I’ve always loved L’Occitane beauty products, so when an opportunity arose to visit the factory in Provence on a recent trip, I went. Set near the hamlet of Manosque, Provence, the headquarters includes a store, museum, factory, and Mediterranean garden.
We were too late to catch the 10am factory tour in english, so we opted to just tour the museum, which displays the herbs and products as well as old machinery, and runs films that provide info about various L’Occitane products, the Provençal ingredients that make the creams and perfumes famous worldwide, and the company’s sustainable development programs.
L’Occitane means ‘The Occitane Woman,’ named for the women of Occitane, an area that existed during the middle ages, once spanning the South of France, North-Eastern Spain, and Northern Italy.
The company was established in 1976 by twenty-three year old Olivier Baussan. Baussan used traditional methods of steam distillation to produce essential oil from wild rosemary and lavender. Oliver began selling his product at the local markets. Shortly after, he found an unused soap factory in Manosque, where he began manufacturing vegetable based soaps, reviving he traditional art of Marseille soap making.
Ten years later, L’Occitane had its first lavender harvest, and in 1981 Baussan had his own store and started to explore the world for other ingredients. He discovered Burkina Faso, Africa, where the women produced Shea butter. Realizing the immense nourishing qualities of Shea, he ordered a large quantity for the factory in Provence and so began the unique relationship between L’Occitane and Burkina Faso.
By 1997 L’Occitane became one of the first companies in the world to feature Braille labeling on its products. In 2001 it partnered with ORBIS, an international NGO that fights blindness. Five years later, L’Occitane En Provence was created to support the blind and help the economic emancipation of women, adn over the following years would partner with Aide et Action to support women’s literary enters in Burkina Faso.
Today, L’Occitane En Provence products continue to to be developed from its base in Manosque, sourcing the majority of its production from Provence apart form I’Immortelle plants which come from Corsica. The company supports cultivation of almond trees in Provence, the development scented and aromatic plants, encouraging traditional cultivation, particularly of lavender. There’s no animal testing or animal by-product, save for bee-hive products used in manufacturing.
In 2013 the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), recognized L’Occitane En Provence as an exemplary company, with the framework of its 2013 growing inclusive markets initiative.
Every two years, the L’Occitane Foundation rewards an ophthalmologist for his/her work in the fight against blindness.
Today, L’Occitane En Provence has over two-thousand stores in over ninety countries across the world.
After the museum we spent over an hour in the store. It was easy to fill my basket with creams and perfumes. The packaging is beautiful and the ingredients have stood the test of time. But it’s not just pretty packaging, L’Occitane En Provence proves there can be both integrity and success in business. I believe that the twenty-three year old Oliver Baussan knew this even during his humble beginnings selling essential oil at the markets, which is why he went on to make the world a better and more beautiful place with his products.