Behind the brand: The rise of New Zealand-owned Syrene skincare

In a huge coup for the still-niche New Zealand brand, Syrene skincare joined the ranks of cult favourites offered by beauty powerhouse MECCA at the beginning of June. The brand is 95 per cent natural and the brainchild of Karen Yang and Jo Gilberd, who met in New Zealand, and launched Syrene in 2016.
MECCA’s creative director Marita Burke says their team fell in love with Syrene, and that a partnership was easy. “First and foremost, we loved that we were supporting a home-grown brand from New Zealand. And then, of course, the product is beautiful. It’s packed with powerful ingredients, it’s light, it gently melts into the skin and the natural fragrance is very refreshing and uplifting. It was a super-easy decision to launch at MECCA and we are looking forward to our partnership.”
I spoke to the pair to find out a little more about the highly-respected brand, and what the move to MECCA means to a locally owned boutique beauty house.

What were your backgrounds prior to Syrene, were you in the beauty sphere?
Jo: I have 30 years product develop experience and have worked for many international brands. Karen: My background is in sales and marketing, and I’ve worked on exporting New Zealand made products to international markets.

How did you first connect and decide to create a brand?
Jo: Both of us immigrated to New Zealand 20 years ago and fell in love with the beautiful clean New Zealand beaches. It was like finding treasure seeing the unique spectrum of colours in the water and on the shorelines to the incredible marine life. We’ve both always loved and worked in the health and beauty industry and felt New Zealand was missing a luxury skincare brand that catered to Western and Eastern consumers, especially being such a diverse country.
Everyone’s skin is different and Karen especially found the brands that were in the market were too rich and heavy for her skin, so we talked about the possibility of creating a skincare range which was light on the skin but still nourishing and hydrating to suit both the Western and Eastern consumer. Because we both loved every aspect of New Zealand so much, we ended up developing the range around this too, from Syrene being an oceanic brand, using ingredients that embody the Pacific Ocean as well as local botanical extracts that Kiwis know and love. We found out what great benefits they all had and thought, why not bottle it up so we can lather it on our skin!

You launched in 2016, was entering into a store like MECCA always part of the plan?
MECCA exists to bring the best in global beauty to their customers and have been missing New Zealand beauty from their shelves until now. From the moment we started Syrene in 2016, we wanted to grow our brand to a point where if anyone asked you what New Zealand’s national skincare brand is, without hesitation they’d say Syrene. Just like, how everyone knows our national rugby team and airline, we feel there is a gap for beauty to be recognised like this globally too. By MECCA choosing us as their first New Zealand brand to sit alongside other premium international brands, has given us a great sense of pride, knowing we are growing towards achieving this goal.

I have never used your skincare, how would you describe it in three words?
Light, hydrating, nourishing.

What are some of the more unique ingredients found in Syrene, and why did you choose them?
We have a highly effective skincare range which combines science and nature, and we use incredible New Zealand ingredients which all add to the efficacy. These high-quality New Zealand ingredients combined with internationally-sourced active ingredients, give Syrene an edge and make our brand one-of-a-kind.
Our full range includes a special ingredient called Ephemer™, a seaweed extract that contributes to the protection of the skin by helping strengthen its antioxidant capacity, slowing the formation of free radicals responsible for ageing. We also use marine collagen throughout the range, which promotes a glowing, vibrant complexion and helps increase your skin’s moisture levels. Outside the ocean, you’ll also find home grown extracts like Pohutukawa, which contains ellagic acid helping the skin to remain soft, even, well moisturised and toned as well as black fern, which is a natural skin tightener and manuka honey to help keep the skin moisturised and clear.

Your price point is definitely premium, which is unusual for a New Zealand-based skincare brand. Was that always the plan?
Yes, we use unique formulations, and from the beginning found a gap in the New Zealand market for a premium, luxury skincare brand.

You also have a great approach to packaging waste, I’ve heard. What can you tell me about that?
We’re conscious about sustainability and have this at the forefront of our minds, so we have started using Ocean Waste Plastic™ in our packaging, where we use plastics that have been collected from oceans, rivers and beaches and recycled into new packaging. We’re one of the early adopters in the New Zealand skincare industry to use Ocean Waste Plastic™.

Does the range have a hero product, the one you’re most proud of?

We’re proud of them all, but the hero product would have to be the Aqua Hydrating Masque. It’s an overnight gel masque that restores critical moisture to a dry complexion. It melts into your skin while creating a deep reservoir of hydration, providing antioxidants to protect your skin from the environmental drivers of ageing and leaves skin dewy and plump. Customers also love the gel texture and how cool it feels on the skin.

The range is still quite boutique, what should we expect to look out for next – any new releases on the horizon?
Yes, we’re always working on new product development and actually get the whole team involved with this. We’re currently working on bringing a serum into our Aqua range, which the team have been trialling and perfecting for over a year. We also have another collection we’ll be launching soon with a new, very special marine ingredient in the mix!


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