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Emma Watson is one of the fashion industry’s most vocal celebrity advocates for sustainably-made clothing. For last year’s Met Gala, she worked with the sustainability-focused consultancy Eco-Age to design a Calvin Klein gown made from post-consumer recycled water bottles. When she accepted her Best Actor in a Movie at the MTV Movie Awards on May 7th, she did so in a KITX by Kit Willow dress made from organic silk and handmade metal paillettes.
And when Watson launched @the_press_tour — an Instagram account giving followers insider access to exactly what she wears on the red carpet and at events — earlier this year, it quickly amassed nearly half a million followers.
In addition to clothing, the account chronicles Watson’s skincare and cosmetics. And while all of the outfits were verified by Eco-Age, Watson called in a different expert for beauty: Imelda Burke, the founder of Content Beauty & Wellbeing, a clean beauty boutique in London.
Burke is a well-respected expert in the beauty world and (quite literally) wrote the book on organic skincare and cosmetics. The Nature of Beauty, which Watson called “amazing” in her recent Into The Gloss feature, offers a complete primer on the subject, from identifying your skin type to the product swaps to make when going natural.
Burke helped Watson select the best products for her skin and verified information about the ingredients, like what was organic, what was made with fair trade ingredients, and what had eco-friendly packaging. With each Instagram post shared, Watson supplied details about the brands that made the cut — providing a shopping list to an ostensibly younger generation that cares about natural beauty products.
“Emma had become interested in naturals and organics, which fits with her views on sustainable fashion,” Burke explained when I met her in London. “For a time, she was stopping by weekly to try something different, until the store manager suggested we meet,” she says. “It’s great to meet someone who is as curious and as much of a fan of finding independent brands and natural formulations as I am.”
Burke’s store is a tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it spot in the upmarket Marylebone neighborhood of London. It opened in 2008, before clean and indie beauty shops like Shen, CAP, or Credo had taken up residence in New York City.
“We were six years too early,” Burke says of the current craze for natural beauty, which wasn’t nearly as popular or mainstream when she first opened as it is today.
With Content, Burke sought to bridge the gap in the marketplace between the natural mom-and-pop products lining the shelves of health food stores and the luxury brands at department stores. “There was a retail gap for the several natural and organic lines that had launched around 2007 and 2008,” she says. “No one wanted to take a gamble on them, so I created the store to profile them and give them a retail home.” (Note: the bucket label “natural” has no consistent or standardized definition; Content, rather than stress products that are “chemical free,” emphasizes a lack of synthetic chemicals.)
Another angle Burke has worked to hammer home is that no products are a miracle cure-all, even if they are free of synthetic chemicals. “Our customers and I are smart enough to not buy into the illusion that any one product is going to make them be or feel ‘perfect’,” she says. The store’s “Bye Bye Perfect” campaign is a reflection of that — with the help of customers, all uses of the word “perfect” have been removed from product descriptions.
Another feminist-leaning initiative is Burke’s decision to cover the VAT tax on female sanitary items stocked by Content. “The fact that women get taxed for compulsory bodily functions — it’s crazy,” she explains. “The amount has been reduced from 20% to 5%, but I personally still think this is wrong, so Content pays the VAT amount on the full-priced items and removes the VAT from the purchase price for our customers.”
The tiny shop stocks some of the heavy hitters — you’ll find Tata Harper and RMS have significant shares of real estate — but even more exciting are some of the brands less commonly found stateside (shipping is free to the US, and orders take between five and 14 days to arrive.) If you’re new to natural beauty but interested in shopping your principles, Content makes it easy with a uniquely organized and easily navigable site.
One option: You can “Shop by Ethos,” because, as Burke notes, “We get a very broad cross-section of people shopping for different reasons. It's so important that now we have a badging system on each product, which shows if a product is made locally (GB) Great British Beauty, Vegan (VE), Certified Organic (CO), certified Cruelty Free (CF) or Gluten Free (GF). These are often the most asked about, but actually for me and many others, it goes beyond these, too.”
Below, a list of some of Burke’s favorite brands, and what she likes about each.
Jalue: “‘Icing’ is the next trend is taking hold of the beauty industry,” Burke says, and Jalue’s new-to-Content Ice Therapy takes the mess out of doing it at home. Essentially, sachets of skin-soothing herbs are brewed and then frozen before being applied to the skin in a ritual based on one done by Catherine the Great, the 18th-century Russian monarch.
De Mamiel: “Created by acupuncturist, aromatherapist, and holistic facialist Annee de Mamiel, these products have been created using the ancient principles of Chinese medicine and aromatherapy while applying modern scientific research into how ingredients interact with our bodies,” she explains. All of Annee’s products come with instructions for a corresponding breathing ritual to create a “moment of calm.” Burke names the Pure Calm Cleansing Dew as a hero.
Boucleme: Burke describes Boucleme as “a UK haircare brand that bought co-washing to Europe,” and notes that all of the products look like they belong on the shelves of a vintage candy shop. Try the Curl Cream, which hydrates curly hair and provides gentle hold.
Nuori: “This brand’s mantra is ‘Fresh Is Best,’ and they only let products sit on the shelves for 12 weeks before swapping [them out] for a fresh batch — a practice that’s unprecedented in the skincare market, where long-shelf life products work best for the manufacturer, but not necessarily your skin,” says Burke. She recommends the brand’s Supreme-C serum, which combines a fresh Vitamin C powder with other powerful antioxidants for a brighter complexion.
Therapi Honey Skincare: “This brand is incredibly passionate about natural ingredients being organically grown — for the benefit of both your skin and the planet,” she says. Burke’s favorite is the Orange Blossom Honey Moisturizer, a daily cream fortified with natural ingredients like honey (an antiseptic), calendula (soothing), and sea buckthorn oil (vitamin-rich).
Boobs (yes, it’s called Boobs): “A cross between body oil and a health tracker, the Boobs Essential Oil encourages you to massage your breasts daily, which makes you familiar with them so that you can mentally track any changes,” says Burke.