Judith Levy and Juliette Couturier, two young 25-year-old entrepreneurs, have developed a skincare range for women suffering from cancer. Their brand, Même, is the first on the market to offer a cosmetics solution to the undesirable effects of cancer treatments on the skin. The formulations are prettily conditioned for these women to have access to beauty products like others. We have met the two initiators of this wonderful project directly related to their own experience.
It is at the headquarters of Même, nestled in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris, that Judith and Juliette welcomed us. Given the ambitious and burdensome nature of the project, we might have expected seasoned, mature women. But behind the door, we actually found two young women. Once we had recovered from our astonishment, it was time to hear about their fairy tale. And not to depart from the rules, it is quite eventful, and there is a powerful wicked witch, cancer.
Once upon a time, Judith …
Judith was the first to talk. For her, it all started as a teenager, when her mother fell seriously ill – a first for the Levy family. ‘I got familiar with this disease when my mother got cancer. There had not been any similar story before in our family,’ she tells. Very quickly, she noticed her mother, usually very appearance-conscious and feminine, bought even more cosmetics and clothes than usual, obviously because ‘it was her own way to conceal the fact that she was ill, so that people did not notice it. It was also a way to fight and keep her spirits up,’ she explains.
That is when Judith understood how important it was for her mother, when she got out of the bathroom, to feel ready to face others’ scrutinizing looks and do her best to prevent them from changing. And yet, finding cosmetics adapted to ill women’s needs was not that simple – even impossible. Judith told us how, many times, her mom found herself ‘powerless at the chemist’s, in the middle of thousands of products, unable to find anything suitable.’
In 2010, when she was just 19, Judith lost her mother, due to the disease.
It was during the last year of her design studies that she imagined Même. She wrote a mémoire (master’s thesis) on femininity during illness, which made her think about a whole beauty product range, with a most feminine, cocooning packaging. At that time, Judith did not have any name for the brand, more like a sort of mantra: ‘even when I am ill, I love myself and people love me.’ On reflection, the word just ‘felt obvious, its sound and meaning worked with all the elements and adjectives that corresponded to the concept,’ Judith specified. Même was born… at least in her mind, since despite the congratulations she received from the jury, and her relatives urging her to launch the project, Judith, ‘not really an entrepreneur through and through’, as she likes putting it, preferred to go work at L’Oréal Luxe for her end-of-year internship.
… and Juliette
Then, it was Juliette’s turn to introduce herself. The disease was also a leitmotiv during her life. She was ten years old when her aunt on her mother’s side learnt she had breast cancer, which is how she got familiar with all the treatment protocols for this disease.
Soon afterwards, Juliette’s other aunt on her mother’s side fell ill too. Unfortunately, she died after six months due to a melanoma.
Juliette revealed almost all women in her circle fell ill. It was during secondary education that, as a student at Sciences-Po and HEC Business School, where she was to get a double degree, her mother’s best friend, to whom she was very close, was diagnosed with colon cancer. And yet, naturally strong and ambitious, Juliette kept going with her studies, doing multiple prestigious internships. She favoured major groups, because she knew ‘it was the best way to learn, if I wanted to found my own company later.’ After gaining some experience at Dior’s and in the United States in the field of cosmetics, Juliette took interest in fashion, but quickly returned to her first passion. One day, she was accepted for an internship at L’Oréal Luxe.
United by fate
Of course, it is when these two complementary personalities met that the Même adventure began. Gathered at L’Oréal Luxe, they only needed three days to start talking: they were both working for two different brands and quickly had to work together to report monthly figures. Juliette glanced at her partner with complicity, mentioning the ‘preliminary lunch before working as a team.’
They ended up talking about their own career paths, and to best illustrate the scope of action of a designer, Judith talked about her brand idea. No doubt that is exactly when the magic happened between the two women. ‘After what Juliette had experienced, my project convinced her straight away’, Judith recalled. ‘We left each other with stars in our eyes. When I got back to my computer, I checked what already existed in that field and whether it was an easy project to develop or not. At 4pm, I called Judith, telling her there was really something to do,’ Juliette explained.
The two girls went on with their internship and worked on the beginnings of Même in the weekend. One month before ending at L’Oréal, in December 2014, again, Juliette suffered a great hardship. ‘One night, my mother came to fetch me. She announced she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was to undergo surgery two days later.’ Fifteen days later, the young woman lost her mother’s best friend. If Juliette had doubts about the Même adventure, the end of that year decided for her. ‘I thought, in my life and Judith’s, there have been too many signs to deny that project.’
Both left L’Oréal in December 2014.
Good fairies keep an eye open for trouble
There is a permanent feature in the Même adventure: they met benevolent people. As soon as the first working days, in January 2015, ‘Judith’s stepmother found a free office at her company for us to work. That is real luxury when you start a project,’ Juliette noticed. After such a good start, the dynamic duo kept working to find a laboratory ready to formulate their products. ‘It is through our contacts that we met the Director of Sud Cosmetics (P&B Group), Laurent Dodet, who was moved by the project and decided to formulate our products without any advance, to give us some time to raise funds,’ Juliette explained.
Then it is the same story repeating: Judith and Juliette used their contacts to meet a whole series of doctors and discuss the list of ingredients to favour or ban in their products (like substances suspected of being endocrine disruptors or certain fragrances containing allergens). Then, Laurent Dodet’s teams spent several months designing the products according to Judith and Juliette’s requirements. Both are unanimous about that: ‘We wanted clean formulas. The formulation phase was to last two months, but it finally took us eight, because we rejected a lot of solutions. Today, we have real clean formulas, and we trust what they contain.’
Things come in threes: in October 2015, through their network, Judith and Juliette met a godmother, a player in the medical world, who was more than aware of the need to offer ill women a cosmetics solution to the secondary effects of chemotherapy and targeted therapies. She decided to commit as an individual.
Given their success, the two creators approached an investment fund to finalize production, perform clinical tests (which took the whole year 2016 at cancer centre Léon Bérard in the French region of Lyon, and private hospital Jean Mermoz in Lyon), and add new members to the team.
And they lived happy…?
The Même online store has been operational since January 31 and offers seven products designed for ill women, for an affordable price.
And yet, Judith and Juliette will not stop after such a good start. Judith explained that ‘nail varnish and a makeup range are under way.’ Juliette added that ‘skincare was the first step. It is important to be able to give these women the possibility to remain so until the very end. Among our next products, there is no doubt there will be a product to redraw the eyebrows. It will be simple in terms of convenience and formulation, and it will be designed specially for them.’
As the interview came to an end, it only remained for them to give us their last word. They agreed on saying that without the other, nothing would have been possible. The looks of complicity they exchange are there to prove it: their friendship is not conventional, it is magic.