The FEKKAI Life: Kim Paschen, Leaping Bunny Program Manager

I am a celebrity hairstylist, an entrepreneur, and a philanthropist who’s built my brand on taking care of others, body, hair, and soul. Join me weekly for The FEKKAI Life, a series of relaxed, intimate conversations with free thinkers, business leaders, and creatives who’ve used their passion to change the world for the better.  Available wherever you find your podcasts.

Frédéric Fekkai: Hi, I'm Frédéric Fekkai and welcome to The FEKKAI Life, a podcast about some of the most impactful causes of our time and the creative minds that power them.

Kim Paschen: My name is Kim Paschen. I'm the program manager of the Leaping Bunny program. For me, clean living means being kind. I want to be kind to the earth, to myself, to others, and to those that have no voice. For me, working on Leaping Bunny is really important in this guiding principle because I'm helping animals every day by ensuring that the companies we certify are free of animal testing at all stages of product development. In addition, on a personal level, clean living means eating whole foods, getting plenty of fresh air, getting lots of sleep, limiting beers to maybe one or two a week, and just really embracing the every day and appreciating what I have in the moment.

FF: To explore a new, exciting future for beauty without harming animals, we are speaking to Kim Paschen, the program manager at Leaping Bunny, which as many people know is the gold standard in cruelty-free.

FF: First, I want to say I'm so delighted and honored to have you, Kim, on my FEKKAI Life podcast. It's truly a pleasure to have you, and I'm so excited to hear. I'll be honest with you, I want to know so much about how you got into this great organization and I want to obviously to make sure that our audience hear your perspective and why this Leaping Bunny exists and what does it do to us, retailers, manufacturers, and also to the consumer. Welcome!

KP: Thank you so much for having me. It's an honor to be here and to be talking about our program and about your brand. So I, I really appreciate it.

FF: I know the Leaping Bunny is recognized in the US, but it's true that we have to make an effort every time to explain to our consumer, even our staff, what this Leaping Bunny means. So please do.

KP: So Leaping Bunny has been around since 1996. At that time, there was a lot of confusion with labeling, companies were slapping logos and claims about being free of animal testing on pretty much anything they wanted to without having to substantiate those claims. Right now there's no legislation in the us that requires companies to provide proof that they are in fact cruelty-free. So it was really misleading for consumers. And in 1996, a coalition of eight different animal protection organizations from the US and Canada banded together to create what's called the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics or CCIC. And that's a mouthful. So usually we just go by Leaping Bunny and everyone understands that because it corresponds directly to our logo, but CCIC is the coalition that actually operates the Leaping Bunny program. And I have been working on Leaping Bunny for about 10 years. I'm actually an employee of the American Anti-Vivisection Society, which is another mouthful, but AAVS is the chair of the Leaping Bunny program. And we basically run the day-to-day operations with input then from the other coalition members, which include organizations from both Canada and the United States. And then we have an international partner in the EU that's called Cruelty-Free International, and they manage the brands outside of the US and Canada. And we use the same Leaping Bunny logo. And so this logo is actually, it's a image that represents a standard that we've developed. We publish it on our website and it's a standard that all companies and manufacturers and suppliers must adhere to in order for a company to be certified and be listed with us.

FF: I was trying to figure out, when we were selling our product in the UK, certain countries in Europe, correct me if I'm wrong, but don't allow the symbol in the product. But then we looked a little bit closer and we saw that actually, some company still have the Leaping Bunny on their bottle. So, what's that confusion about?

KP: So in the EU, because of the EU cosmetics directive that went through a phase of integration into the EU, the final stage was the marketing ban. And it basically it allows for a third party certifier like Leaping Bunny to have its logo on companies that are certified and their products, but they are not allowed to use wording like cruelty-free or no animal testing, because that would infer that other companies that may not be certified, wouldn't be cruelty-free. And because of this EU cosmetics directive, there are very strict regulations in place, in the EU for cosmetics and their formulations and ingredients with regard to animal testing. And when I say cosmetics, I do mean cosmetics and personal care products.

FF: Right. So this is a segue to actually a question about, is there any companies in our industry, in our cosmetic and beauty industry and personal care, are there any company out there that do test on animals? I thought this was already a history from the past, and that was not present today. Is it happening still?

KP: Most testing is done at the ingredient level. So if a company, for example, wanted to introduce a new ingredient, it could be tested on, a lot of times, there's testing due to interactions with other ingredients. And so it is definitely still going on, it's happening when a company wants to register and sell in mainland China right now, any imported cosmetics or personal care products must undergo a registration process that does include a battery of animal tests. So it definitely still is happening. It may not always be for the primary purposes of cosmetics, but as you can probably imagine, ingredients are often used across industries. And so another industry might require testing for its purposes.

FF: Something that I admire about the Leaping Bunny is a quest for a better world, and that's what you do. And one that's fairer to animals and more conscientious about what goes into our products. That's a mission we at FEKKAI know well and we are really proud of that. And thank you for having certified us. How has the impact Leaping Bunny has made on the world grown from when it was first imagined? What drives it?

KP: Well when Leaping Bunny was first envisioned back in 1996, certainly things were...it was the Wild West in terms of labeling and rules. And there was much more animal testing occurring at that time. There was also a completely different industry back then. Green beauty was in its infancy. There certainly was no indie beauty to speak of, and social media did not exist, which obviously spreads both of those and creates brand recognition and is a major driver in the expansive nature of these companies that are blossoming each and every day on the marketplace. So it was a very select group of companies that were sort of the renegades doing the cruelty-free thing back then. But what we've seen over the last 20 plus years is exponential growth in the industry. Companies are able to source their materials and their formulations from suppliers and manufacturers that are not animal testing. And that has obviously driven the number of companies that are Leaping Bunny certified up and up and up. And in fact, we have many of our companies that will stop using a manufacturer or supplier if they find out that they are animal testing. And so the more these companies like yours say, no, I'm not going to use ingredients or formulations in my products that have been tested on animals that in turn forces, these manufacturers and suppliers to make a change. And so while we still have challenges with regard to animal testing today, we've seen a lot of companies transition away from animal testing in favor of non-animal methods. And at the same time we've seen just explosive growth in the number of companies that are in fact, cruelty-free.

FF: You know, that actually hit me with one experience we had in our company that challenges what we thought we were completely cruelty-free. We realized that the one ingredient was actually jeopardizing and we had to obviously eliminate that. So in that regard, you know, many people know the term cruelty-free, but aren't aware what the full scope of animal testing is. Did you have a moment when it hit you how many things requires animals or animal testing, and what was that like for you?

KP: Well, when I first started working on the Leaping Bunny program, back in 2010, I did a really quick survey of all of the products in my house. And I specifically was concentrating on my cleaning products, and I just couldn't believe the number of brands that I had purchased that we're not Leaping Bunny certified, obviously back in 2010, that were a lot less companies on our list that were certified, but still, I was pretty shocked to see that when I was cleaning my house, I was actually in some way making it more toxic because of all the chemicals that I was using. And I, pretty quickly after starting work at Leaping Bunny, started using all of our products and found they were just as effective if not more so, and I felt much better about using them in my house. I have two cats and it really hit home with them because they're the ones walking all around on the surfaces and grooming and I didn't want to expose them any more than I wanted to expose me. So in the realm of cleaning products, that was really a big moment for me.

FF: Have there been any resources you find impactful when it comes to better understanding how our cosmetics are produced and can you share them with us?

KP: So the Leaping Bunny program, we focus solely on our certification to the public with regard to the companies that are applying, like FEKKAI for example. So that's what the public sees. So we put out our list every year and that can be found on our website and it can also be found on our free cruelty-free app. And we have that for both iPhones and Androids. And it's basically a list that you can take on the go with all of our updated companies that are free of animal testing at all stages of product development. So that's a really great tool. We also do what's called an annual recommitment, and that requires every one of our companies each year to basically go through the process in an abbreviated way to make sure that all of their information, all of their suppliers and manufacturers are up to date because those things can change from year to year and to make sure that they're not engaging in practices that might threaten their cruelty-free commitment, like selling in China. And so each company must go through that every year. And if they do not, then we do remove them from our list. We have a public list on our website, which details companies that have recommitted each year and one set have been removed. And so we are the only cruelty-free certification program to undertake this enormous task because we have over 1,900 certified companies on our list at this point. And my two colleagues are incredible. They follow up with companies to make sure that all new declarations are signed, if that is what's needed, but they really are the ones responsible for making sure that when you see our list on our website, it is the most up to date list out there on the internet for cruelty-free companies.

FF: If a company today has the Leaping Bunny certified and then decide to sell in China or some country where there is testing on animals, what happens then?

KP: Well, right now we're not allowing any of our companies to stay on our list if they are registering and selling in mainland China. So they would need to be removed from our list unless there was some sort of misunderstanding with the distributor. And there was proof that could be shown that, you know, they had pulled out or something, that would be on a case-by-case basis. But right now, the only entry into China is through cross border e-commerce. In terms of avoiding animal testing, we are extremely vigilant about the China situation. There was a new set of regulations that came out in July, it's called the CSAR. And it's basically a brand new set of rules and regulations developed by the Chinese government, which will direct companies in terms of selling, importing, labeling testing, all of that for going into China. And the final draft has not yet been published, but we are continuously monitoring the situation. We have people on the ground in China that are monitoring the situation. And we are optimistic. We do hope that one day our brands can enter China register and go through the process, sell to Chinese consumers that clearly want to buy the brands and no animals will be harmed in the process.

FF: You know, it's interesting because you're touching a real breaking news, basically, China has announced that they would stop animal testing in 2021. I'm not sure which quarter, but that that's, I don't want to say a rumor, but it's basically announced officially. So that should be an exciting thing. How can our audience learn more about Leaping Bunny and connect with you?

KP: I already mentioned our app, which is a free download and the other really, it's actually really a fun way to engage with us through social media, is to follow us on Facebook and Instagram. We run giveaways on the regular with our companies, and there are some amazing giveaways out there from our companies. And it's a pretty easy to get involved just by following the company and learning about them that way. And then we also have every week what's called our bunny brief on social media, where we quickly interview a company for just maybe five to seven questions. And it's just a real quick and easy way to get to know a company just through looking on our regular posts. And we also do, and I do believe you've maybe taken advantage of this already, we've done Instagram stories takeovers, and we do those several times a week where a brand takes over our Instagram stories channel and posts their own content and links to their website and offers a special promo code. And so followers on Instagram can then learn a little bit more about the brand in their own voice

FF: In our industry, beauty and personal care, which categories you would segment that has the most certified Leaping Bunny?

KP: The number one category is skincare. At this point, there's just an amazing amount of skincare. And the staff of Leaping Bunny does a lot of product reviews. We have a blog on our website, we have an e-newsletter that you could subscribe to where we do product reviews. In fact, I believe we actually reviewed a couple of your products in our August issue. So you might want to have a look at that. They were favorable! Skincare is the biggest one. And I feel incredibly lucky that I get to try so many amazing products from these cruelty-free companies.

FF: You know, when I bought my company, my namesake company, FEKKAI, I wanted to really make a relevant and company and be a pioneer, if I could say, about bringing to the consumer product that will be safe, that we call "clean" formula and, you know, it will be only better and better as we go. And I wanted to make sure that we have an impact also on our environment and to be as sustainable as possible. Our challenge, myself, my team, to make sure that we try to use the best technology, the best natural resource out there to be as biodegradable as possible. And one of the things that was important to me is to make sure that we live as an example, so cruelty-free and being Leaping Bunny certified was certainly a search for us, a desire to have. We worked hard for it. And thank you for certifying us. And I thought it was important that brands like us, you know, consumer group brand show an example, and bring to the consumer the attention about how to live better, how to live simply. You know, my life has been always, not always, but certainly evolved in a way of trying to be as clean as possible. The choice of the ingredients we eat, the packaging, everything around us, everything that we can do to help being healthier, cleaner, and sustainable. Kim, I would love to know, uh, how would you be able to entice brands in general to become cruelty-free or to be aware of cruelty-free and to facilitate their program.

KP: So to become Leaping Bunny certified, it's actually free of charge, and we do not go out and try to get brands onto our list. We really leave it up to the brands and it's their choice if they want to become certified or not. I think it's really important as you alluded to in your conversation with me about starting out and really baking that in from the get-go and having a brand be cruelty-free, choosing cruelty-free suppliers and manufacturers at the outset, it's much easier to get those people on board, understand what you're trying to do in making your brand become a reality. And then it's something that trickles down in the culture of your company, so that, you know, as you grow formulators and people, brand managers, and R&D people all are aware of the principles that are very important to you when you started the company

FF: One that's always close to my heart, I ask many people, is that when there is a good action to be taken toward the way of life, the environment, all of this, as I said, so how do we present this to the education, to the school system, to make sure that you start very young to be ingrained and to have this movement to be part of their life?

KP: Well, I think nowadays with social media being so widespread and all of these different channels that are available to younger people, I believe that the message will actually spread itself. Because the way that, for example, I was informed about brands was pretty much through magazine ads or television ads. And nowadays there's so much more interaction from brands to consumers through all of these different media. And it's an opportunity for people to engage with the brands directly to learn more. And frankly, the ubiquity of all of these brands really makes it easy for people to make better choices nowadays so that animal testing really is an antiquated thing of the past.

FF: Great. So Kim, tell me, I want to know what's next for you and for the Leaping Bunny.

KP: Well, right now we're focusing on launching a brand new website. We hope to launch that a little bit later this year, probably late October, early November, and we're also paying very, very close to the China issue. We do hope in 2021, to be able to have some brands that are Leaping Bunny certified by us enter into China, avoiding the animal testing. And of course we're always following legislation. There's the Humane Cosmetics Act that's currently waiting to be heard, and that would abolish animal testing in the US, so we're constantly monitoring that as well. And hoping that our companies get engaged to talk to their representatives about supporting that bill.

FF: I'm so inspired by Leaping Bunny's vision of a future without animal testing. From recycled materials to clean formula, the beauty industry is journeying together to hold to a higher standard. And that's an example set by the work of groups like Leaping Bunny. There are more wonderful and inspiring conversation to come. And I really want to see you there.

Follow Frédéric Fekkai on Instagram and LinkedIn.

Follow FEKKAI on Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and Facebook.

Subscribe to The FEKKAI Life podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify

Additional Blog Posts

The FEKKAI Life: Urmila Ratnam, CEO and President of Alima Pure

The FEKKAI Life: Urmila Ratnam, CEO and President of Alima Pure

In a beauty industry that grows more competitive every day, the brands that stand apart are those driven by their values.Frédéric Fekkai speaks with Urmila Ratnam, CEO and President of Alima Pure, a natural beauty line dedicated to sustainability, inclusivity, and feeling good about yourself. The vision that Urmila has for a beauty industry without compromise has the potential to shape our culture forever.

Read more