Women Leading the Way: R+B Co-Founders, Irene & Siew Kheng on Revolutionising Sustainable Skincare
Repurpose and Beauty unite in R+B!
By: Farah Khan / March 21, 2023
With its all-natural, ecological, and circular approach, homegrown brand R+B is creating waves in the world of skincare. Soo Hoo Siew Kheng, Irene Lim, and Adrian Peh co-founded R+B with the intention of developing skincare that is not only beneficial to the skin but also to the environment. The brand, which is proudly produced in Malaysia, promotes the utilisation of natural resources to develop a circular skincare line that repurposes by-products and lessens adverse environmental effects.
R+B is dedicated to being vegan and cruelty-free, and its product range is made from only natural, plant-based ingredients. By emphasising reuse and repurposing byproducts to extend the life cycle of components and prevent them from going to landfills, their circular beauty method is a green business strategy. Recycled coffee grounds, which offer healthy minerals, nutrients, and antioxidants for the skin, are the highlight of R+B’s premier line. R+B avoids wasting precious resources by recycling natural resources, which helps to lessen its negative environmental effects.
But R+B doesn’t just rely on coffee grounds to create effective skincare products. The brand also uses Myrothamnus Flabellifolia, also known as the Resurrection Plant, which is scientifically proven to speed up the renewal of skin cells, strengthen the skin barrier against pollution, and revive the skin for more than 48 hours with just one application.
Discover the minds behind the brand in this Insider Spotlight with 2 of the co-founders of R+B, Irene and Siew Kheng!
Interview With Irene and Siew Kheng
Inspiration Behind R+B
What inspired you to create R+B, and how did the concept come to fruition?
[Irene & Siew Kheng]: When we created R+B, we were inspired to make effective, natural and sustainable skincare. As individuals who are passionate about skincare and giving back to the community, we wanted to ensure our brand would not just be effective but would drive positive change in the beauty industry and our community as well.
With our collective experience in the petrochemical industry, we were exposed to the importance of sustainability and conserving the environment. We were also encouraged to incorporate sustainable practices into our work and daily life. By embracing circular principles, we aim to create a world where beauty and sustainability go hand in hand.
We were inspired to create a skin care line that was sustainable from end-to-end which would utilise ingredients that were part of our daily lives. We decided that coffee grounds were the perfect choice as most people consume coffee everyday. It’s an ingredient people can identify with and is often an integral part of their day.
Through our research we discovered that 2.25 billion cups of coffee are being consumed on a daily basis worldwide which results in a lot of waste as all these used coffee grounds would end up in landfills. We realised by using repurposed coffee grounds, we could still create products that resonated with our consumers lifestyle but with the added advantage of reducing waste.
R+B’s Circular Beauty Model
How does R+B’s circular beauty model differ from traditional skincare practices, and what impact do you hope it will have on the industry?
[Irene]: Circular beauty is known as a green business model. This beauty concept repurposes by-products and ultimately extends the life cycle of ingredients and prevents it from ending in landfills. It’s an important practice that extends the life cycle of resources to reduce waste. This can be done by utilising by-products such as spent coffee grounds as well as the skins, pits, and seeds of fruits, which still contain many beneficial nutrients and antioxidants.
By utilising every part of an ingredient to its fullest potential, we can tap into all its benefits. Doing so helps to reduce negative environmental impacts as useful by-products such as spent coffee grounds would otherwise be thrown out.
We hope by embracing these principles, we can encourage other businesses to start implementing sustainability throughout their value chains and really start thinking of ways they can reduce waste.
In fact, we are starting to see a growing shift in the beauty industry’s trends toward a new emphasis on circular beauty. There is no doubt the market for circular beauty in Malaysia is growing, and we look forward to playing a part in this evolution.
Repurposing Coffee Grounds
Can you discuss the benefits of repurposing coffee grounds in skincare, and how does R+B obtain these grounds for use in its products?
[Irene]: All 5 of our products in our debut collection contain coffee grounds as their core ingredient. Coffee grounds have a lot of benefits when used in skincare. Many people don’t know that used coffee grounds are rich in nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants. Coffee grounds have antibacterial properties, can reduce inflammation, aid in skin firming, and enhance blood circulation, which helps to brighten the skin and reduce puffy eyes.
Coffee grounds are also a great exfoliator and can even reduce the appearance of cellulite. By repurposing coffee grounds, we can fully utilise their benefits and prevent them from decomposing in landfills. This helps to reduce the release of methane gas which is 86 times more harmful to the environment than CO2.
Currently, we obtain our coffee grounds from an international coffee chain, but we have plans to work with more local coffee shops in the future.
The Resurrection Plant
The Resurrection Plant is a unique ingredient in R+B’s product range. Can you explain the scientific benefits of this plant and how it’s incorporated into R+B’s formulations?
[Irene]: The resurrection plant, also known as Myrothamnus Flabellifolia is native to South Africa and is incredibly fascinating. It can thrive in harsh environments with little to no water.
Scientists have discovered that it contains trehalose and arbutin. Trehalose is the key protective agent that shields the plant’s cell membrane from damage. Even though it may appear wilted, its strong cell membrane allows the plant to return to its full vitality upon contact with water.
When trehalose is incorporated into skincare, it helps to strengthen our skin barrier and maintain optimal moisture levels. A weakened skin barrier is less effective at absorbing the benefits of skincare products and is more vulnerable to damage from external factors such as bacteria, pollutants, and allergens.
Arbutin inhibits melanin activity which helps to reduce the appearance of skin issues such as freckles, age spots, and hyperpigmentation. Despite its known benefits, the plant has yet to be fully utilised and embraced. However, its potential in helping to strengthen the skin barrier makes it an ideal ingredient for skincare products.
Upon being harvested in South Africa this miracle plant undergoes extraction in Switzerland. The plant’s essence is then incorporated in R+B’s Revitalising Face Moisturiser which can revive the skin for more than 48 hours with just one application.
Partnership with 4×4 Relief Malaysia and APE Malaysia
How does R+B prioritise social responsibility, and what motivated you to partner with 4X4 Relief Malaysia and Animal Projects & Environmental Education (APE Malaysia)?
[Siew Kheng]: It’s very important for us to do our part in giving back to our community. This value motivated us to partner with 4×4 Relief Malaysia and Animal Projects & Environmental Education (APE Malaysia). As such, 10% of all our customer purchases will be channelled to these organisations to support them in their services.
We are deeply passionate about giving back to our local community and caring for our environment. By partnering with 4×4 Relief Malaysia, we can do our part in making it a little bit easier for this organisation to dedicate time and resources to the Orang Asli community in Malaysia. Oftentimes the Orang Asli community lacks access to vital resources as they live in areas that are inaccessible by most cars. Consisting of a group of passionate 4×4 enthusiasts, 4×4 Relief Malaysia does an amazing job of providing a variety of social support, training and education as well as medical checks according to the different needs of each Orang Asli community.
We were keen to partner with APE, in particular, its “Restore Our Amazing Rainforest” (ROAR) project, because we believe protecting our rainforest is very important. At more than 140 million and 130 million years old, Malaysia has the second and third oldest rainforests in the world. Not only are our rainforests rich in biodiversity, but they contain precious resources. Unfortunately, excessive deforestation in our country has caused massive damage to our natural ecosystem. Through this collaboration, we can support APE in its mission to plant trees that have been lost through deforestation. This is also a way to educate our customers that our rainforests are rich in biodiversity and have valuable resources.
Return, Refill, Reuse
R+B’s return, refill, reuse, and repeat policy is an essential aspect of its sustainability initiatives. Can you discuss how this policy works and how customers can participate?
[Siew Kheng]: All our packaging materials at R+B are made from recyclable and environmentally-friendly materials such as glass and aluminium. We decided to take things a step further by encouraging sustainability through our return, refill, reuse, and repeat policy. This practice is a good way to manage the end-life cycle of our products and reduce waste.
Once our customers have completed using our products, they can return the empty jars and bottles using the packaging they received during their initial purchase. Upon receiving the empty bottles and jars, we will disinfect and sterilise them. This ensures they are clean and ready to be refilled for the next purchase. Each time our customers make a return, their R+B account will be credited with RM20 to be used for future purchases.
This initiative ensures that all parties benefit and we can work cohesively towards our ultimate aim of reducing waste.
Women Empowerment Through R+B
Can you speak to R+B’s commitment to women’s empowerment and how it’s integrated into the brand’s mission?
[Irene & Siew Kheng]: Our brand’s mission is to create effective, natural and sustainable skincare. We aim to empower women by making products that will not only result in healthy and beautiful skin but are kind to the environment as well.
We hope to empower women to make informed choices about their skincare purchasing decisions and the impact it has on their environment and community. By creating sustainable products, we can connect with women who have our shared purpose and give them an opportunity to shop according to their values
By prioritising sustainability in our products, we can empower women by offering them a pathway to make a positive impact on our environment and community while taking care of themselves.
In your opinion, why is it important for women to have leadership roles in the beauty industry, and what benefits do they bring to the table?
[Irene & Siew Kheng]: We believe that it is very important for women to have leadership roles in the beauty industry as women make up the majority of the consumers in this category.
Having women representatives in top roles, can ensure that the beauty industry creates tailored products based on women’s needs. Women leaders are bound to be more empathetic to the needs of other women. Hence they will be able to bring forward more impactful ideas and solutions that will benefit the beauty industry’s primary audience.
Having more women in leadership roles in the beauty industry will also help to break down gender barriers and inspire the next generation of female leaders. This will usher in a more inclusive and diverse industry.
Can you speak to any challenges or obstacles that you’ve faced as women entrepreneurs in the beauty industry, and how have you overcome them?
[Siew Kheng]: As women entrepreneurs in the beauty industry, the greatest challenge is having to balance family life and our business.
As entrepreneurs of a start-up company, we are required to spend a lot more time and energy to sustain our business. Nonetheless, we also have a responsibility to our family. Having to balance these two commitments requires a lot of sacrifice especially as we do not have a fixed 9-5 job. Oftentimes there is very limited or non-existent me-time.
[Irene]: We are grateful to have a strong support system through our family and friends who are understanding of our career and business goals. Through their support, we have been able to balance both sides to the best of our abilities. However we could still benefit from a little more time to ourselves [laughs].
R+B is a homegrown brand made in Malaysia. Can you discuss any challenges or advantages of being a local brand, and how has this influenced R+B’s growth?
[Irene]: One of the advantages of being a Malaysian made brand, is that we are incredibly grateful to be living in a country that is rich in biodiversity and a diverse range of natural ingredients. Because of this, we have been able to incorporate ingredients such as lemongrass and turmeric in our products.
Another advantage is our proximity to other ASEAN countries as the ASEAN region is set to be the next growth region in the world. Being a Malaysian brand, we share a lot of cultural similarities with other ASEAN countries. This allows us to create and market products that will connect with consumers all across the ASEAN region.
As a start-up local brand, some challenges we have encountered include having limited access to resources compared to global brands. Because of the limited resources it makes it challenging to expand our brand and achieve international brand recognition as compared to bigger companies.
The Future of R+B
Looking ahead, what are your plans for R+B’s future development and expansion, and how do you plan to continue innovating in the sustainable skincare space?
[Irene]: In the next few years, R+B intends to build a solid customer base with those who share our values of using natural skincare and conserving the environment. We hope our products will be well received and become a staple in our customer’s daily skincare routine.
In terms of innovation, we hope to continue incorporating other repurposed ingredients such as fruit peels into our products. Living in Malaysia gives us access to a range of diverse ingredients to choose from so the options are limitless.
We are very excited to grow our brand and at the moment we are focused on expanding within ASEAN countries. We also do believe that R+B has a very strong potential to grow globally, and we have even garnered interest from countries such as the USA, Indonesia and Philippines.
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