Chile Today’s Women To Watch series highlights female leaders and entrepreneurs. Take an inside look at their careers and the inspiration behind the companies and organizations they’ve built. From tech companies to non-profits, you’ll learn from some of Chile’s most influential thought leaders.
Gaëlle Duret is the Co-Founder of TESSA, a Chilean skincare and beauty brand by midlife women, for midlife women. The company is creating products that positively affect how women connect with their bodies through a unique and natural experience.
Gaëlle and co-founder Paulina Etcheberry desired to give women back essential moments of self-care. Through a journey into the worlds of botany and nutrition, they discovered the power of natural plant materials for the skin, founding TESSA in 2016.
TESSA is not only concerned with using high-quality and effective raw materials but is also dedicated to choosing ingredients whose preparation has not harmed the environment. That is why it works with paper suppliers (labels and cases) that have been certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) to ensure that the paper has been manufactured sustainably.
Every part of the TESSA ecosystem provides an unmatched customer experience – from the natural skincare and beauty products to the stunning Instagram and educational blog. Chile Today asked Gaëlle about TESSA’s journey, her insights, and what’s in store for the company.
How did you get started in the skin nutrition and cosmetics industry? What is your background?
Both Paulina and myself have business degrees, and we were previously involved in very different industries. Paulina worked as a headhunter, and I have worked in finance for various industries for 20 years. As I turned 40, I decided to study nutrition, as I realized how important it was for health and how little I knew about it. I became a health coach (from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition) while living in Boston.
Later, I decided to give my professional life a change as I came back to live in Chile. I slowly realized that there were already many initiatives regarding healthier food options in Chile, but that there were very few options in the clean beauty skincare segment. Paulina, who has sensitive skin, had suffered from allergies due to certain ingredients in products and was eager to find gentler skincare products.
We found ourselves looking for cleaner skincare options for different reasons, and we decided to create a new brand that would satisfy our needs and be made in Chile. That was in 2016, and we launched our first products in December of that year.
What was your inspiration for co-founding TESSA?
We wanted to create non-toxic skincare products that would use the best of nature and science. That niche did not exist in Chile back in 2016 when we launched, and we actually created that category.
What inspired us was to create products in which we could control every ingredient used. As all our formulas are custom-made, we do this by using a high percentage of active ingredients and avoiding unnecessary fillers and toxic preservatives. Creating formulas is a very slow and iterative process as you have to find the perfect ingredient for the product, but it is very rewarding.
What are TESSA’s mission and impact?
We aim to create non-toxic skincare products by merging the best of the world of science and nature in a sustainable manner. As a cosmetic company, we aim to reduce our impact on the environment through different initiatives. We only use glass containers, which are easier to recycle; we only use FSC certified or stone paper for our packaging; we encourage our clients to recycle by handing their used bottles to our courier; and we signed an alliance with Todosreciclamos, a company that helps to compensate the impact of our products in the environment. Recently, we also began using Stone Paper products for our marketing brochures and leaflets.
What was the biggest challenge you’ve faced while building your company?
Managing growth is not easy as you have to make many decisions along the way. We have made some mistakes but fortunately, not too many, and we have learned from them. Last year was also very challenging as the pandemic caused many problems regarding the supply chain as the world came to a stop. That meant a shortage of many raw materials, packaging, and delays with our production. We took many lessons and are better equipped this year to face another year of pandemics.
Recently, we are facing an increase in local non-creative competitors, who are bluntly copying our design, message, and types of products. It is a challenge, but we hope our market positioning and the quality of our products will prevail.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Both Paulina and I believe that everyone in the organization has a voice, and we try to listen to all the suggestions as they may see things we don’t. And as a company, we want to continuously improve, not only our products and customer service, but the TESSA experience. And for that, we need to listen to everyone.
How do you invest in your employees’ professional development?
We started as a team of two, with Paulina and myself. Today, TESSA has eight full-time employees. Our organization is still small, and our organizational chart is very flat. Each of us has a specific role in TESSA, but in a small company, we all need to do things other than our main tasks, so everyone is very flexible. We offer technical training to all employees and hope that they will expand into different roles as the company grows.
How would you like to grow TESSA in the next five years? What’s next for your company?
For the next couple of years, we will focus all of our energy to grow our market share in Chile, and we plan to remain one of the leaders and prominent players in that category. We will add products to our current line, but the formulation process is slow, which means that we may be able to add three or four products each year at the most.
In addition to our skincare line, we are developing a line of vitamins and supplements focused on the skin. In the near future, we are not looking to expand beyond our borders, but we may five years from now.
What is your advice for other women starting up companies?
Find something you are passionate about, and first focus on creating a great product/service that satisfies an unmet need in the market. I believe focusing too much on the commercial part of a start-up early on is a waste of time. If you have a great product or service, it will be easy to sell. We focused on creating the best face oils we could, and only after we had managed to do it, we started to think of a way to market them. And for us, it worked well.
Which TESSA products are your personal favorites?
It changes with the seasons, but some products are part of my basic routine, and at this stage, it would be hard for me to live without them. For me, our toners (Vitamin C Mist & Hialuronic Toner) are non-negotiable, as well as our facial oils (Beauty Oil, Luxury Oil, and Intense Vitamin C). I then rotate between the Eye Magic, the Crema Antiaging, and the Crema Antimanchas.