ELLA BACHÉ; A STORY OF A BRAVE WOMAN
“I think, in the back of my mind, I always knew that I was part of this business. It’s part of who I am. So regardless of whether the staff wanted me there or not, I knew I was destined to be in the role.”
Ella Baché. We grew up with this brand in Australia. It was part of the great Australian active lifestyle. It appeared at sporting events, aligned to empowered women doing exciting things as part of the sun kissed, healthy beach culture.
So how is it that I still didn’t realise this iconic skincare brand was actually an Australian family-owned business?
In chatting with Pippa Hallas, the CEO of Ella Baché, not only do I learn about the history of this incredible brand, and the foundation of the Australian connection, but I discover how it has led the way in the beauty industry for over 80 years.
ELLA BACHÉ: AHEAD OF HER TIME
The story behind Ella Baché is that of a pioneer. Founded by Ella Baché herself, Ella was one of the first pharmacist women. Living in Paris, in 1936 she launched a skincare brand that became synonymous with natural beauty. Originally from Czechoslovakia, Ella had grown up with women farmers, with the most beautiful skin. They were cutting tomatoes in half and scrubbing their cheeks and forehead with it. Ella recognised the role that fruit acids were playing in brightening these women’s complexion and refining texture. She used the amino acids found in fruit and vitamin C as the foundation of her first cream.
The now well-known brand became family-run when Ella’s cousin, Edith Hallas (Pippa’s grandmother), joined her cousin in the business. With a great knowledge around biology and the functionality of skin, they developed their now world famous skin diagnosis technologies. Every woman is different, as is the needs of their skin.
Ella Baché was a new concept in the world of women’s beauty. And women loved it.
FROM THE BEGINNING
Growing up in Prague, Ella had wanted to follow the footsteps of her brothers and become a doctor. But women weren’t allowed to be doctors in the early 1900s. It’s crazy to think it wasn’t that long ago when women had so many restrictions. So instead she studied pharmacy, specialising in the area of cosmetic chemistry. She developed a passion for formulating and inventing products using the highest quality ingredients. Before the war broke out, Ella left Prague and moved to Paris. Her family were highly educated and they could see what was happening in Europe. They had the foresight to move before World War II exploded.
Ella, Edith and their set were all sitting in the opera house in Paris when a gentleman walked on stage to announce that the war had begun. Edith and her husband decided to get on a boat and head for Australia. While Ella moved to New York.
As a typical family business, there wasn’t any strategy behind the brand. It was started in the back of their house. They just made beautiful products, but what the brand did have behind it was two bold young women.
In 1954, Edith brought the products to Australia. She walked into David Jones and upon meeting with one of the department store’s buyers, she demonstrated the efficacy of Baché’s cold wax strips on her very own legs!
Ella Baché’s Australian story began, and to this day its home has been on the Australian shores.
Not only was it the beginning of a global brand, it was the launch of an industry.
ENTER JOHN HALLAS
Fast forward 10 plus years, Pippa’s father, John Hallas, joined the company. He built the brand into a household name – he was the ultimate brand manager, when the concept of brand management was barely known. In the 80s he launched into sponsorship deals and developed advertising campaigns that made the brand famous. And he forged an alignment between women and sports in Australia.
John is an extremely creative person, an entrepreneur with a huge vision. The direction for the brand became all about skin health and skin fitness.
In continuing the legacy of Ella and Edith, the brand never promises miracles. It’s always been a brand that is made for healthy skin and believed that no two skins are alike. Everyone’s skin is as unique as your thumbprint, so therefore women need to have a deep understanding of the scientific makeup of their own skin before they can begin to use the right products for them. It’s a very scientific proposition.
But the brand was also more than its scientific foundations. It was about irreverent fun and it’s built off the back of the Australian lifestyle.
A FRANCHISE MODEL AND THE BEAUTY SCHOOL
The Ella Baché beauty school was started in 1963 by Edith. Edith loved teaching and educating people. It all started organically. As Edith began training women about skin; their passion for the industry developed and they wanted to know more.
It became a brilliant way for women to earn money and build a career.
As women graduated they wanted to start consulting themselves. In the late 90s the business was growing rapidly, but John needed to find a way to protect the brand. He developed a strong set of procedures, standards and policies and launched a new direction – the franchise beauty salon model. All franchises were co-branded with Ella Baché and they would stock the Ella Baché products. It was a revolutionary move at the time for the brand, and further cemented it as a household name.
PIPPA FOLLOWS IN HER DAD’S FOOTSTEPS
Pippa grew up working in the family business. They lived two streets away from the Ella Baché offices, and she would spend time there after school and every school holiday. The amazing thing is that some of those people Pippa worked with in the early days are still working for Ella Baché today. They have known Pippa her whole life.
When Pippa finished school she needed to have her own adventures. She had one big love – animals – so sought work at a veterinary clinic. She remembers the very first person who walked through the door… they had to put down their 18 year old cat. Perhaps this wasn’t going to be the career path for Pippa after all.
The other big influence in her life was creativity. She was surrounded by interesting people working in advertising. It seemed like the best job in the world. So that’s what Pippa did. She studied marketing and then took a role in advertising. She worked for two big international agencies – DDB and McCann Erickson – both in Australia and London.
She absolutely loved it, but eventually got to the point where she realised it was a young person’s game. Pippa didn’t feel like she had many amazing female role models in advertising.
“I looked at a few of the senior women in these agencies and I didn’t aspire to what they were doing. I thought to myself there’s another world out there for women. So that’s when I decided to leave. I wasn’t sure whether I should jump into the family business or work in consultancy for McKinsey or someone like that,” shares Pippa.
Pippa jumped into the family business and it was a massive learning curve. There hadn’t been a family member in the business for 20 years and everyone was afraid of her. It was a hugely intense time for Pippa.
“I think, in the back of my mind, I always knew that I was part of this business. It’s part of who I am. So regardless of whether the staff wanted me there or not I knew I was destined to be in the role. I’m not a combative person, I just kind of dealt with it. I had a great mentor at the time and he advised me to play the long game. It was hard but I grew up and found my way,” explains Pippa.
Pippa entered the business in the marketing department, then moved into the role of brand manager, and then a few years later she became CEO.
“I was probably only 33, I was still super young. I remember sitting in this office actually thinking to myself ‘okay, what’s my job?’”
PIPPA’S PATH TO SUCCESS
“It’s like everything… you gotta have the right team around you, so I think once I was able to create that team, people who were aligned to me and my vision then it was, much much easier. I come from a marketing background. I absolutely understood the philosophy of the brand, I knew this business. But I had to earn my stripes as a CEO. Having people on my team that were supportive made all the difference. I had imposter syndrome for an enormous amount of time but that was my problem to solve, and I think I overcame that by being so prepared for everything I did. I knew my facts and so when I was thrown into a board meeting or a corporate meeting, being the only female in the room and probably 10 years younger, I could confidently hold my own,” she shares.
Pippa explains that the business had become a bit too corporatised. The first thing she did was return the business to its family values and make sure that people were behaving in the right way. From there she focused on the acceleration of technology and digital. This was an enormous leap forward for the business.
A YOUNG LADY SAILS AROUND THE WORLD
When Pippa became CEO, one of the first campaigns she launched was the sponsorship of Jessica Watson. Jessica was a seriously ‘bold’ young woman about to set off on a journey to sail solo around the world. From the moment Pippa met Jessica she knew this was an incredibly brave and inspiring young woman, that Ella Baché wanted to back.
This is what the brand was all about – empowering women doing incredible things out in the world; getting behind their passions.
“I remember going out on a rubber ducky the day Jessica sailed out of the Sydney heads. There was her Mum and Dad, a 60 Minutes reporter and myself. We said goodbye to Jess wishing her every success. I spoke to Jess regularly on her journey. 10 months later she sailed into Sydney Harbour and stopped the nation. I still get goosebumps talking about it,” shares Pippa.
One of the things I love about Pippa Hallas is her honesty. There’s no pretence.
We get to the question of ‘well how come I didn’t know that Ella Baché was an Australian brand?’ With a name like Ella Baché and a heritage story from Paris, it’s no surprise.
Pippa laughs… “I guess we are a little schizophrenic.”
Pippa shares that they have always been careful to maintain their Parisian foundational story. There was a belief that European beauty held a higher credence than that of an Australian beauty story. But Pippa believes it’s time to change that. There is respect for Australian beauty and the truth of the matter is that this is a story with three converging parts – Paris, New York and Australia. Moving forward, this is the story that needs to be told. It’s a story of brave women and supporting those women in becoming the most beautiful form of themselves.
“We are about helping women to feel good about themselves, feeling confident in their own skin,” explains Pippa.
For the future, Pippa would love to see more gender diversity and more females sitting in leadership roles all around the world. Pippa recognises that she is a minority most of the time. Her vision is to see more females doing amazing things.
Considering it wasn’t that long ago that a young Ella Baché was forbidden to become a doctor and went on to launch one of the most successful family-owned skincare companies in the world… well, anything is possible.
Learn more about Ella Baché.
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