L’Occitane: ingredients and lavender fields

Second part. See first part here.

Over 300 ingredients are used by L’Occitane – many of them are natural extracts – such as immortelle, lavender, shea butter and angelica which all gave names to particular lines of beauty products. Maud Reboul, special manager responsible for L’Occitane’s relationship with its local farmers, talked to us about how the ingredients are bought and picked up. To the company it’s very important who, when and how grew the plants, out of which the organic ones (i.e. those grown without pesticides and on fair trade rules and, generally, according to the multiple Ecocert regulations) are given priority.

In that respect, there are some difficulties in Burkina Faso where L’Occitane buys its shea butter for one of its most successful lines. The African country is also famous for the production of cotton; cotton fields, generously watered with pesticides, often surround shea trees and so the butter obtained from those trees can hardly be certified as organic. Every year L’Occitane purchases 400 tons of shea butter (12 thousand women work during the harvest season) and a hand cream made from it is bought every 4 seconds somewhere around the globe.

shea butter

The shea-butter-to-be

By the way, it’s interesting to know how Olivier Baussan found his way to Burkina Faso. In the beginning he didn’t quite explain everything fully, instead telling us the kind of heart-warming stories that Western journalists adore about how he wanted to help people (and he really did help and still is helping women in Burkina Faso with the charity projects that his company is carrying out there). But later, at dinner, he cracked up and told us the story about how many years ago at an airport he met a journalist who was on her way back from Burkina Faso where she’d been gathering material for an article. His plane was held up for 24 hours. In the meantime, she told him about the women there, about the shea butter they pick and use for absolutely everything – from cooking to fighting stretch marks – and about the money that they make from selling it and then spend on themselves or their children. And so, Olivier – instead of flying home to his wife – went to Burkina Faso. “There were no mobile phones or digital cameras back then, – he said – she couldn’t show me the pictures that she’d taken because they were still on the film roll, so you can imagine how crazy a decision that was for me.” Well, it’s nice to know that we owe one of the finest L’Occitane lines to one of our own, a journalist 🙂

Immortelle – the very same Divine one, it actually caught all the attention thanks to an important molecule that it contains. Out of tens of kinds of immortelle the Corsican one was chosen due to the highest concentration of that desired anti-age molecule. Generally, immortelle is not a cultivatable plant. In order to launch its line, L’Occitane needed to create a special programme on the island using the techniques applied in the cultivation of lavender; hence, the immortelle fields in Corsica. There’s 44 hectares of it now – all for the needs of L’Occitane’s Immortelle line which, by the way, is going to be renewed this autumn due to the fourth patent that the company has obtained.

The fields of immortelle in Corsica

Angelica – a plant that won Maud over with its vitality: within a week it’s capable of growing from a little shrub into something taller than a man. L’Occitane has obtained patents on two kinds of angelica extracts and uses them in its Angelica line that I’ve tested.

Almonds are bought in southern France. There used to be many almond trees in Provence itself but they’ve practically disappeared by now. L’Occitane’s supplier of almonds is a family of farmers whose surname I’m unable to pronounce, unfortunately 🙂

Olive oil – another traditional ingredient and a basis of one of L’Occitane’s lines; rosa centifolia – a kind of rose from Grasse; peony – from Drome, Provence; verbena – from Corsica.

Verbena leaves

Lavender, “the blue gold” of the region, only grows on land situated minimum 800 metres above the sea-level. In order to see lavender fields, we had to drive up into the mountains for an hour or so. Lavender is grown by multiple small suppliers; one of L’Occitane’s oldest partners in that respect are Martin and Richard whom we paid a visit.
loccitane-lavande11Martin and Richard belong to the third generation of lavender farmers, and they also grow cherry trees. Nowadays, many farmer in Provence switch to the production of grasses (subsidized by the government) but this family sticks to tradition.

Richard telling a Brazilian journalist how lavender is distilled.

During the time when lavender is harvested (we had the chance to see the first day of it) Richard and Martin – together with their dogs – stay in their mountain house.

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Lavender is picked and then dried. Later, it goes into one of those tanks.

loccitane-lavande2Here it’s turned into essential oil.

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As a result, from 1 ton of lavender 10 kilogrammes of essential oil are obtained.

There’s a difference between fine lavender and lavandin. All shrubs of the latter are, in fact, clones of one another, hence their amazing resemblance. Its essential oil has a stronger, more intense aroma. The shrubs of fine lavender can be smaller and are different from one another; plus, they’re planted by randomly throwing its seeds all over the field, so perfection is clearly not what we strive for here. But the scent of lavender itself is a whole different story – even I, with my limited sense of smell, noticed the difference.

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Here L’Occitane’s Brazilian PR Manager is taking a picture of a Brazilian journalist, and a Swedish editor accompanied by a Canadian journalist – of the Brazilian PR Manager 🙂

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Katya, author of L’Occitane’s blog on LiveJournal.com and the brand’s pages on social networking websites, made a lavender wreath and managed to heroically bring it home in one piece – on her hat.

Take a look at her pictures, too.

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