Creating a Circular Beauty Model with Ace of Air

Image Credit: Ace of Air

On-loan packaging, minimal ingredients and collaborative ‘Planet’ Partners’; Ace of Air is a beauty and wellness brand determined to keep its environmental impact as low as possible. Co-founders Stephanie Stahl and Petra Nemcova share their story of how the brand came to be.

The rise of rental has been fundamental to a shifting the narrative around sustainable fashion within the past few years. But within the beauty and wellness industry, this culture of borrowing is very much new news. For Ace of Air, a newly launched skincare and supplement brand focusing whole-heartedly on its planetary impact, finding a way to eliminate the excessive waste that is so often derived from beauty products was its first point of call.

Co-founded by Stephanie Stahl and Petra Nemcova, its ethos is simple: to create a fully circular, clean and vegan skincare and supplement range. And while the ‘clean’ skincare market is saturated with brands boasting of natural ingredients, it is Ace of Air’s emphasis on circularity that showcases their innovative approach to lessening the industry’s environmental consequences. Its rental model works on two levels: the product packaging itself and the ‘Boomerang Box’, the returnable shipping box that is then sent back to Ace of Air and reused up to 100 times.

We spoke to the duo following their launch last Thursday on their hopes for better circularity and transparency within the beauty and wellness industry and how they hope Ace of Air can begin to change the way brands approach packaging.

Congratulations on the launch of Ace of Air! Can you tell us a little about the inspiration behind the brand?

Thank you! From when we started developing Ace of Air over three years ago, we have focused on integrating the fast-growing movement of clean beauty, the changing narrative of beauty and considering positive impact packaging. We are also incredibly inspired by mother nature’s ability to create glorious abundance without waste.

Stephanie: I have been inspired by how Petra lives her life — her constant commitment to people and planet, her personal and knowledge-based focus on wellness, and the joy she brings to everything.

How important was it to have sustainability at the forefront of both your brand ethos and product?

The only business we were interested in building was one that would be a sustainable game changer in the industry. The beauty and wellness industry is a significant contributor to our global single-use plastic crisis – beauty alone creates 120 billion units of primarily plastic packaging a year. And unfortunately recycling alone cannot solve this problem, as less than 7-9% of plastic gets recycled, and that number is decreasing! Many of the small packages used in beauty (smaller than 3 inches) are too small to be recycled at all. The lifecycle analysis we completed early on showed that, for a range of direct-to-consumer skincare and supplement products, the environmental impact of the packaging was by far the largest impact at 70% (vs ~25% for the product and ~5% for the shipping).

We also wanted to support amazing organisations who are researching and protecting our planet. Through our Stellar Rewards programme, we will contribute 3% of our revenues to our incredible Planet Partners: The Ocean Conservancy, 5 Gyres and The Peconic Land Trust.

How have you implemented this?

We started with a defining vision: to deliver highly efficacious clean, vegan and cruelty free skincare and supplement products that deliver synergistic benefits in a fully circular, zero waste packaging model. We have worked through every detail, in great detail and with many, many iterations, to create the best possible products and packaging to bring our original vision to life.

You cite the likes of S’well, Patagonia and Allbirds as industry innovators who have inspired your journey with Ace of Air. How have they inspired the way you have approached sustainability?

Those amazing brands, along with Tesla, have inspired and motivated us. Each, and all, have created very successful businesses that have not only been able to benefit their customers but also act as a catalyst for positive change more broadly.

Circularity is a buzzword within the fashion industry. How do you hope to bring the concept of closing the loop to the world of beauty?

We began by separating out the product that we all want and consume from the packaging that we use but discard. Ace of Air’s packaging is beautiful, valuable and durable that is designed to be used over and over again. We worked closely with UPS to design our ‘Boomerang Box’, the reusable box your order arrives in, to ensure it would work well in their system and make the most of their existing round-trip network.

Fundamentally, we chose to create durable rather than disposable packaging, and take full responsibility for the lifecycle of our packaging. This also includes considering how the element of recycling it at the end of life. No matter how well or naturally packaging is made, or how easily and safely it can be disposed of, if it is part of the linear economy, it must be remade each and every time. The environmental impact of this, compared to that of a circular economy, is significantly bigger.

In recent years, consumers have demanded the beauty industry become more transparent as to the chemicals and ingredients we are putting on our skin and in our bodies. How has the rise of clean beauty influenced this skincare line?

Petra: I have been focused on living a healthy and conscious life for the last 23 years. Over time, I have taken deeper and deeper dives into studying well-being from within. Every intake has a huge ripple effect on us. Whether it is the food, liquids or thoughts that we consume. Clean was the only way for us to create — clean everything —meaning all the good, none of the bad. Clean for our body and clean for our planet. We are so deeply interconnected. When we pollute our nature, we pollute ourselves.

Our relationship with nature and the planet has not only inspired the brand’s sustainability ethos, but also the products themselves. How did your own sustainability practices influence the products and services you wanted to produce?

Petra: I started on my sustainable journey 12 years ago, and then I learned about Livia Firth and Eco-Age from dear friend Caroline Scheufele and focused on putting a spotlight on sustainable fashion on & off the red carpet. At that time it wasn’t considered sophisticated enough. Then, through doing Futuristic February two years ago — which was a big eye opener — I fell deeper into the Zero Waste mission.

As we co-create our products and our packaging, we have maintained a clear focus on the need for positive solutions at scale. We wanted our brand, our products and our packaging to appeal to many consumers – not only those who are already living very conscious lives.

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges the beauty industry faces in becoming more ethical and sustainable?

Change can be extremely hard – even when you can see the reasons to, and both you and your consumer want it. For established brands and businesses, existing P&Ls constrain change, investments in branding and packaging slow change, and supply chains designed for traditional efficiency resist change.

What are your hopes for Ace and Air? And for the beauty and wellness industry as a whole?

We hope Ace of Air becomes a business that not only serves people and planet, but also catalyses our industry to take rapid, major action to better serve people and planet. Ace of Air is B Corp and Leaping Bunny Certified, and we believe our whole industry would benefit if all beauty and wellness brands adopted and followed these important business practices. Brands and customers have a very important role to play in requiring a holistic and caring approach throughout the supply chain, and throughout the full co-creation process integrating the needs of people and planet.