Part of a series of articles on female founders, Ziana Kotadia (MBA ’22) asks Elizabeth Arenz (MBA ’22) about her skincare startup, Belle House.
Elizabeth Arenz (HBS ’22) worked in Investment Banking and Private Equity before attending HBS. She is passionate about beauty, skincare and sustainability. Italy is her favourite country in the world.
Tell us more about your start-up, Belle House?
Belle House is a skincare brand that gives consumers the most potent form of skincare ingredients, such as retinol and vitamin C, in plastic free packaging. The goal of Belle House is to use clinically proven ingredients that will actually change your skin for the better, with no filler ingredients, while being kind to the environment. Belle House is inspired by Italy and the Amalfi Coast. I chose Italy specifically for a few reasons. Firstly, I have a personal love for Italy having studied there as an Art History major, and returning to the country nearly 10 times across my life so far. Secondly, there is such a rich heritage in Italy of craftsmanship, and doing things “the right way.” There is so much pride in the country for good quality products.
What makes you passionate about the beauty industry?
I first became interested in the clean and plastic-free side of beauty when my fiancé was using Malin and Goetz deodorant that didn’t have aluminum in it, and said it worked really well. I had also recently heard from my older sister, who is in the healthcare space, that if you have breast cancer, doctors recommend you don’t use antiperspirants, which have aluminum in them. I found this really interesting, and so looked up the ingredients of all the other beauty brands I owned. I realised there are so many different ingredients, all taking different forms, with different properties. I went on this journey of ingredient and product discovery, and immersed myself in reviews from dermatologists, even looking at dermatology journals. At the same time, I was also in investing, and one of the portfolio companies was a private label manufacturer of soup and baby food. I was in the warehouses of other similar companies and saw so much plastic packaging, there were cases and cases of plastic bottles. I learnt that when plastic isn’t refrigerated, and gets warm, the plastic can leak into the substance the packaging contains. I started thinking about how much plastic there is around me, and also re-evaluating my own behaviours. Most of the products I love are in plastic containers.
What products will you start with?
I will start with a facial moisturiser after having done some research on what people are most willing to try. Moisturisers can also be much simpler than a serum, and are most important for a beauty regime. Even when you’re wearing nothing else on your face, everyone always tends to use a moisturiser. The plan is to launch seven skincare products initially, including a cleansing balm, a water based cleanser, and eye cream and three serums (retinol, vitamin C, glycolic acid).
What are your ambitions for the brand?
I hope the brand will be D2C initially. Then I’d like to be in retailers such as Blue Mercury, Credo Beauty and the Detox Market. These places will help me stay authentic to the brand, and the clean messaging. Eventually I’d like to be stocked in places like Sephora. The goal is to be big enough, and disruptive enough, to push other brands to be sustainable.
How has HBS helped you develop this idea?
Start-up bootcamp was incredibly helpful, it introduced ways of thinking about how you start a company. For me, the biggest help has really been the network, meeting other solo founders and female entrepreneurs, as well as the professors who are experts in different spaces, from strategy to branding to entrepreneurship. The alumni network has also proven invaluable. You can reach out to the CEO of a large beauty company, and they’ll respond to you because you have this shared connection of HBS. The school does a great job of fostering entrepreneurship, and makes you realise it may not be as not as risky as you think it is.
Ziana Kotadia (MBA ’22) is from the UK, and most recently made the move from London to Boston. She loves to travel, learn about new cultures and enjoys eating her way through cities. She loves to cook and is passionate about great food.