Sunday 25 September 2016

Exports hit highest monthly level since records began

Cork-based skin-cream maker Human+Kind is one of the firms growing exports

Published 21/06/2015 | 02:30

Rene Van Willigen of Human+Kind, Little Island, Cork. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney
Rene Van Willigen of Human+Kind, Little Island, Cork. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney

In April, the value of Irish goods exports reached its highest monthly level - €9.18bn - since records began.

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Human+Kind (pronounced Human and Kind), a Cork-based skincare product manufacturer founded by Dutchman Rene van Willigen, is tracking that trend.

"Definitely, there is a big uplift in this last year. We export very well to the Middle East, to the UAE and South Korea, but the majority goes to some major retailers in Europe. We're going by 30pc-50pc every year, so it's quite a steady growth," van Willigen told the Sunday Independent.

"But we are a growing company, so it's very hard to say if it's because things are picking up in Europe or because we're a new company putting in so much effort."

The company exports to 14 countries in total, including Australia and South Africa.

Earlier this year, it launched its products in Sephora, a beauty retailer owned by the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) group, in France, Spain, Italy and Scandinavia.

In September, it will be on the shelves in Sephora stores in the US.

"It's a natural product, we don't use chemicals," van Willigen says.

"Our special feature is that we have more than one function per product. For instance, you buy an anti-ageing product, it's also an eye cream and a wrinkle cream, and a moisturiser. Instead of buying one of each, you can buy just the one and save time and money.

"We've just developed a natural in-shower body moisturiser, so you moisturise yourself under the shower, rinse it off and off you go, instead of getting out of the shower, drying yourself and putting on a body lotion. That's very time consuming."

Van Willigen says some of the major trends in the industry are that consumers have become more concerned about the chemical content of beauty products, and that men are now more worried about their appearance.

"In supermarkets now, you'll find more and more food products that are environmentally friendly, that have been produced without pesticides and biological stuff, so there's definitely a trend of people getting more aware of what they eat and what they put on their skin.

"Women have always wanted to look good, but maybe men the are joining in more now. You can see that trend. We weren't too vain 20 years ago, but a lot of men are looking after themselves and they will apply cream. I think the women's trend is still wanting to look good, but maybe paring down a bit and trying to get a product that will do more than one thing."

Van Willigen's history with Ireland stretches back 35 years. He's been living here for the last 14. His business partner Jerome Broos is a fellow Dutchman, who happened to live a few miles down the road.

The idea for Human+Kind came when van Willigen overheard his wife and sister talking about skincare products

"They were saying how much they had in their cupboards and bathroom shelves, and also how chemical it was.

"So I thought there's an idea, and I basically locked myself up for six months and researched and came up with the first product.

"We strongly believe in working locally, we live here and work here, so we try and keep the economy going. Everything is done locally, as much as we can."

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