Tell us who you are and your story.
My name is Evelyne Nyairo and I am the founder of Ellie Bianca. I moved from Kenya to Canada when I was 16. Growing up, I always wanted to do something that women traditionally don’t do – that’s why I went into engineering and science. I completed my undergraduate studies in environmental sciences with a biology and chemistry major and eventually started my own engineering company, where we worked on projects worldwide.
During one of my engineering projects, I travelled to Chad in Central Africa. It is a beautiful country, and I felt a strong love and connection with the people there–mainly the women–and was amazed by their rich biodiversity. I was always into healthy living and eating, and I was blown away by the variety of superfoods that are native to their land, like moringa trees, shea trees, cashews, hibiscus flowers and so much more. I also couldn’t help but notice how beautiful the women’s skin were – they were tapping into the power of plants and superfoods all around them.
During that trip, I also saw how much women were unfairly treated. When I was purchasing mangoes, I was told to pay the husband when it was the wife that picked the mangoes for me. This was unfair and wrong, and after my trip, I was motivated to help improve the lives of the women there. As an engineer, I was often the only black woman in the room during management meetings, where I also felt my fair share of inequality and the need to constantly justify myself.
That is when I decided to start my own natural skincare company, Ellie Bianca, where I was able to use my environmental science and chemistry background to create truly natural and sustainable skincare products.
What is Ellie Bianca and what inspired you to start your business?
Ellie Bianca launched in 2015, and we manufacture and distribute natural skincare products that are sustainable, ethically sourced, organic and based in Canada. We mix modern day science along with the power of plants that have been used for centuries by my mother, and other black women in Africa, to create high quality oils for beautiful, glowy skin.
But we also look at beauty as being more than an aesthetic. When my customers invest in their skin with our products, they are also contributing to a better world for women. We use high quality ingredients sourced in an eco-friendly and ethical way, such as our shea butter which financially supports the women in Africa that harvests them.
The name Ellie Bianca is named after my daughter, Eliana. Along with my passion for gender equality, she is one of the reasons why I started my business. I've always been a big believer that young girls can’t be the women they can’t see. I wanted to show them that it’s possible for women to break barriers, we can be resilient, and be comfortable in our beautiful, natural skin. I want to show my daughter that she can achieve anything she wants. And I want to inspire hope for women.
Ellie Bianca is more than just about beauty, but also about being kind to the Earth, kinder to women and empowering women. We are about celebrating women’s inner and outer beauty.
How has your background influenced your business/products?
I’m a chemist and biologist by training, so that is what really drives my products, but I also bring my African heritage into my products by looking at ingredients that have been used in Africa and by my family for centuries. I am passionate about healthy living and eating superfoods, which you will often see featured in our products as well.
For example, our Radiance Serum is made with moringa, marula and squalene derived from amaranthus (something I grew up eating in salads and soups). Based on science, we know that we are born with a very small percentage of squalene (15%) in our bodies, and that amount declines as we age, which is why our skin becomes dull and saggy. Marula is a beautiful emollient that is high in omega-6 and 9, and moringa has many micronutrients. All these ingredients provide powerful antioxidants that will help our skin age with grace.
Shea is another fundamental ingredient in our products, and in Africa, it is also eaten as a fruit, used as an oil in cooking and applied to the skin. It’s known to help with cell renewal and is a natural SPF.
So, I pick ingredients by using science and tapping into the traditional knowledge of my African heritage.
How is your experience as a minority in the natural and organic products industry?
I can tell you that it hasn’t been easy, but I'm strong mentally so I was able to be resilient when I started my business. There were a number of factors–I came from a different industry, not having any existing relationships. So it took time to build connections and I continue to work on them.
People often think that I make products for ethnic people, but that is not true. I often have to educate people about why our products are beneficial to everyone, no matter what your skin colour is.
But I also love the industry because I am passionate about natural health and beauty, and I’ve built amazing relationships as well. I have an amazing partner, Purity Life, which helps with our distribution. During my second CHFA trade show in 2017, Whole Foods came to our booth and decided to put our products on their shelves and they continue to support us till now.
Although there are barriers and hoops that I have to jump through as a black woman, I also see a lot of opportunity. I would love to see more black people represented in our industry and at trade shows. And I hope that by continuing to show up, I can help inspire hope and encourage more black people to start a business in this industry.
What advice would you have for those who are just beginning to start a career or business in this industry?
The first thing is you have to live the talk, and embrace the natural and healthy lifestyle – it doesn’t work if you’re only in it for the money. Secondly, I truly believe that this is the industry to be in because natural skincare, health and wellness is the future. People are starting to realize the importance and benefits of the products we sell.
When I first launched my skin oils, people were skeptical and didn’t believe in putting oils on their face. But now, slowly, oils are becoming more mainstream and people are more open to it.
So, you have to be persistent and look out for the opportunities that exist in our industry even if it’s new and not mainstream.
What is your favorite health food or natural health product(s), and why?
I love elderberry syrup by Suro Organics. Our family believes in it and I’ve been giving it to my daughter ever since she was little. She would take it when she was sick with a cold and it always made her feel better. I also love Canadian flaxseed oil, and add chia seeds and Manitoba Harvest’s hemp seeds to my diet.
Is there an inspirational figure that you look up to?
My parents are my biggest inspirations. When I moved to Canada on my own, my father motivated me to not just be average – he told me to make an impact, make a difference and add value whenever I can.
He passed away a year and a half ago, but I am always reminded of his words, “Make an impact and add value.” When the pandemic started, I knew this was an opportunity for me to add value. We ended up launching our hand sanitizer and have now just launched our liquid hand soaps that everyone is so excited about. The Ellie Bianca hand sanitizers are formulated with hyaluronic acid, food-grade alcohol, aloe vera, and grapefruit essential oil to leave hands nourished and clean. The Ellie Bianca Liquid Hand Soaps are gentle and non-drying and infused with many ultra-hydrating botanic oils to moisturize and cleanse the hands.
My mom, who now lives in the U.S., started a group with other women to help empower and advance women. At a time when women weren’t given a voice or opportunities, she was right there fighting for women’s rights. From her, I learned barriers will always exist, but you can always find a way to break them. Learning from her, we curated a special “Touch of Hope” bundle for the holiday season, featuring our newly launched hand sanitizer and liquid hand soap. The intention was not only to contribute in the fight against the pandemic, but also help bring a single mother one step closer to completing her education as 100% of the proceeds from the sales will go to the Ellie Bianca Woman Scholarship.