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GEKA’s CEO on plastics, sustainability and innovating for the future

Katie Nichol
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GEKA’s CEO on plastics, sustainability and innovating for the future

Florent Lafond, CEO at mascara applicator specialist GEKA, talks to Luxe Packaging Insight about the Germany-based manufacturer’s sustainability push, 3D printing and targeting the luxury market.

How do you reconcile manufacturing plastic products with sustainability?

Plastic has a bad reputation right now and this is not going to change. Of course this is a challenge for GEKA, as all our products are made with plastics. Our customers are looking to use less plastic and more recyclable material and recycled plastic, so we are developing solutions in this area. Recyclable packaging is key, we use some bio-based resins and PCR is a big focus. However sourcing PCR is tricky; there is high demand, not enough global production capacity and therefore a risk of shortages, which of course impact costs.

We believe we need to be a sustainable company and this is a big focus for us; we appointed a sustainability manager this year to be able to move forward faster. We have several certifications based on our sustainable solutions, including EcoVadis Gold. This month, we decided to apply to the SBTI (Science Based Targets initiative), which we will communicate about shortly.

How are you making packaging more sustainable? Are bioplastics a focus?

We are able to produce mascara bottles from 100% PCR PET and caps from 100% PCR PP. For our mascara & eyebrow brushes, we have two exclusive fibers, EOSgreen and EOSgreendelta, derived from castor oil. Wipers can be made with bio-based LLDPE, which is 84% derived from sugar cane. For applicators, we can offer 25% recycled flock—it’s currently not technically possible to use 100% recycled flock. And we can produce thread parts that are 100% castor-oil based.

We offer more products using PCR but finding new solutions and materials in the realm of bioplastics is a target for our procurement and development teams. While GEKA’s compatibility tests gauge our solutions with the customer’s bulk, the major challenge regarding bioplastics is material compliancy, as in beauty, food-grade is a requirement.

We've measured that the percentage of sustainable materials in our products has increased this year from 75% to 93%. So, if a customer accepts the restrictions inherent to PCR (limited colors, for example), we can achieve a 93% rate of sustainable raw materials in a single mascara. Reborn is one of our recent launches: a new 'green' packaging collection for eye and lip makeup, with all five components of liquid cosmetic packaging being sustainable, which is a big step for the industry.

You’ve said that expanding beyond mascara and the mass segment is key.

GEKA is historically specialized in mascara brushes. A few years ago, we strengthened our lip portfolio by developing new lip applicators (a business segment that has been quite impacted by the health crisis), and applicators for facial skincare treatments. We also have projects in the pipeline for makeup, hair and beard products. As part of the Sulzer group, there are a lot of advantages when it comes to innovation as Sulzer is also specialized in applicators for other industries, such as medical.

Historically GEKA has more volume in the mass market, but we are now boosting our presence in the high-end segment. This is partly why we are investing so much in our major site expansion in Bechhofen, Germany.

Early this year, we created the first mascara for the French premium start-up fashion brand Rouje. It features a metal sleeve, and the brushes are made of bio-based fibers. We worked with the brand in our mascara workshops to refine the function, design and visual aspect. We have other projects going on with major luxury brands in the pipeline such as a mascara for Shiseido last year, and a Christian Louboutin mascara with a special cap and bottle design.

What is your view on 3D printing?

I don’t think 3D printing will replace traditional manufacturing in the next five to 10 years, but it’s a technology that is developing fast. It’s exciting, but it needs to be cost efficient. In parallel, we need to achieve high-quality decoration and printing, find compatible resins and make products that work well. There’s also the question of being able to produce at scale with 3D printers in the future.

How will the current expansion of your Bechhofen, Germany site (set for completion this year) boost innovation? Has the health crisis impacted your investments?

We are investing up to €25m to double our size here in Bechhofen, Germany by adding an extra 10,000m2. The idea is to bring our three sites (in Bamberg, Bechhofen and Koenigshofen) under one roof and so to better organize our teams, to make us more efficient and agile. Although like others we are facing a crisis, the project will continue with the forecasted budget and time scale. We are investing for the future.

The aim is to expand our expertise in decoration, so we are adding screen-printing lines and are boosting our metallization and lacquering capacities. This will make us more autonomous, although we will still work with external partners as being entirely self-sufficient in terms of decoration is not our goal.

We are also creating at Bechhofen a center where we will be able to produce prototypes very quickly. It will feature dedicated machines for 3D printing, injection and decoration.

We will boost automation at the site, to manage internal flows and have more automated quality control. Our investments in this area as well as in decoration are in line with our strategy for the high-end market; we’ll be able to offer the latest technologies to meet customers’ aesthetic requirements for their products.

GEKA has also expanded the categories available with its online 3D configurator. Our customers will now be able to design and customize their tailor-made products for hair, eye, lip and facial make-up online. The new product categories come along with a new design and upgraded user experience. With this state-of-the-art tool, our customers only need a few minutes to create a makeup product tailored to their brand and meeting their requirements when it comes to aesthetics, functionality and makeup performance. 

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