There aren’t many founders of skincare brands who credit the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as their biggest inspiration, but then Rebecca Dufour Partanen hasn’t created your average brand with RDP skincare. “I thought I was going to be a diplomat,” Dufour Partanen explains. “I studied political science and economics at university, and during that time I went to Paris to do an internship at UNESCO. At that time the SDGs were a big topic, so I really got a front seat to that whole process,” she says.
Witnessing the formation of the Sustainable Development goals cemented sustainability in Rebecca’s mind as a driving force for her future work. After university, she went to Tokyo to work in politics and economics at the Swedish embassy. “Japanese and Swedish aesthetics are very linked,” says Rebecca, “so I found myself really drawn to design while I was there. I’ve always been a creative person; singing, theatre, and painting were always personal projects I had on the side. So doing that kind of work in Tokyo offered me a chance to kind of transition mentally into a more creative and aesthetic world.”
In 2016, at the end of her time in Tokyo, her boyfriend asked her to move to New York City. “I got a job at a fashion and beauty start-up called The Hunt. Since it was a start-up I was doing a bit of everything; events, writing, operations, you name it. I got really into the beauty industry at that time, spurred very much by this interest in sustainability that I had developed,” says Rebecca. “I had acne as a teenager, and since then I have been really careful about what I put on my skin.”
“My mom was also a big factor in how careful I was about my skincare; she was very mindful of all the ‘crap’ in skincare and beauty products. In my research, I found that there were 11,000 ingredients found in skincare that are considered potentially harmful for the body or environment. Only 1,000 of those ingredients are banned in the EU!” Rebecca notes with incredulity.
This is where Rebecca’s background in sustainability comes in useful, as she really knew what to look for in her search for the brands actually formulating their skincare safely and ethically. She got in touch with chemists and other experts to find out more about making good skincare, as well as why these possibly-harmful elements were being used. In the process, Rebecca dug deeper into the evolution of beauty and skincare.
“In the 1960s and 70s in Europe, the way we use skincare began to change. Before that, it was pretty much just a bar of soap and a jar of cold cream; there was a lot less waste, and less products. I really felt pulled by that ethos,” says Rebecca.
She continues, “It was around that time, in 2016/17, I started thinking about starting my own brand. It was calling to me! I wanted a better, cooler approach to beauty. One of the brands I felt inspired by is the American skincare line Herbivore, and the way they were really doing everything right in terms of formulas, marketing, and production. But I thought, well, why get something shipped from America to Europe when you could just make something locally that’s also really great? So when I moved back to Stockholm in 2018, that’s what I started to do.”
RDP Skincare’s journey began in 2019, with the first launch in September of 2020. Unlike most skincare brands that launch an entire line of products at once, Rebecca made the choice to launch with only one product: a moisturizer. “I wanted to roll out in a way that felt real, slow, and sustainable. And to be honest, it’s really expensive to develop products! And there’s risk every time!” Dufour Partanen exclaims, “So I chose to do one at a time and really focus on each product.”
The result is a top-quality moisturiser that’s made of natural, cruelty-free, vegan ingredients. Even the packaging is thought-through to the last component: it’s made from wood binders rather than plastic, making it entirely biodegradable. The wood comes from sustainably-managed forests in the Nordic region.
As for what’s next, Rebecca says that she won’t be rushed: “I want to stay in the European region, because I think that makes the most sense in terms of sustainable transport. I want to roll out new products slowly, like our cleanser that will be coming out in 2021. And I want people’s skin to feel great! RDP is all about being creative as a brand, being inclusive, and pushing the boundaries of what’s available in Sweden right now. I think that’s pretty exciting.”
She continues, self-deprecatingly, “Look, if you want to make changes in the world and for the environment, buying a sustainably-made moisturizer is not the most important thing you can do. It’s to vote. That said, changing habits and raising awareness about what’s out there in the beauty world is no small task. I think there’s room for all of it.”
Find out more about RDP Skincare.
Portraits of Rebecca Dufour Partanen by Sandy Bergholm. Additional images by Beata Cervin, Carolina Diaz, and Cassandra Rasmussen.