Antoine Ducos (SKEMA 1987) - APO soap, happy planet!

29 May 2021

At 50+, Antoine Ducos, a SKEMA Business School alumnus and the founder of Ellipse, a benchmark in the field of body hygiene, is taking on a new professional challenge with APO. Behind this new brand, championing the use of organic soaps and shampoos, is a commendable desire to leave the world cleaner than it is today.

Sometimes you have to lose something to gain more in return. “Lose a quid and find a fiver”, as the British saying goes. That’s what happened to Antoine Ducos. In 2018, after 18 months of audits, negotiations and forecasts, the sale of the soap factory this entrepreneur from Flanders had his heart set on fell through suddenly, just as the deal was about to be finalised. Infuriating! But a few weeks later, as he was getting over his disappointment, this Class of 1987 alumnus from SKEMA Business School (it was still called ESC Lille at the time) met a second soap maker, Romuald. According to Antoine, “A passionate craftsman with an unusual profile”. “Since he couldn’t find soaps up to his standards in shops, this chemist from the pharmaceutical industry started making his own using cold saponification, the most natural method there is. He enjoyed it so much that he ended up leaving the laboratory that employed him, to set up his own little soapmaking studio.”

This time, things fell into place! The two men discovered they had things in common: they are both proudly from Lille, champions of organic products, and fathers who care about the planet they will be leaving their children. They also share an ambition: to develop eco-friendly cosmetics and make them affordable to as many people as possible. To achieve it, they decided to combine their respective areas of expertise, since these complement each other perfectly. While Romuald knows how to formulate extremely natural products, Antoine is unbeatable when it comes to scaling up processes and boosting sales. Antoine is no stranger to the world of cosmetics and body hygiene. Especially in the mass retail sector, with which he has been doing business for many years. “Behind Ellipse, the company I started in 1992, you can find the vast majority of dental hygiene and shaving products French supermarket chains sell under their own brand names.

For the body… and the planet

Now, Antoine Ducos is at the helm of a new company. Its name? APO. “People often wrongly assume that it’s an acronym. In fact, it’s an extract from the word “saponification” and a tribute to the apothecaries of old.” This SME from the north of France is still small compared to its big sister, Ellipse. But it’s already off to a promising start. “All you need to do is look at my children’s reaction,” Antoine says with a smile.They are much more interested in this adventure than in any of my previous successes.” No doubt because it’s fully aligned with one of the priorities of the younger generation. Launched in 2019, the brand is built around a powerful idea: environment conservation.

APO is not just organic; our commitment to the environment goes much further. The premises are ecologically designed with timber cladding, geothermal energy, solar panels, and rainwater harvesting. We only sell solid cosmetics, to avoid consuming and transporting water. The packaging is kept to a strict minimum. Our formulations are 100% natural. Made in France is a must, and we sell through a combination of direct sales, wholesale networks, and local retailers. For all that, we are not a social activist company. We have no desire to lecture or preach to anyone. We are simply extending a friendly and positive invitation to transition towards responsible consumption. And we are doing that with as much honesty as possible.


The new search for meaning

It’s a well-known fact that honesty always pays in the end. And that is certainly true for APO. Despite the COVID pandemic affecting its deployment, the young company’s beginnings have been more than encouraging. The media are swooning over its philosophy and consumers over its products, including dry shampoo, multi-purpose solid cream, soaps, toothpaste tablets, replaceable head toothbrushes... The range contains around twenty products already and will be growing over the coming months, with the addition of a solid deodorant and a beard soap. “Items that are becoming increasingly popular,” Antoine rejoices. “This shows without a doubt that French households are really becoming more conscious. And this is a generalised trend. The evolution of mass retail is proof of this: curious about our approach and encouraged by their customers, they are increasingly sharing our vision of the industry. Ellipse has just started making Carrefour’s first replaceable head toothbrushes. And other projects are in the pipeline.

Antoine Ducos is convinced that nothing can stop this search for meaning that is guiding more and more professionals. In fact, the new generation is really going to speed it up. “This was confirmed to me again recently when I spoke at the SKEMA Social Ventures Summit, organised by SKEMA on the theme of social of entrepreneurship: students are arriving on the job market with fresh ideas. Their outlook has really changed compared to my classmates’ and mine when we were studying. I remember that all we thought about was building a career and for that we only envisioned working in major corporations with prestigious names. Young graduates don’t necessarily think that way anymore; they think more broadly in terms of a life plan. Now more mature, better informed about the challenges of the future, and supported by their teachers and their parents, who embrace their societal aspirations, their ambitions are guided by ethical values and they don’t shy away from defending these, particularly as they chime with the zeitgeist. The world is more open than ever to sustainable development. All industries are making the transition and never before have there been so many possibilities. So, if I had just one piece of advice to give those who are attending the SKEMA campuses thirty years after me, it’s to really make the most of it and make your dreams a reality.

Contact: Antoine Ducos, CEO and founder of APO France & President and co-founder of Ellipse 

Portrait piece by Jerome Dumur