When Shirley Billot created her skin care brand, Kadalys, she had a very specific vision: to create a caring, eco-conscious luxury beauty business. The brand utilizes patented organic actives and lipids extracted from the skin and pulp of green, yellow and pink bananas, which would traditionally be discarded due to imperfections or damage. The actives, she said, offers a superior mechanism to transport the banana tree molecules effectively to the skin, with the goal of improving hydration levels, tone and texture.

In addition to reducing agricultural waste, the brand has created a circular economy model in the French Caribbean. All of Martinique’s banana producers are Kadalys shareholders, and 100 percent of the French West Indian (FWI) banana producers are Kadalys partners. The brand further gives back to the community by supporting education in areas such as science and technology, including sponsoring young women from Guadeloupe and Martinique to train in the scientific field.

Kadalys initially launched in France in 2012, before expanding to Australia, Japan, and Korea in 2016. Now, the brand is partnering with Ignite Venture Studio to debut the products stateside on October 13, with additional help from Google for Startups Immersion: Black Founders. Here, Shirley spoke to CEW Beauty News about how the brand is setting a new standard in sustainable beauty innovation, marketing to millennials and Gen Z, and advice for entrepreneurs looking to start a business.  

Shirley Billot
Shirley Billot

Beauty News: What drove your interest in the use of bananas as a skin care ingredient?
Shirley Billot: I grew up between East Africa and the Caribbean before moving to France, and I learned early from my parents the importance of respecting nature, being eco-conscious, and giving back to our community. My mother also introduced me to Creole pharmacopoeia at a very early age. In founding the Kadalys brand, I combined my desire to enhance and respect the ancestral cosmetic virtues of the banana tree with my passion for plant research. In 2010, I launched a research program to study the virtues of the banana tree and develop new cosmetic active ingredients called musactif. These active ingredients are real anti-aging shields that concentrate the banana tree’s precious molecules. They aid in preserving the youthfulness of the skin to keep it looking younger and healthier. From this knowledge and research, I envisioned the potential for banana actives to help men and women of all ages around the world. Through Kadalys, I wanted to create inclusive, ethical skin care products with no compromise between high performance, natural and citizen engagement. Our brand is clean, vegan, and cruelty-free; packaging is sustainable, eco-friendly and FSC certified. I have three Kadalys patents that cover anti-aging, depigmenting, and soothing benefits for the skin.

BN: How many items will be available in the U.S.?
SB: To start, we are selling all eight of our products online at us.kadalys.com and on beautyque.nyc. We are entering the U.S. market with our Organic Cleansing Gel, Organic Pure Melt Cleansing Gel-in-Oil, Organic Comforting Cream, Organic Lifting Day Cream, Organic Lifting Night Cream, Organic Precious Nutritive Oil, Organic Precious Radiance Oil and Organic Banana Lip Balm. Pricing ranges from $18 to $110. We look forward to adding additional sku’s to the U.S. marketplace in 2021.

Who is your target audience?
SB: Kadalys’ primary consumers are 60 percent millennials and Gen Z. About 70 percent are female and 30 percent are male.

We call our core customer a consum’actor because they are consumers with strong values: ecology, which passes by an ethical consumption; and authenticity, with actions consistent with words and beliefs, societal engagement, feminism, altruism, solidarity, personal development/self-actualization. This audience represents at least 50 million in the U.S. of which 66 percent are women. These conscientious citizens favor eco-conscious purchases and beauty brands committed to preserving the planet. Beyond natural and organic products, Gen Zers are looking for science-led preventative beauty products. We believe Kadalys products and values align with these future market trends and consumer needs.

BN: How are you raising awareness?
SB: We’re leveraging many of the same approaches we took when launching the brand in France, and which have proven to be very successful.  We are working with a PR agency and influencers to help get the word out, and we have a strong digital outreach plan to continue the conversation with consumers once they discover the brand. We also have some great partnerships to help us build a strong brand here. I am proud to share that I was selected to be part of an exclusive Google program designed for Black Entrepreneurs.  Through this program, Google is helping us to build out a robust digital strategy that can propel growth. We’ve also partnered with Beautyque to not only sell our product via their site but also to help build our community.

BN: What has been your biggest challenge launching the brand?
SB: Launching a new brand, especially one that aims to have the kind of impact as Kadalys, is a lot of work. Start-ups don’t have the same resources as big companies, and when you’re working on something that you’re passionate about, it’s hard to unwind or take weekends off. To address this, I have learned to leverage my network for advice, to crowdsource solutions, and to find ways to work smarter, not harder.

BN: What advice do you have for someone starting a brand?
SB: Starting your own business is an amazing adventure but without the right advice, it can be pretty tough. My three tips for people hoping to start their own business:

  • Be Bold. Don’t be afraid to start something completely new (as for me with banana waste).
  • Be accompanied: The key to success is to have mentors to help and support you at the different stages of your business – ideally one per main topic.
  • Be inspired/committed. In the tough times, when you want to stop, if you love your job, your mission, your employees, you will have the energy and resilience to stick with it. If you don’t love what you are doing or just working for profit, you will be more fragile. I put all of my passion, my heart, and my mind into my company.