all at 30ml) which they state can solve most people’s skin concerns:
- 5% D-Panthenol at RM19.80
- 10% Niacinamide at RM18.20
- 2% Hyaluronic Acid at RM38.90
They started out with these 3 products specifically because not only are they easily obtainable, but they are also relatively more stable than other ingredients, hence ensuring a longer shelf life.
These ingredients have been popular in the market for a long time, and extensive prior research has been conducted on their qualities as well.
À La Carte takes advantage of these factors to build their products.
It actually makes the most sense business-wise, given their aim of cutting down the market price and middlemen.
“Our formulations usually take around 4 months, shorter for ones we’re satisfied with, but we do have formulae that we are still not happy with since day 1 until now,” Shuyi shared.
Though comparing À La Carte’s prices with other similar products or local brands would be a helpful way to gauge how affordable they are, not all serums are formulated the same way, thus comparing them on price alone would be unfair.
For instance, another local skincare brand, RuRuberry, also sells the 10% Niacinamide product at 30ml for RM39.
However, their serum also contains a formulation of other ingredients that À La Carte sells separately, which are the Hyaluronic Acid and B5 D-Panthenol.
This formulation may work for one skin type, whereas another skin type may prefer the 10% Niacinamide alone.
Hence, the RuRuberry serum may be more worth your money than buying all three serums from À La Carte if it works for you.
On the other hand, if the 10% Niacinamide serum from À La Carte alone works for your skin better, their price might be more worth it to you.
The Search For Sustainability
An important aspect of skincare includes the eco-friendliness of a brand, which includes its packaging, storage, transportation, etc.
While the founders believe in its importance, it’s a path they are still moving slowly towards, given the tightness and instability of their revenue now and their number one priority of product affordability.
Then again, eco-friendliness is a two-way street, and if their plastic packaging falls under categories 1, 2 and 5, consumers should do their part in recycling them as these categories are the ones that are 99% recyclable in Malaysia.
As for their business, they are planning to bring in more serums to add to their shelf soon.
“We are in the production of 10% Urea serum, 0.1% copper peptide and 12% Lactic Acid, hopefully to put up to market in early November,” Shuyi shared.
In the long run, the two of them would want to establish a brick-and-mortar store for À La Carte.
“We envision it to be a fun skincare playground for everyone,” they said.
Bottom Line: I can’t exactly pinpoint whether or not their products are as affordable as they brand it to be given the variety of formulations of other brands with similar products. Then again, I do believe in the importance of accessible and transparent skincare education, which this brand provides, and a local version of The Ordinary is refreshing to see in Malaysia’s skincare industry.
- You can read more about À La Carte here.
- You can read about other Malaysian startups here.
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Featured Image Credit: À La Carte
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