BEAUTY

Inuacare shares the pros and cons of growing a beauty brand from Greenland to a global audience

Nanna Louise Haagen Olesen, COO: ”We walk out into the Greenlandic mountains and hand-pick all of the herbs using no other tools other than our hands.”
By JOHAN MAGNUSSON
January 11, 2024

Founded by Pipaluk Silassen and Anne Mette Nielsen, Inuacare is Greenland’s first beauty brand, based in Qaqortoq — the principal town in the southwestern part of the island. 

— In Greenland, you import almost everything and export very little, COO Nanna Louise Haagen Olesen explains. Anne Mette has an educational background as a laboratory technician and podiatrist, Pipaluk as a hairdresser, and they imported all of the skincare and haircare products that they used for the treatments. When they did the treatments, old Inuits started telling them that back in time, we used to do washing with Greenlandic Northern Willow, because it’s such a good ingredient for treating a dry and irritated scalp. That’s how they came up with the idea of the brand and made the first product, Asiaq Extra-Care Balm. It’s made without any added water and Anne Mette used it on the feet in the treatments that she made. Inuacare then grew from local demand because people wanted the products that she produced on her own rather than the ones she imported from Danish or other international brands.

Every July and August, the team facilitates all of the hand-picking of the local ingredients used in the products, from six different Arctic plants. These include Greenlandic Chamomile, Thyme, and Labrador Tea, and the national plant Niviarsiaq for products launching in the near future. The actual hand-picking can be challenging in such a remote area.

— No cities or villages in Greenland are connected by road and some of them are so far apart from other plants but it’s the only way possible we can do it on nature’s terms. So we walk out into the Greenlandic mountains and hand-pick all of the herbs using no other tools other than our hands. We only hand-pick the top part of the plants to ensure they grow in the following years and then carry them back to our laboratory and handcraft everything. 

— We’ve specialised in the art of handcrafting our own botanical extracts. We produce our own steam distils and oil extracts in our laboratory in Qaqortoq and that’s then the foundation for all of our 14 different formulations. We of course use the plant that fits best. We have Qajaasat (Greenlandic Labrador Tea) in our facial cream because it’s such an amazing antioxidant and  Arctic thyme in our facial moisturizer thanks to its antibacterial effect together with other active well-documented ingredients — Retinol, vitamin C, and more — which other brands use as well.

In 2020, the brand was ready for export due to international demand. Again, with certain challenges.

— Greenland is not a part of the EU so we needed to comply with a lot of legislation to be ready to export, Haagen Olesen explains. We’re now in the Greenlandic and Danish markets and hope to launch in the other Scandinavian countries and Germany this year.

— As mentioned, we import so many things to Greenland. Until a few years ago, we made every batch of the final product by hand in Greenland. But that was not the most sustainable way of doing it because we needed to ship all of the conservation and other active ingredients we needed for the products to Greenland. Now, we have our botanical extracts and product development in the south of Greenland and put that on the empty ships back to Denmark where we have a private label manufacturer that can help us with producing larger quantities.

What have been the pros and cons of growing a brand from Greenland?

— Logistics, definitely, just as for other small brands. Also, optimising workflows, and wanting to launch new products and how to do that in the best possible way. However, there are so many different brands but people have been so supportive and think that it’s amazing to get to know a Greenlandic brand and about the ingredients. We try to give a bit of the Inuit culture in what we do and tell good stories about Greenland as well.

What are the main industry topics now?

— Sustainability, new ingredients, new trends, and identifying the upcoming things, says Haagen Olesen. In sustainability, for a few years, it’s been all about optimising — doing what has already been done in the industry but in a better way and being better towards the environment. We like to talk about sustainability in more practical terms. We don’t say that we’re a sustainable brand, but talk much more in-depth about the sustainable initiatives that are the DNA of our brand.

— And what do we think the future of the skincare industry should look like? For us, it’s about hand-picking the ingredients, going back to nature, and back to basics. In our sourcing, rather than big industries, machinery, and stuff, to do it in a more gentle way. Just like how everything is in Greenland — on nature’s terms. For us, it could be that we’ve arranged to do a trip where we want to do the hand-picking. But if the weather doesn’t allow it, you are not going to go. And it could be that we need herbs in June but if they haven’t flourished we need to wait until July and August. So, we don’t always know what we are getting each season.

— We’re now launching our first, own research project with a local Greenlandic University. A lot of the plants that we work with are endemic or Arctic so we need a lot more research. We’re really interested in the traditional Inuit knowledge of how they use the plants for medication or for washing their hair and then combine that with today’s science. How can we extract them in the best possible way?