Life As I Know It: Irene Forte

Irene Forte channels her Italian heritage and love of all things local through her eponymous beauty brand, Irene Forte Skincare. She takes us back to her childhood and her deep connection with Sicily, all the way through to how she developed the passion for hand-crafted, circular skincare that she is known for today. 

I grew up in the UK to Italian parents, with two siblings: Lydia, the eldest and Charles, the youngest.

Given that my father, Rocco Forte, is a hotelier, we spent a lot of time in hotels as kids. From the age of 14 onwards, we passed our school holidays working across various departments of my father’s hotels. Meal time conversations have always centred on hotels. Therefore, hospitality has very much been ingrained in us from a young age. You might even say that it’s in our blood!

My mother, being very Italian, has always put a lot of emphasis on family and, of course, meal times. She has always been (and still is) the hostess with the mostest. Since I can remember, every family meal has been fuelled with delicious Mediterranean cuisine and a beautiful table setting.

I was obsessed with sport as a child; I was in every sports team. I also was convinced that I was going to manage Chelsea FC until I was about 16. I was really interested in living a healthy lifestyle from a young age and with my obsession with sport as well as living a healthy lifestyle in general, I naturally got into sustainability and skincare. The sustainability interest properly started as soon as I started working full time at Rocco Forte Hotels, eight years ago.

It was here that I started my career in HR. We didn’t really have a central HR team at the time, or a proper framework for looking after and developing our people. From the very start, my work involved focusing on people, which of course is key to sustainability. This included ensuring that we were committed to equal opportunity and fair labour practises, that we were committed to training and developing our people, and that we were giving them the tools and benefits to ensure that they were happy with us. I then started overseeing spas & wellness for the group, while still being involved in HR. Wellness means ‘wellness for our team,’ but also ‘wellness for our guests’ and with this in mind, the two roles complemented one another perfectly.

I created and launched five pillars for our wellness concept, starting with Rocco Forte Spas – the base of the concept, and home to Irene Forte Skincare. These also included Nourish, supported by our healthy food offering, with vegan/ vegetarian dishes and locally sourced/ seasonal produce; Fitness, great gyms and fitness activities that involve the local location such as sightseeing jogging; and Mind, in-room mindfulness videos, sleep kits and bedrooms, spaces and treatments that promote rest and relaxation. For the last pillar, Sustainability, we have a focus group with individuals across all of our hotels and we have a policy which covers People, Community, Planet and Business. Key goals have been set against all of the pillars for this year and next. 

When I launched Irene Forte Skincare last year, I didn’t want to launch anything that didn’t have sustainability at its heart. I have seen first hand how much harder it is to integrate sustainable practises to a business that has been doing things a certain way for decades. Therefore, I wanted my brand to be sustainable from the start. This meant staying local. We source ingredients from our own organic farm in Sicily and make everything in Italy, thereby reducing our carbon footprint. My lab is in Italy too,near Trentino, and any ingredients that cannot come from Sicily come from there. Promoting local Sicilian artisans is also at the heart of what we do. 

We are careful not to include anything in our products that could pollute the soil or water (we are a natural brand) and use only vegan ingredients, as well as producing in small batches to minimise waste. Even our packaging is made in Italy, and is both sustainable and collateral. We use recycled glass bottles and jars, boxes made of 100% recycled fibres with vegetable and soya-based inks, no plastic wrapping or extra paper inserts, all collateral printed on recycled paper.

I try to be as eco-friendly as possible when going about my day to day. I love vintage clothes, handed down from my amazing grandmother. I don’t shop fast fashion anymore, and I prefer to buy nice pieces that last a lifetime. I get lots of my clothes handmade in Italy (my mother designs a lot of my clothes). I’m also always re-hashing existing clothes of mine; given that my mother has a dress-maker I love to fix and re-formulate existing clothes. Due to work I have to travel like crazy so I carbon-offset my flights and I always try to use sustainable products and pathways when I can…

To share some of my tips – I carry a Chilly’s reusable water bottle everywhere I go. I also carry a collapsable coffee cup from Stojo when I go to the office. My skincare line is my go-to beauty brand, while for gym gear/ t-shirts/ staples I always shop from Back Label. They’re a beautiful Italian brand who make their clothes by hand in Bergamo in Italy, using natural fibres, such as algae, milk, seaweed, and bamboo. Gooders also do amazing pop-ups, and they only work with sustainable brands, so I often turn to them for new tip offs on great new labels. I recently discovered Sarah’s Bag – a Lebanese fashion house and social enterprise that creates one-of-a-kind luxury hand crafted bags and accessories that empower both the women who make them and the women who wear them.

Regarding the future, I feel positive about it. We have seen a major shift; people want to make a difference, and it’s no longer seen as acceptable to do nothing.

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