VIRGINIE MENDELSSOHN FOURCADE
From adolescence onward, women’s hormonal cycles are often accompanied by pain and anxiety which can sometimes have a dramatic effect on their daily lives. Telma co-founder Virginie Mendelssohn Fourcade found herself experiencing health problems at age 22, and has dedicated the last four years to developing a fresh perspective on feminine well-being. Telma 01, the brand's first product, calms anxiety and soothes feminine pain, especially period pains. On the market since December 2022, it has quickly become a wanted product. Let's get to know this astute, innovative young creator, full of admirable tenacity.
A solitary journey
Virginie, now in her early thirties, exudes a serenity which has clearly been won through a long personal journey. She was raised in a family with diverse values and soon found it necessary to free herself from the opposing models that adults sought to impose on her. She has the sense of having grown up "without a definite guideline, disconnected from conventions". As a child, her fragile, blonde physique stood in opposition to her determination and her assertive personality: "I had a playful side, both wilful and watchful". Her free spirit was at odds with the constraints of a school education that didn’t encourage her to develop her creativity. Once she’d passed her Baccalaureat, she decided to study law: "I wanted to become a lawyer and work in intellectual property law". The first few months were not easy. "It was only when I began doing things my own way – deciding for myself, and establishing my own working method, despite the headwinds – that I understood that I could succeed". Virginie opened herself to new experiences, and reconnected with her family’s knack for business by working for friends who had a vineyard. She was passionate about the world of wine and decided, for her Master's degree, to specialise in wine sector law with a view to broadening its reach.
A fighter’s journey
As things turned out, a challenging event disrupted her plans. In the final year of her Master's degree, Virginie experienced severe pain in her legs. Practically unable to stand or to drive, she couldn’t attend classes. The first doctor she saw could find no reason for her pain, and advised her to cut out alcohol, of all things. "I wanted to work in the wine trading sector. How was I supposed to explain to people that I couldn’t drink wine or champagne?" This was the first hurdle. After a series of tests failed to shed any light on the problem, Virginie turned to acupuncture. Persevering despite further disappointments, she finally met the person she now calls her guardian angel: an acupuncturist who, after much searching, discovered the reason for her health issues. The problems were linked to her female hormonal system. "At the time, I had no idea how important the balance of hormones in the cycle is to feminine health".
A unique journey
As if to defy her pain, Virginie juggled with new activities. Eager to diversify her skills, she did her final-year internship at a major Bordeaux wine-making château. When the director of a Paris events agency contacted her about opening an office in Bordeaux, she didn’t hesitate for a moment in accepting this interlude in her studies. And when he developed the concept of London taxi tours of the local vineyards, she sensed that they should develop an offer designed exclusively for women’s business meetings. Seemingly armed with the gift of foresight, Virginie blossomed in her role, developing her intuition, audacity and creativity. Soon, she was travelling from Paris to Dubai, working as a volunteer organiser for the exhibition of a world-famous Swiss artist.
A humanitarian journey
Through various meetings and discussions, a new opportunity emerged. Virginie decided to develop a charitable project in Mauritius, a choice of country that had been carefully thought out. Behind its postcard image, Mauritius is also the birthplace of impressive NGOs which have had a solid and active foundation in the region for many years. "I wanted to build a sustainable humanitarian project with one of these organisations that would meet concrete needs". After a thorough exploration of the island, speaking with dozens of people working with mothers and young children, Virginie selected the NGO Bâtisseurs de Paix. It was a natural fit. For 17 years, the organisation has been caring for the young children to allow their mothers in difficult situations to work serenely… "The project had to produce real benefits." Virginie discovered the Montessori method: "This teaching method was initially developed to help disadvantaged children in low-income areas in Rome, and I thought it would be interesting to integrate it into a humanitarian project". A partnership was established with a Montessori school in Bordeaux; legal statutes and contracts were drawn up, and Montessori materials were made and purchased. Numerous events were held, including a charity gala endorsed by the actress Andréa Ferréol. February 2019 saw the launch of the programme, whose name, Maanaya, comes from mana, the Polynesian symbol of sacred power. And so Virginie, at age 25, found herself the co-founder and president of a humanitarian organisation aimed at sharing the Montessori teaching method with other NGOs in the future. "The more energy I gave to volunteering, the more I healed". To further the success of her initiative, she enrolled in a Master's degree in international business.
A research journey
Virginie’s search for a thesis topic came to a natural conclusion: feminine well-being. In October 2019, following her intuition, she laid the building blocks of Telma on a blank sheet of paper. She did her research, browsing pharmacies and natural health product aisles and meeting with doctors and pharmacists. Virginie soon noticed that teenage girls were using products that had been developed for adults, and that there was nothing on the market designed specifically for their age group. "I realised, however, that teens have a very specific hormonal system, and that it's vulnerable due to temporary periods of excess oestrogen". Virginie also noted that "period pains are the number-one cause of school absenteeism, and a teenage girl is three times more likely to suffer from depression than a teenage boy". She experienced a profound sense of injustice that took her right back to her own teen years. However, she was convinced that a solution could be found. Not in the least intimidated by the scale of the challenge, she threw herself body and soul into her research. "Law taught me to analyse and to understand the importance of backing up every fact". Once the scientific facts were established, a solution could be developed. That solution was aromatherapy, strengthened by an unprecedented premise: the exclusion of plant hormones. "My hypothesis was that it was absolutely necessary to avoid adding hormonal factors to a hormonal problem. A disruptor is a disruptor, whether synthetic or plant-based. As aromatherapy is the strongest form of plant-based therapy, it was necessary to use in the rules of art…" And so, from hypothesis to testing, from testing to exploration, from exploration to creation, and five thousand pages of research later, Telma was created. "I didn’t set out to create a brand or start a company: I’ve never wanted to be an entrepreneur". Once again, life had caught Virginie up in its whirlwind.
A creative journey
After all the research, it was time to write a new score, another family legacy. The development of Telma 01, the brand's first product, adhered to precise specifications: "My training in design thinking allowed me to deepen and broaden the way I innovate. The aim was to calm anxiety and sooth period pain for teens, but the product had to be designed as a whole: I had to think like a teenage girl, consider her parents’ expectations, talk to prescribers and hear their demands. Accept going back to the drawing board, making mistakes, starting over". For Virginie, it was never a question of developing a white-label product with a formula purchased from a catalogue. The Telma 01 formula, a blend of seven high-quality active ingredients, was developed with a Doctor of Pharmacy who has expertise in both aromatherapy and aromachology. Virginie is passionate about the influence odours have on our emotions, and from the outset she attached great importance to Telma 01’s signature fragrance. And she was right to do so: its soothing perfume, in complete harmony with the product, works as a sort of olfactory Proustian madeleine. Owned by Telma the formula adheres to the strictest regulations so as to be adapted for use from the age of 10. Special attention has been paid to the composition of the container and packaging. Virginie imagined a roll-on with a rose-quartz ball, whose lacquered-glass container is manufactured by a company that works with champagne producers. The package is made of FSC cardboard printed with vegetable-based inks. Like a conductor, Virginie orchestrated a variety of audiances around Telma and some remarks challenged her: "I often hear that a product that is good for teenagers must also be good for adult women". She decided to reposition the product and, more broadly, the brand, "to respond to the desire of every woman to find relief, whatever her age". Telma revisited its identity and brand image with the goal of "creating a strong, coherent brand, and a completely independent sphere that breaks away from the traditional hallmarks of feminine well-being". The product is designed to be an essential to carry around with you; a precious object that can be handed down from mother to daughter or offered as a gift from one woman to another.
A bold journey
Launched in 2022 on the winter solstice, Telma 01 is already flying high. After four years of intense work, Virginie has maintained her energy levels, along with her ambition to develop a new feminine lifestyle. Obstacles have shaped the course of her life, and surmounting hurdles breeds creativity. "More than an entrepreneur, I see myself as a builder who leaves as much room for knowledge as for intuition. I like the idea of building something, over the long term, to allow myself to do things well". Like an artist, Virginie advances frame by frame, lets things infuse, takes things apart and puts them together again before making a decision. This is surely the secret to her incredible tenacity. "I’m never happier and more satisfied than when a decision is mine to take". With Maanaya, Virginie found a meaningful outlet for her commitments. Telma takes up the threads of these commitments, and gives meaning to her past challenges. Things have come full circle. Virginie, who used to prefer to remain anonymous, perfectly embodies Telma — which means will in ancient Greek. There’s something magical about the special symbiosis between Telma and Virginie: the opening lines of a story that continues to unfold!
traduction Julie Windebank
© photos : Marie Jonchère / Florence Guillemain (Maanaya)
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