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About Arkive

  • Founders: Sinem Tuncer
  • Founded in: 2020 in Amsterdam
  • Employees: 5
  • Money raised: €125,000
  • Ultimate goal: To make the cosmetics industry circular

When Sinem Tuncer founded Arkive over two years ago, she initially did it together with a friend. Her friend works in the beauty industry for a major brand. By talking to her and other friends who work in the industry, Tuncer found out that millions of personal care products are being thrown away every year. This amounts to twenty to forty percent of all cosmetics that are produced.

The plan was to start the business together, but the employer of her friend threatened her with a fine of 10,000 euros per day if she joined her in on this. Nevertheless, Tuncer did not want to give up and so she started the company on her own: “So, I figured that if the response to this is so intense, then there’s something really big behind it.” In this instalment of start-up of the day, Tuncer talks about her ambitions and the waste problem in the beauty industry.

What is it exactly that Arkive does?

“In a nutshell, by using data, we give advice to beauty brands on how to prevent waste. We calculate their CO2 footprint and on that basis, we can see exactly where the biggest wastage is coming from. We also help these companies to put this advice into practice. For example, we help them determine whether the products can be sold at a different time or try to sell it ourselves. If it sells, we then pay them. If there are no other options left, we recycle those products for our clients. We are currently working with companies that use clean and natural ingredients, such as Food for Skin, Unwaste and Seeds of Colour.”

And what else does Arkive want to do?

“I want to raise funding to develop a tool that will allow the beauty industry to recycle products 100 percent. By doing this, I want to cater to the different needs that various companies have. For example, a luxury brand will not want to resell so quickly, so they can then opt to use my tool. A product can’t be completely recycled at the moment. We are the first in the world that is capable of separating all the ingredients and measuring them. But recycling whole products is not possible yet and so it costs a lot of money to develop that.”

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Cosmetics companies also recycle their products themselves. Why would you want to do that for them?

“True, everyone says they are busy recycling, but there is a difference between saying it and actually doing it. It’s mostly just greenwashing: they have a lot of fancy talk about being green while meanwhile they just continue to pollute the climate and environment.”

What are cosmetics companies doing wrong when it comes to waste?

“A lot of companies are so big that they no longer have a good overview of their stocks. Therefore, they don’t know if something has really been sold in certain affiliated stores and what exactly happens to these products. It might be the case that a product accidentally ends up on Amazon or in some weird store in Poland. And if you don’t know any of that, you can never deduce whether a product was a success.”

“Selling digitally is consequently safer. It creates oversight, because you have all your products in one place. This makes it possible to make better predictions and therefore to reduce waste. ICI Paris XL and Douglas also set a lot of requirements for brands before they accept those products into their stores. They often have to produce a whole line of products first before Douglas is persuaded. In other words, just one mascara is not acceptable.”

Is this how waste occurs in cosmetics companies then?

“That’s one of the reasons, but there are more. For one thing, companies want to capitalize on the trend of being inclusive. Which means that in England, for example, there’s a lot of dark foundation in the stores that gets chucked out later on. This means that those brands keep putting it back on the shelves even though it’s hardly ever sold. Also, whenever an ingredient in a product changes, all the old products are destroyed.”

“The same goes for products that are past their sell-by dates and limited editions. Also, manufactured products that don’t make it to the stores past the testing phase are all destroyed. Or how about the personal care products that were in the stores during lockdown? And return items are also destroyed. It’s just like underwear: hygiene is a factor and so it’s no longer sold.”

What is the solution?

“I believe that the beauty industry can be waste-free if it becomes circular and synthetic ingredients are no longer allowed to be used. That’s not always being done now because the waste problem is caused by capitalism. I also believe that we need to shift to a different approach to customers to prevent waste. The customer is changing; their needs are becoming more personalized. So you really have to start catering to the individual. This can be done by letting a customer say what they want and then signaling to the factory to make the product. That’s not not quite realistic at present, because again you’re dealing with governments that won’t earn any VAT.”

How do large companies tend to react when you present this solution to them?

“They often expressed how they were unable to choose me yet, because they don’t know how to go about it. At this point, the only option for some companies seems to be to destroy products. As a company, if you don’t know where your ingredients are made and how it reaches the consumer, it stands to reason that you don’t know what to do next. I think it will be several years before they realize that I am right. I firmly believe that this is the right path even though some people don’t understand that at the moment.”

“One thing I always learned from my mother was to fight back and that good things take time. I also have faith in our younger generations. Companies with more traditional leadership are primarily focused on money and growth and simply tell me: ” We don’t care.” Young leaders often look at it from two sides; they want to make money AND reduce carbon emissions. They are committed to making better decisions for the company and the world because they are consciously working on sustainability.”

What has changed in the past two years of Arkive’s existence?

“Two years ago, I started selling written-off products. In those two years, I noticed that the world is not that far yet: awareness needs to be raised first. I sometimes had moments when I wanted to give up. I had spent all my savings and couldn’t even pay rent. But fortunately, some professors stood behind me and said: hold on a little bit longer, things are really going to change. I do see that more and more now: I am gradually gaining more recognition and appreciation.”

“I have noticed that tone of voice can do a lot. I was always a bit of a blabbermouth so I always have to ask myself: can I say this like this? If I talk using highly activist terms, then I won’t make any friends. I realized that I also have to understand the pain that some companies are going through. They also often want change but they just don’t know where to start.”