Known for its sustainability practices and use of seaweed as an ingredient, cult U.K. skin-care, body and fragrance brand Haeckels announced on Wednesday an investment from Estée Lauder Companies.
The investment for an undisclosed sum will allow the brand to expand on its newly launched skin-care line. It will expand its production to keep up with demand, while also moving into new international markets. The brand will continue to operate independently, and ELC will not have a board seat.
Haeckels has previously taken angel investment, with the ELC investment marking its first “growth round,” said Charlie Vickery, the brand’s managing director.
The brand was founded in Margate, Kent in 2012 by Dom Bridges. Stocked at high-end retailers including Selfridges and Mr. Porter, it has built up a cult following, with celebrities such as British actor Emma Louise Corrin and DJ Kelly Lee Owens among its fans. In 2020, the brand won the Wallpaper Design Award for its packaging, which is made from mushrooms and includes product information printed on paper infused with seeds that can be planted. Solange Knowles served as one of the judges.
The brand is named after German naturalist Ernst Haeckel, a Darwinist known for his nature drawings, but who also published quack race science ideas that some scholars argue inspired the Nazis. According to the brand, the name was chosen for Haeckel’s sea life drawings. In an August 2020 internal email, Vickery wrote, “We know that Ernst Haeckel did not have values that reflect our own that he a racist. These beliefs are not shared by us and did not play a part in the choosing of the name of the brand.”
Haeckels plans to expand to America by either the fourth quarter of this year or the first of next year. It currently operates stores in the U.K. and Japan, and is setting up a production facility in Sri Lanka as part of a partnership it has with Maldives resort Patina.
“When we went into 2020, we were very much candles and soaps. And now, our viewpoint is, ‘How do we amplify skin care?” said Vickery, noting the category’s “incredible traction” since launching in 2020. The brand will launch a skin-care lab in August this year.
Haeckels’ Algae Plump seaweed and hyaluronic acid face serum is currently its best-selling product, with so much demand that it has frequently sold out. Scaling production to keep up with demand will be a big part of how it uses its new ELC investment.
“Part of our growth plan is [focused on shoring] up our production to ensure that our customers can actually get products at the time when they need it,” said Vickery.
Categorizing itself as an ocean sustainability-focused “blue beauty” brand, Haeckels uses locally harvested seaweed as an ingredient, features compostable packaging and sells eco-friendly products such as a waterless tablet-based shower gel with a ceramic dispenser. The brand gives out free products to customers who collect and bring bags of ocean trash to its store and is a part of the 1% for the Planet initiative.
The brand’s sustainable packaging supply chain is a “little bit complicated,” said Vickery, saying that it will be working on a way to “amplify” its packaging production in a “scalable” way that avoids superfluous packaging.
This scaling with the new investment will not involve compromising on sustainability.
“We’re really lucky in that it’s a very hands-off deal,” said Vickery. “The thing that attracted us to ELC is that they were like, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing, and we will help you amplify that.’”
“We were talking to a lot of VCs and a lot of other funds, and they were a lot more aggressive, [saying,] ‘Cut your costs, cut your donations, cut this, cut that, and we’ll help you scale in two years to X hundred millions of pounds.’ And we were like, ‘That is not what we want to do,’” he said.
Update: Additional context on brand name was provided by brand after publication.