This Italian Brand Is Basically the Patagonia of Beauty, and It’s Making Serious Strides for Sustainability

Photo: Getty Images/ Marco Bottigelli
Even if you speak zero Italian, you know the word bella.  “Ciao, bella,” “bella donna,” and “la bella vita,” are a common part of the anglophone’s vernacular. The word literally translates to “beautiful,” and Italians use it far more frequently in their day-to-day speech than you might expect.

“We use the word beautiful in a different way than anyone else,” says Davide Bollati, owner and chairman of the Davines group, the iconic Italian beauty brand behind Davines hair care and Comfort Zone skin care. He points out that the Italian language uses the word “bella” to describe a day, event, feeling, or personality. I noticed this myself, simply by observing the conversations as I tried (feebly) to pick up some more Italian myself during my visit to the Davines campus in Parma.

Bollati emphasizes that the primary approach to beauty—both in the Italian language and culture—is not about aesthetics. Beauty, according to Bollati, is about slowing down, enjoying the journey, and living a happy and meaningful life. “But what’s the point,” he posits, "in the spa treatments, self care, and aesthetic benefits if outside, the world is collapsing?”

This is why you won’t find Bollati evangelizing the shampoos, serums, and hair color products his businesses create. It’s almost as if he doesn’t care if the mass market knows about their exceptional skincare, or spectacular hair care—he’d much rather talk about the environment. His focus is on the planet… creating a bella terra.

Placing sustainability and transparency at the forefront

As brands, Davines and Comfort Zone have taken Bollati’s vision into every facet of their business. Sustainability, biodiversity, regenerative agriculture, and social initiatives are on the forefront for all their decisions. It’s not often you can wash your hair or apply moisturizer, and know that your purchase did something powerful for the planet… but that’s exactly what’s happening with this company and its products

As a certified B Corp since 2016, the Davines team has spent decades fine-tuning the brand’s manufacturing, supply chain, labor practices, and then some. To earn this certification, Davines “voluntarily met the highest standards for social and environmental performance,” … and this is not an accreditation that is easy to earn (nor maintain; you have to improve every year to keep your status). Only 61 beauty brands are currently B Corp certified. Weleda, Osea, Sunday Riley, and Typology are a few of the small handful you’ll recognize on the organization’s site.

Through its partnership with the Rodale Institute, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit funding regenerative organic agriculture research, Davines is helping to drive regenerative agriculture, extending it past “food and fiber,” and into the world of beauty and personal care. Rodale’s original mission is “Healthy Soil = Healthy Food = Healthy People.” Davines essentially said, “Yes, and healthy soil = healthy skin and hair = healthy people.”

“What’s the point in the spa treatments, self care, and aesthetic benefits if outside, the world is collapsing?”—Davide Bollati, Davines CEO

Much of this happens through education, by empowering Mediterranean farmers, and leading by example on the expansive on-campus farm at the brand's HQ (covering 24 acres, or about 18 football fields). Said campus also comprises a carbon-neutral village, scientific garden, and restaurant as well as the Davines lab, manufacturing and packaging centers, and corporate offices. Together, Davines and Rodale Institute want to help increase the number of organic farms in the Mediterranean region, while “incorporating regenerative organic sourcing into personal care products,” (thus, impacting the consumer goods supply chain, and making things better for the rest of the industry), and researching “soil health, yields, economic models, and more.”

The brand’s home base is also important to note. Davines is nestled in one of the major food centers of Europe: Parma (think: parmigiano reggiano, prosciutto di parma). Innovating agriculture in this particular region could have a massive impact not just on the beauty industry, but the condition of the planet, and our global food supply. Italy already has double the amount (percentage-wise) of organic farming compared to France and Germany, and is setting a precedent for how we can take better care of the planet and our bodies.

Walking the grounds of the European Regenerative Organic Center (EROC) with research director and agricultural expert Dario Fornara, PhD, I got to see the parallels between planetary health and skin health. Healthy soil, as Fornara explains it, is better able to retain moisture; you can typically glean that the earth is in a state of poor health if it cannot hold onto water. The same goes for skin; when our skin is compromised (particularly the barrier health), it too is unable to retain adequate moisture levels. I knew none of this when I bought a Comfort Zone moisturizer after a spa facial.

The 'festina lente' approach to beauty

“We don’t take shortcuts,” says Bollati, who points out that the desire for immediacy and instant gratification is a (perceived) American hallmark. “This is better for the long term… for health, for the planet.” He shared a Latin phrase with me to illustrate this: “festìna lente.” Bollati says this means “to make haste slowly,” and is exemplary of Davines’ approach.

The brand's products are meant to be enjoyed slowly, to calm the body and mind—delivering a hefty dose of self care along with efficacious skin and hair-care ingredients. The development of these products is done mindfully, slowly, and deliberately, to ensure that everything from the packaging and shipping to the cultivation of aromatic herbal ingredients is not simply sustaining, but regenerating.

It can be a challenge to translate these initiatives to an aesthetically-driven market, particularly beauty consumers who are looking for results-driven products. With its inherently understated European nature, the products don’t necessarily shout their environmentalism from the rooftops. The consumer experience is still luxurious—colors, packaging, sensation, scent, and (yes) results all leave you feeling glamorous and gorgeous, but perhaps none the wiser about what’s going on behind the scenes.

However, the more recent emphasis on ‘green’ and ‘clean’ brands, and the collective awakening of the consumer consciousness (in the US, at least), is showing promise. This is also where greenwashing could potentially come into play… and can make it even more challenging to be a conscious consumer. But this is where Davines and Comfort Zone authentically shine the most.

Expanding the impact

For its part, Davines is walking the walk to bring consumers up to speed. 2023 marks the second year of the We Sustain Beauty and Grow Beautiful campaigns, in the brand aims to engage its salon and spa clients, as well as its direct consumers (hello, fellow online shoppers). An earthy performance by iconic French dancer Fanny Sage, a rain-fed cotton tote, and an annual €50,000 donation to the Rodale Institute are all “seeds” the brand is planting in the public consciousness (get it?!) to inspire and incite some planetary awareness.

“We want to be at the forefront of maximum performance, maximum results, maximum functionality for the product… delivering on the promise that we make [to consumers],” says Bollati. “And, at the same time, at the forefront of sustainability and regeneration. Minimizing, neutralizing, and offsetting our footprint.” Davines isn’t gatekeeping its practices—in fact, it's encouraging other brands to follow suit.

Through its participation in B Beauty, Davines joined a league of other B-Corp beauty brands to create collective, impactful environmental change. “Beauty that prioritizes soil as much as skin.” As such, Bollati and his team have created a “regenerative index” designed to be “utilized by other industries,” outside of beauty and personal care. “We look at the function of products, but also ensure [each product is] regenerative through its life cycle, including the ingredients and our packaging,” he says.  The packaging is not just recyclable (with many products being refillable!), but also plastic-neutral and carbon-neutral. The shipping is carbon neutral. The business is carbon neutral, edging toward carbon negative. The products are increasing the percentage of natural origin and organic ingredients, with some products comprising 99%. Even some of their hair color has “88% to 93% natural origin ingredients and 95% to 99% biodegradable ones.”

All to say, what makes Davines so "beautiful" has nothing to do with the cosmetic benefits its products offer—it's all about its dedication to sustainability and transparency. Bella, indeed.

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