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Sunscreens with a story to tell

One sunscreen's the same as the next, right? Not for these two brands, which are cashing in on our fear of the burn.

One sunscreen's the same as the next, right? Not for these two brands, which are cashing in on our fear of the burn.

Sunscreen is a functional grudge purchase. Buy, apply, reapply, resent. There’s a buck to be made selling it, especially if you can apply your own gimmick to score brand preference.

A cool marketing campaign, a revolutionary formula or a celebrity endorsement can make us more inclined to pick one bottle over another and two homegrown sunscreens are doing just that. Wanaka brand Skinalive and Hawke’s Bay company Skinnies are ditching the bland brands and blue bottles in favour of something that has a few extra bells and whistles.

Grant LawrieThe death of a mate through melanoma was the catalyst for Skinalive owner Grant Lawrie

It was the death of a good surfing mate from melanoma six years ago that prompted Grant Lawrie to get into the sunscreen business.

“Sunscreens out there, they didn’t really cut the mustard, especially with these guys in the water swimming and surfing,” he says.

At the time, there weren’t many good quality sunscreens for surfers on the market in New Zealand, so Grant developed his own – Surfersskin.

It was the first of three brands Grant developed under the Skinalive umbrella. As well as a generic Skinalive range, there’s Snowskin and Golfersskin, too.

The sunscreens share some of the same qualities: they’re non-greasy, they don’t run in your eyes when you sweat, they contain active manuka honey and they’ve got a good amount of moisturiser in them.

But Skinalive’s selling point is that its sunscreen ranges are specially formulated to deal with the different demands of the sports they’ve targeted – it’s not just the same sunscreen in different coloured packaging.

Surfersskin is even more waterproof than the others, so it stays on in the water, Snowskin has higher UV protection to compensate for closer proximity to the sun when you’re at altitude and Golfersskin is extra non-greasy, so you can continue to keep a good grip on your clubs.

However, it’s offshore, not here at home in New Zealand, that the Skinalive brands are really taking off.

As far as Grant’s aware, there are no other New Zealand-made sunscreens on sale in the ultra-competitive US market and they have a presence in Europe as well.

Branching out into these new markets has been a time consuming process. The products have to undergo testing to make sure they conform to the different sunscreen regulations and standards in each region, before they can go on sale, Grant says.

This process took 12 to 18 months in Europe, and FDA approvals in the US took another six to eight months.

But it’s all been made easier by the expat Kiwis who have helped Skinalive break into these lucrative markets. Their man in Europe left New Zealand a couple of decades ago, setting up his own surf distribution company on the continent, Grant says.

“He’s still got a house here in the Coromandel, so he’d seen our products over here and approached us with the opportunity of taking the products to Europe.”

Skinalive’s man in Europe just so happens to have a son in the US, who was also keen to get on board.

“[He] was really keen to be our armoury I suppose over there. One thing led to another and he approached us with a marketing proposal for taking it into the States,” Grant says.

“It was quite a complex process but to have somebody on the ground in the States that we know and trust is quite valuable.”

It’s been a success so far. Ninety players on the US PGA Tour use the Golfersskin products, and the brands have attracted a number of high-profile endorsements, including one of the world’s most recognised snowboarders, Travis Rice, and pro-surfer Alan Stokes.

“When people buy sunscreen, they buy brands that they trust, so then using trusted sports people, it helps us along in those markets,” Grant says.

The next challenge is how to build the brand further.

“The US, for example, is such a large market. We’ve only been in there our first season, but the growth potential is massive.”

Olly and Martha Van Arts

Olly and Martha Van Arts came from advertising and environmental engineering backgrounds, and in recent times have turned to making Skinnies

Hawke’s Bay couple Martha and Olly Van Arts never imagined they’d be making sunscreen – Martha’s got a Masters in environmental engineering and Olly runs an ad agency, Van Arts & Co.

But they’re the brains behind Skinnies, a sunscreen brand born when fair-skinned Olly got fed up with applying the greasy white stuff every time he went out to do some gardening, Martha says.

“He was in the kitchen, walked past the pump bottle on the bench and put it on his hands and thought, there’s got to be an alternative to this.”

So Martha and Olly hit the books and did some research. They found a manufacturer in Wellington who’d been working on a water-less sunscreen formulation off and on for about 20 years. Marths says they got a sample, really liked it and boom, nine months and nearly

$100,000 later, Skinnies is now on the market.

“It’s actually been really tight, really compressed. We’ve just got in and done it and said right, we need to be ready for this summer.”

Skinnies comes in an aesthetically pleasing small brown tube and the brand’s catch cry, ‘a little goes a long way’, is seeking to change the way we think about sunscreen.

It’s got no water in it, only a handful of ingredients, and the gel base formulation means you don’t have to slather yourself with it, Martha says.

“You put a little bit on, it absorbs into your skin and you use it thoroughly and sparingly.”

Hence the brand’s catch cry and the small tube.

Skinnies’ ultra-stickiness means two things for the average sunscreen user: you don’t have to apply as much of it as you would ordinary sunscreen and you don’t have to reapply it as often, making it both time and cost efficient.

But it’s the fun tongue-in-cheek humour that makes Skinnies a cool brand, Martha says.

“We want to establish ourselves, establish the brand, blossom some cool marketing stunts and get out there.”

Martha thinks Skinnies’ novel branding is making people sit up and take notice. There’s nothing like a brown tube, a website laden with slightly awkward humour and brand ambassadors modelling cringe-worthy summer fashions to tempt the credit card from your wallet.

It’s from their online store that Skinnies does most of its business, Martha says.

“The online store is a great way to get Skinnies out there without having to have our own shops, or significant retail distribution, especially while we’re establishing the brand.”

There are a few retail outlets stocking Skinnies and Martha says they’re in negotiations for retail supply up and down the country.

They’re looking at branching into the Australian market next season, with the US, Asia and Europe in the five-year plan. Although Skinnies has only been on the market since September, Martha says the response has been great so far.

“One of the really nice things is the feedback we’re getting on the marketing and on the product, actually having people send us email and say, ‘I used it on my four-year-old with eczema’ or ‘I have been working all day and I had it on for 8 hours and it worked a treat’.”