Episode 63: Nannette de Gaspé Beaubien, Founder of Nannette de Gaspé

This week Jodi talks to Nannette de Gaspé Beaubien, founder of skincare line Nannette de Gaspé. She pioneered the dry mask, which, despite its $100+ price tag, became an instant cult favorite. Though she’s brainy, beautiful and brimming with enthusiasm, the last part wasn’t always the case. It’s not like she hated her life, but until her 40s, she was doing what she felt was expected of her. “I lived on the terms of everyone else”, she says. “But what I realized was I wasn’t necessarily doing things in a way that made me happy.”

In this episode, hear how a self-described type-A personality learned to let go of expectations and start living life on her terms. Plus, get her predictions on the future of indie beauty and what small brands need to thrive.

Dan Hodgdon
AnnouncerWelcome to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY® hosted by Jodi Katz, Founder and Creative Director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHey everybody, welcome back to the show. I am sitting across from Nannette de Gaspé Beaubien. She's the Founder of Nannette de Gaspé. Welcome to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY®.
Nannette de GaspéThank you so much.
Jodi KatzI'm so excited to have you here. I want to tell you that the first time I heard about you and your brand was from David Olson of Cos Bar. He was on a panel in a CEW event. I'm like, "Oh, I've never heard of that before," so I googled it right away. That was, I guess, about a year-and-a-half ago. It was right around the time you launched.
Nannette de GaspéYes, we launched two years ago actually, May at Selfridges in London. That was our first store.
Jodi KatzLet's start with something simple. How are you going to spend your time today?
Nannette de GaspéI'll tell you how I started my day. I had a meeting, a breakfast with two wonderful women. One is an investor in my business, and the other one is interested in being an investor in my business. I spent a little time with them, catching them up on where the business is going and my vision for the business. Now I'm with you of course, and when I leave you, I fly back to Montreal.
Jodi KatzOh okay.
Nannette de GaspéI'm from Montreal, and that's where our offices are.
Jodi KatzOh, and that's where you grew up too?
Nannette de GaspéNo, actually I grew up in Ontario. I would say I call myself an English Canadian. My husband is French Canadian 'cause he's from Montreal.
Jodi KatzOh, that's awesome. Well, let's talk about what it's like to launch a hyper luxury brand in this marketplace. The reason I ask is there's so many value brands popping, right, at this time, and masstige brands popping up. What's it been like to launch this super prestige brand?
Nannette de GaspéWell it's interesting because I had been presented with this technology. That's how the whole thing started. It was a very advanced technology in the delivery of active ingredients to the multiple layers of the epidermis. It was presented in a dry form on a textile. There were two technologies. It was the MicroVector technology for delivery and a technology to dry print formulations on textiles. When I decided to bring the brand to the market, I felt that because the technology was so advanced, the brand had to be a luxury brand. It had to come out at the top of the market to introduce it. There was no question to me that that's where it should be positioned.
Jodi KatzThe customer's been receptive?
Nannette de GaspéVery receptive, very receptive because it was interesting. I laugh because when I launched the brand, it was very hard to explain what it was, a dry mask. "What do you mean? What do you mean this MicroVector delivery system?" Et cetera, et cetera. I stood on the floor myself at Selfridges for two weeks selling the products, and I sold significant amounts of masks because once people understood exactly what the offering was, they were very willing to pay for it and because the technology has two things. Because the MicroVector delivers deep into the epidermis, and we're delivering a really high concentration of actives. There's no water. We're delivering depending on the mask, and my first collection, Youth Revealed, it's 87% active ingredients and emollients and over 90% natural.

We've got the deep concentration of actives going to multiple layers of the epidermis, so we've had significant clinical results, measured clinical results. When I would explain this to people and people understood that this was a science-based technology that really did deliver, they bought the product. They bought the mask, and they came back, and they bought more. It was really quite interesting at the end of the two weeks. I had never done anything like that before. At the end of the two weeks, toward the end, people were coming back to say, "I love the masks. Can I have my picture with you?" It was very nice. It was a very special period in my life to actually be on that floor.
Jodi KatzYeah, and to be able to touch the customer in such an intimate way, that's awesome.
Nannette de GaspéExactly, exactly.
Jodi KatzThe mask, do I reuse it?
Nannette de GaspéYes. What it is is it's interesting because we call it a restorative textile treatment. The only, I guess, comparison why we call it a mask is because of the application, the way you put it on. Because there is no water in it, you don't have the issues with the bacterias, and we have a hygienic pouch. You could reseal it, and you can use it, we say three to five times. It's a smart technology, so what happens is when you put it on with a light massage and the temperature and PH of your skin, it activates the infusion into the skin. You leave it for 15 minutes, and it will only take what your skin needs.

Some skins that require more formulation, they're not as healthy a skin, and maybe I shouldn't say healthy, they just require more treatment, it will draw more. They'll get maybe three applications from the mask. Other people will get four or five applications. It's interesting, we've learnt a lot because it is a fairly new technology, so we've learnt a lot 'cause initially, we would say three applications. Then people would come and say, "Oh I used it four times. I used it five times." One gentleman I know, who really takes great care of his skin is always moisturizing and doing everything, he told me got six applications. Now, I don't know anybody else, and I haven't gotten six applications, but I would safely say five.
Jodi KatzHow does the customer know when it's done?
Nannette de GaspéWell what happens is you if you wore it a fourth and you felt that there was a lot of transfer.
Jodi KatzOh.
Nannette de GaspéWhen you take it off, you see because you'll see a glowiness, and you'll also feel the transfer on your face. Then it will continue to absorb. You'll know that you have at least another time. Then if you use it the next time, say a fifth time, and you find that there's really little transfer, you know you probably got the end of it.
Jodi KatzIt's so fascinating. Just from the purposes of social media and photography, the dry mask is so much fascinating to look at than a wet mask on a professional or user generated photo, right?
Nannette de GaspéWell it's interesting because we launched my first brand, Nannette, I would never put against a wet mask because there's no comparison. In a wet mask, there's three to four percent actives, and it's mostly water and glycerin and certainly no delivery technology. I would not compare it. They're at completely different price levels. Nannette is a true experience from the beauty of the textile to the packaging to the global formulations in it. I decided to launch a second brand, and it launched in February. It's called Miss de Gaspé. Where Nannette is my, I call it my runway couture brand, Miss de Gaspé is my ready to wear.

It's a prestige brand, but it's more attainable, more accessible. Miss de Gaspé, even though it also has that incredible advanced technology with unbelievable clinical results, et cetera, the way we positioned it was we did targeted masks. We did a targeted mask for anti-aging hydrating, one for brightening and radiance, and one for detoxification and anti-pollution. We priced it in a way that we decided to go straight up against wet masks. We call it the dry mask revolution. When you go on our website, Miss de Gaspé, you see, "You need to go dry and here's why." We have, I think, it's 10 reasons why you need to go dry.

We really pushed that where we have a model with the dry mask, happy, taking a selfie, smiling. The model with the wet mask, and it's dripping, and she's sad. We have fun with the whole thing, playing with it because when you really look at the differences, the differences and the benefits of a dry mask, they're quite substantial.
Jodi KatzThere's so much I want to talk to you about. First, I want to talk about your life before beauty. You had a career in banking and corporate finance and in private equity. How did that launch you into beauty?
Nannette de GaspéWell, what happened was I was working in private equity, and we were doing various deals. We had never done anything in beauty or biotech or anything in that world. We were presented with a company, a biotech company that was a Quebec-based company that had created this delivery technology and this approach. We're trying to commercialize it, and they needed financing. We decided to invest in that company.

At the time, I became executive chair with the whole mandate to help them commercialize the technology. In doing so, I created the opportunity to launch the brand and really demonstrate a proof of concept of the technology and that the consumer would really embrace it. They really are. I believe that wet masks, they definitely have their positioning, and people love them and everything, but I think this is the next generation.
Jodi KatzRight. I love this right place, right time opportunity. You don't work in biotech, but yet here's this brand in front of you, telling their story and maybe out of the wheelhouse of your firm. That you saw this opportunity, and I can just imagine that having a background in private equity is such an incredible advantage for you in launching a brand in this business at this time.
Nannette de GaspéWell it's interesting because I approach things in a different way. What happened to me when I decided to launch the brand, some very accomplished friends that I really admire greatly and appreciate the value and the advice they give me, one of them said to me, "Don't do this. You're going to blow your brains out. You've got a good reputation in the business community. Why would you chance it? B to C is impossible, and the beauty industry is one of the most competitive industries." It was so funny, and it was at a time in my life where I just really believed what I was doing, and I really believed in this approach to skincare 'cause I saw the clinical results and how rejuvenating, regenerating, how they good they were.

I was at an age where I was looking for solutions to maintain a youthful skin, and I said, "This is an amazing opportunity because it allows us to empower people with revolutionary cosmetic solutions that they can use on their terms that aren't intrusive, that are light to the touch, et cetera." It was a point in my life where I didn't have the fear, so when she told me this, instead of becoming fearful and thinking, "Wow, here's this incredibly intelligent person that I really admire, who has a lot of experience, telling me 'Run!'" The first thing, a few years back, I would've ran.

I really felt that it was a time in my life where I would not let my fear hold me back, and I wasn't really attached to the outcome. I really believed in what I had and believe that it was something that needed to be brought to the market, so I just went forward.
Jodi KatzAll right, everything you're saying just prompts more and more questions in me. You just said that you're not attached to the outcome, and I think is one of the biggest challenges for me in running my agency business. I am so attached to the outcome that I thought I would have 11 years ago when I started it. That's what drives me nuts, right, is this fixation on why aren't I there? Why aren't we doing this? Why isn't that the amount of money in the bank? I'm so fixated on that stuff because I'm trying to force the outcome. You just gave me an aha moment, like I need to stop.
Nannette de GaspéNo, you absolutely need to stop, and I was just like you. I was so A type, and it had to be a certain way. I had to present it in a certain way, and I was so concerned about everybody's reaction, everybody's opinion. What I realized at a certain point is I had no energy. I'm a very energetic person. I get up in the morning at five-something and go to the gym. I had no energy because everything around me, all the noise and the need to control everything and the need to get to the finish line in a certain way was draining me. I started to step back and really look at myself and look at my approach and my thoughts. It didn't happen overnight.

It was like one step forward, one step back, two steps forward, two steps back, three steps forward. When we started, and this is what I always say about my business, when I started to let go of my fears and not be attached to the outcome, it was really about the journey, all doors opened for me. It was the strangest thing 'cause they always say, people say that. They say the universe, and if you let go, this will happen. I lived it. I lived it with my brand. All doors opened for me. Here I was on the floors of Selfridges, one of the greatest retail stores in the world, and I was fortunate enough to launch my brand there.

'Cause I had showed it to the head of buying and merchandising of Selfridges, thinking that perhaps I could give them a private label version of it. He looked at it, and he said, "We don't do private labels." He said, "This is the bomb. This is the most amazing thing." His name is Sebastian Manes. He's a wonderful man. He said, "You need to create a brand." He was the one that first started to put it in my head that I needed to create a brand, and he and Selfridges would support me in that endeavor.

Then the next thing I knew, I said, "I'm going to Colette next," 'cause Colette's the coolest, most innovative store in the world, without thinking, "How do I get in Colette," or "Oh my God, I'm being attached to the outcome. I called up a friend in Paris, and a friend that I hadn't seen for 30 years that just happened to come back into my life in the funniest way. I called him, and I said, "Who do you know at Colette?" He said, "Well I know Sarah. Sarah runs Colette, right, with her mother, Colette. She does all the buying and everything. I went to see Sarah. I took the Eurostar from London, went to see her.

Within a half an hour, she said, "I'm launching you at couture fashion week." Then I was launched. Then a Vogue U.S. writer wrote a big article saying, "Canadian skincare phenomenon about to come stateside because she had seen me in Colette." Then it all went from there. I never thought about it. I didn't really. People kept saying to me, "You don't know what you're doing. You don't know this business," et cetera. I'd say, "I don't know what I don't know." That's probably a good thing.
Jodi KatzRight.
Nannette de GaspéBecause I wasn't thinking in terms of, "It has to be done this way. It has to be done that way." I was just going ahead based on my intuition and what I really believed inside without being limited by all the noise and all the advice around me that told me, "No, I should do it this way. No, I should do it that way."
Jodi KatzRight. You told me something that was so fascinating when we were on the phone together last week. You said it wasn't until your 40s that you had the courage to live life on your own terms. As someone who I feel like I'm a work in progress, I want to hear more about this. What does that mean to you?
Nannette de GaspéWell, it goes back a bit to what I was saying a little earlier. What happened to me, and it's the type of personality I am, but I think when a lot of women are like this, it doesn't matter how accomplished we are or anything. We tend to live like always look to others to get confirmation. We're team players, consensus, et cetera, et cetera. What happens to us is, and in my case, what happened to me was I grew up. I did everything that my parents told me to do. I went the path that I was supposed to go. Then I met my husband and got married to him and was very easy about everything and did things the way he thought things should be done.

He always thought that I believed those were my choices also. Then my in-laws, my friends, et cetera, I lived on the terms of everybody else. I was a pleaser and a consensus type individual. Then, but what I realized was that I wasn't necessarily doing things in a way that made me happy. As my children got older, because they fill in that time, they keep you busy, and you don't really question things, right, at that point. As they started to get older, I started to realize I had lost part of myself along the way, and I wasn't really going forward in my life in ways that I wanted to go forward with.

Then I started to revisit it, as I was telling you, just in general, looking at my energy, looking at everything and started to make changes and started to find my voice and say, "No, I'd like to do this this way. No, this makes more sense to me." When I started to do that and I found my voice, I felt somewhat liberated, a lot liberated actually and started to feel much happier as a person. That's what I mean by finding the courage to live on my terms because then I started to say, "I think it should be this way, and I'm going to go that way," and not be fearful of the reaction of others.

As I was telling you, with Miss de Gaspé, my second line, I felt because I knew how good I felt when I started to live on my terms, I wanted to create opportunities for young people. That's why we give a percentage of the proceeds in Miss de Gaspé to projects and causes that give people, enable them to live on their terms. That's really important to me, so a lot of the messaging around Miss de Gaspé is about that. Even as right when you start, when you look at the packaging, it says, "Beauty on my terms." It's all about living on my terms from a younger age, finding that courage.
Jodi KatzI think a lot of our listeners will really love hearing you say that you lived a certain way, and then you had this moment where you were like, "It doesn't feel right anymore. I don't know who I am, or I'm not connecting to who I am."
Nannette de GaspéSure.
Jodi KatzIt's a process though, right? This isn't like an overnight thing.
Nannette de GaspéNo, it's a process, and it's a process getting there too where you realize because in my case, and the world if changing, but I think a lot of traditional ways still exist where we just go along. We get married. We have the kids. We're the main caregiver. We tend to do more to accommodate everybody else's needs than ourselves. We tend to forget our needs or reduce them. Then as the children get older and of course, then if you're still married, right, if your spouse starts to become more stable in his business career, et cetera, 'cause everything's building when you're younger.

That you've got the children, the career is being built, the family infrastructure, the financial infrastructure, et cetera, and everybody's working on that. Then you're the one that's balancing and keeping everybody happy, and then you start to get to a point where your kids are older, businesses are more established, et cetera, et cetera. You look at yourself, and you say, "Wait a minute. What happened to me along the way?" Really my advice too, and that's one of the things in all this messaging too, is I want young people, young women as an example to stay in it, so to speak, and don't get lost along the way. Not to say I was lost as such, I was always still working and things, but as I said, I didn't have my own voice.
Jodi KatzRight.
Nannette de GaspéI didn't have the courage to have my own voice.
Jodi KatzI totally relate to you, and I think I've made most of my life as being a people pleaser. I was really terrified of making other people uncomfortable. That was my motivator in my actions, right, like almost manipulating their reaction so that their reaction wouldn't be big or scary to me even if that's whatever scary meant could change from person to person. It wasn't until, I think, I was on the path to becoming a mom, like I went through infertility.

This was like an awakening process where I was on my hands and knees crying 'cause it was so painful, where I started to open the door to like, who am I? It's a long road. My son's 10, so it's been 10 years of me exploring who I am, what are my real feelings. I think for a long time, I didn't really have a lot of feelings. I was so worried about other people's feelings.
Nannette de GaspéSure. I understand completely.
Jodi KatzRight. It's really brave of you to talk about this because it's much easier to not be vulnerable in this way, especially in our work. You're taking this vulnerability, which I think is really beautiful, and making it part of your brand, which I can only think is going to do amazing things for people.
Nannette de GaspéThank you, thank you. I kind of feel, yes, I want my brand to be successful. I want it to be financially successful. I have people that believed in me. They invested in the brand, but I think there's something more than it. It gives me an opportunity to communicate these things. I think about the brand, and I think even with our technology, because the technology goes deep in and then feeds from the inside out, so it's truly beauty from the inside out. I feel that if people feel good about themselves, there's a ripple effect. They will go out in the world in a positive way.

My skincare, when you look in the mirror and you're glowing, makes you feel great, and it could be anybody's skincare. In the case, this is how I feel. You go out in a positive way, and you affect other people in a positive way, that's a great thing. It is a ripple effect. That's why I'm happy to be open 'cause I think there's more to this.
Jodi KatzRight. Businesses change so much through the years. It used to be that there were only those strategics, right, the big companies, and they had a ton of brands, and they ruled school. Anyway, as you're part of it, this momentum of indie beauty is just really fascinating. As somebody who doesn't have a product brand, I love watching it from afar, right, and seeing it from my clients' eyes and my friends' eyes. What do you think the immediate future of indie beauty holds for brands now that there's so many people playing in this space?
Nannette de GaspéWell, I think like anything, it's now indie beauty is the hot place to be. A lot of people have these wonderful ideas and dreams, and they're running toward it. I think that the internet has given an opportunity, a platform for people to get exposure and brands out there, and if you have an interesting concept and a different twist, I think you have a good chance. In the old days, you wouldn't have. You wouldn't have survived. The whole industry has democratized, so people are looking for great efficacy at reasonable prices, et cetera, et cetera.

If brands can present that with a great story, everybody wants a story too. I think there's great opportunities for indie brands going forward because the traditional companies, beauty companies, they're wonderful, big machines, but because they are, they're not as nimble, as quick. They can't afford to take the same kinds of risks as a small, little brand can that's not making a lot of units and can make little mistakes as they tweak their way along. I think as long as people are looking, and people are smart now. People are educated. They know what's out there. They're making their choices. They're reading the ingredient lists, et cetera, et cetera.

If you can come up with a great concept, I think you have an opportunity to thrive as a little indie brand and the platform to do it. It's the time. Then of course, the big brands are now looking to all the indie brands, 'cause there's so many, to say which ones would be interesting for us to invest in and help these little brands get to the next level because the reality is you could only go so far with an indie brand because if you do have success, you need to fuel that success. It takes money to do that through product development because you always have to have newness with sale support who can speak to your brand in stores, et cetera.

On the digital side, you have to put a lot of money on the digital side to drive awareness and digital sales, et cetera. That's the reality, and the infrastructures of the larger companies afford indie brands the opportunities to do that, to really grow. At a certain point, the indie brands, it'll be like -- how do you say this -- some of them will be taken up by the big guys. New ones will come out and so on and so forth. We're seeing a lot of the acquisitions. We're seeing a lot of the numbers coming out of the larger companies.
AnnouncerThanks for listening to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY® with Jodi Katz. Tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.

Want to sponsor the pod?

Available On:

Apple Podcasts