Eric Cantona and Rachida Brakni (Nostra): "Our brand is inspired by nature."
Published by Céline Tridon on Jul 9, 2020
Together in partnership in life and in business, Éric Cantona and Rachida Brakni launched their cosmetics brand Nostra in November 2019, which is based on essential concepts such as naturalness or made in France.
How was the Nostra brand born?
Rachida Brakni: It is the result of a stroke of luck and impulse. It was during a walk in Sardinia that Eric found a kind of wild mint that we didn't know at all. Its smell was so pleasant that we thought we would like to find it in a shower gel or shampoo. Then we started dreaming out loud.
What do you actually mean?
RB: We imagined a range of products that would meet precise specifications: mixed, natural, intergenerational and made in France. We also had to opt for plastic-free packaging (in the end, we will opt for sugar cane-based packaging). In short, we wanted to cut out the superfluous and focus on the essential.
I believe you also had to go in search of professionals?
Éric Cantona: At first, we did research on this plant, which turned out to be a rare plant, but which grows in many countries. It is rich in medicinal properties. Then we approached Jean-Claude Bozou, a doctor in biology, to find out more about the "technicality" of this plant and the properties of pomegranate, rosemary or orange blossom, which we also wanted to work on.
EC: In as much as scents are important to us, they are the basis of our concept. That's why we met an expert nose. He' s almost like a shrink by the way! He introduced us to scents linked to our history, which allowed us to imagine three eaux de Cologne.
So your couple is part of the brand's DNA?
RB: It's true that we both carry this brand. Things happen quite naturally, after all we've been together for 18 years. We are aware of our complementarity: there is no need to formulate it, nor to put it in writing.
How did you put together your product range?
RB: We wanted to segment it in order to offer something that focuses on the essential, to get rid of the superfluous. We wanted to get away from excessive consumerism in terms of products, by imagining articles that combine several actions: for example, a face and body scrub, a hand and foot cream, etc. We wanted to offer a range of products that would be more effective and more efficient. It is becoming difficult to find oneself with an overwhelming range of products available, all the more so when you know that the time has come to combat waste!
Who are the people accompanying you along this journey?
RB: In addition to Jean-Claude Bozou, who supports us on a daily basis, we have brought in Chrystelle Lannoy, a former Clarins employee. She became our project manager, she also launched her own cosmetics brand, Gemology. Thanks to her expertise, she greatly facilitated our producer management. It is important that they are based in France and that the raw material is sourced in the Mediterranean basin. Today, we work with three production, formulation and packaging centres in France. All of them are approved to supply organic products: this is also part of our specifications.
Yet you also claim a certain independence...
EC: We indeed had two advantages. The first is to be surrounded by people who listen, at every stage of the creation of our company: they are real professionals who have supported us a lot. For example, I created the brand logo. The BETC agency helped us create the universe that would result from it and especially the brand name that would go with it! The other chance is to be independent. Nostra is a project that we financed entirely by ourselves: nearly 1.5 million euros to date.
RB: Independence allows us to be decision-makers and to be able to create this brand in line with what we believe in. Since we are independent, it was important to work only with independent SMIs, so that we could be in direct contact with them. This is very rewarding. In addition, we do not yet have our own factories...
Is this something you are already considering?
EC: Of course, the math can be done. Only, you don't want to get swallowed up by the system! This project must not become a war machine where we could lose our lives. We have to find the right balance between pleasure, naturalness and the need to make sales. But we do not stop ourselves from thinking of small factories that we could own. What motivates us is pleasure and creation.
In your opinion, does the art of entrepreneurship imply creating?
EC: Some business leaders have created extraordinary things. It is often said that a creator is a painter, a director, a filmmaker, a sculptor. But it can also be an entrepreneur! There are plenty of them, at different times, who came up with revolutionary ideas. I don't know if it's art, but they created something...
Where's Nostra today?
RB: We like to see our brand grow. It is still young since we launched it last November. Initially, 350,000 products were manufactured. We sell them online, on the brand's website and in Monoprix stores.
Why did you choose this distributor?
RB: Our desire is to offer products that are accessible to all. Monoprix is a partner that follows this approach because you can find its stores all over France. You can find different people with different social backgrounds.
How did you take on the world of entrepreneurship?
RB: We have friends from different backgrounds. Also, long before this adventure, we were aware of the difficulties that make up the daily life of an entrepreneur. When we started out, we knew that we were not going towards perfect angelism, telling ourselves that it would be a great walk in the park.
And what do you retain from these first months heading Nostra?
RB: Each stage of creation and development has its importance. You can't skip them. Entrepreneurship is a school of patience. But it is also a story of curiosity. Surprisingly, it was Eric who contributed to all the artistic aspects of our approach.
EC: The secret of a company, the main talent of a business leader himself, is to know how to surround himself well. So you have to be a good listener yourself. Even if technically you don't know certain things, you have the support of people whose job it is to do so. They are professionals who will translate your ideas and your convictions.
Eric, how has your background as a sportsman helped you consider entrepreneurship?
EC: Sport is a great school of life because it teaches you how to be humble, how to fight, how to get back on your feet after failure. You also learn to keep working even if you've just won, to be 100% individual, while evolving within a group. Sport teaches you how to relate with others, which comes down to what the company offers, which is the place where people are managed, where everyone has their share of responsibility in the service of a group.
Nostra at the international level, are you thinking about it?
EC: Thanks to the sales on our website, we are already have one foot on that stage: in Portugal, Italy and England. Of course, the objective is to reinforce this presence in these countries which, moreover, are part of our history with Rachida and me. But these projects are financially heavy and stressful...
RB: We hope to go even further than Europe! And for this step, it becomes necessary to find new people to accompany us. We need partners (experts and financial) to support us in our international approach.
Is the Nostra brand going to expand?
RB: Indeed, the range of products will expand. But we also want to think of the brand as a lifestyle concept. It's a project that doesn't stop at cosmetics, but that addresses the idea of well-being in its entirety. So, soon, maybe there will be hotels or Nostra concept stores?
EC: Nostra is a spirit, an art of living itself. There is really more to it than meets the eye. Only, we won't be able to do it alone. In order to continue to grow, we need people who have a total mastery of the business: the commercial aspect, for example, has to be managed by experienced employees. We want to continue to embody this brand.
Your main source of inspiration?
RB: Observing others.
EC: The beauty, power and energy of nature.
If you were to explore another profession?
Your best professional memory?
RB: The one to come.
EC: My memory allows me to forget.
What do you look for most in your partners?
RB: The spirit of initiative.
The manager that you are?
EC: I ask of others what I impose on myself: high standards and rigour.
The company that you would have liked to invent?
RB: I ...
EC: The suitcases on wheels and the escape of Carlos Ghosn.
A quote that you like to repeat to yourself ?
RB: Bella figura in all circumstances!
EC: Let us respect ourselves and we will respect others.
An entrepreneur you admire?
RB: Mercedes Erra, founder of BETC.
EC: François Pinault and Richard Branson.