The world’s quarantine has changed our habits. For some of us, we wear less makeup, and our skin is less stressed by everyday pollutants. Interestingly, we finally have the time to research and the collective urgency to turn to black-owned, accessible, and sustainable brands. These three elements are not insignificant. Nebedai Skincare founded by Safi Tshinsele-Van Bellingen, offers a range of products that meet this criteria. Nebedai products are certified natural, cruelty-free, gluten-free, and fragrance-free. The breakthrough brand provides a range of natural and non-toxic treatments and with maximum nourishing capacities. Its superstar ingredient, Moringa, adapts to all skin types and all skin pigments while respecting the most sensitive of needs. By choosing this high-power plant to amplify its natural characteristics, Nebedai targets ones individual peculiarities with absolute strength.
Meet the Founder of Nebedai Skincare
Originally from Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Safi Tshinsele-Van Bellingen grew up between Europe and Africa. She obtained a Master’s degree in Media and Sociology from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Based in Dakar, Senegal, she founded her label called Nebedai, which means ‘’never die’ in Wolof, with the ambition of shaking up the beauty industry by using innovative and powerful plants from her continent. The founder wants to democratize the use of the super-plant Moringa so that all can benefit. Created in 2018, Nebedai is one of the skincare brands we all need to know. Furthermore, it’s excellence reminds us that ‘Made in Africa’ is also a guarantee of quality.
(Pictured: Founder of Nebedai, Tshinsele-Van Bellingen)
For All the Pretty Birds, Tshinsele-Van Bellingen looks back on the ups and downs of creating a skincare brand in Africa, breaks black cultural ideas that feed misconceptions about skincare, and her desire to make Moringa democratic, but not too early. Plus, her recommendations for keeping our skin hydrated during winter.
In Conversation with Safi Tshinsele-Van Bellingen
Amanda Winnie Kabuiku: How did you get your start in the skincare industry? When did you realize becoming the founder and owner of a skincare brand was your calling?
Safi Tshinsele-Van Bellingen: I started to work in the skincare industry about two years ago when I stumbled upon the plant of Moringa in Senegal. At eight years old, I already had big dreams, and I felt I would do something different from my peers, but I didn’t know how or what I would become. At 23 years old I discovered my calling was to be an entrepreneur. I’m interested in so many things ranging from music to design to new technology to politics and so on. Therefore, I was happy to venture into different industries, and it happened that I organically found an opportunity in the beauty industry.
AWK: There are several misconceptions about Black women and the beauty industry; many products are not compatible with black skin types. What are the biggest misconceptions about black skin that you have come across? Is there anything that you’ve learned further as you built your business?
STVB: The beauty about skincare is that it is not as incompatible between skin tones and gender as makeup, hair, or fragrance. Some skin tones might experience some specific concerns. Overall most skin colors have the same issues: hyperpigmentation, acne, lack of hydration… Skincare is inclusive in the sense that you shouldn’t have to target so much according to skin tone, gender, or even age. As I build my business, I’m learning more about the skincare industry in general, the downside of some products, and some plants’ benefits.
(Image courtesy of Nebedai)
AWK: What’s the biggest misconception from non-BIPOC brands about black skin playing into the skincare industry, and how do you hope to change that? What are the main demands of your customers when it comes to skincare?
STVB: I’m not sure what is the biggest misconception, but perhaps it’s the fact that non-BIPOC brands might think the black market is homogenous. While there are various trends, generally, people are looking to alleviate any skin issues they might have or finding products to enhance their skin.
AWK: Moringa oil has both moisturizing and antiseptic properties. How were you introduced to this extraordinary resource? Where did the idea come from to create your first line around this plant?
STVB: I discovered Moringa in Senegal. I randomly bought moringa oil and used it to heal a scar. I was astonished by the results and started to read and learn more about the plant. The fact that Moringa was a power plant, yet it was not well known worldwide, surprised me; That’s why I decided to create Nebedai: to highlight robust plants coming from Africa. From that idea, I decided to develop each line around one high-potency plant, the first line being around Moringa oil.
(Image courtesy of Nebedai)
AWK: Created in 2018, Nebedai is still a young brand, but you do not hesitate to put a point of honor to anchor your processes in a traditional approach. A willingness to do something new with what has always worked for centuries. How has your return to Africa influenced the traditional approach?
STVB: It’s more related to my lifestyle: I’ve always had this approach to eat healthily, I love nature and living in harmony with my environment. As I grow up, what I already liked becomes more defined, so I feel like the traditional approach with a twist of modernity is just an expression of who I am already.
AWK: What are two things we should do to care for our skin in the winter and through the quarantine? How are you practicing self-care during this highly stressful time?
STVB: During winter, hydration is even more essential. You should use more water-based products (moisturizer, toner, mist) and lock-in the moisture with oil as your skin might feel tighter during dry seasons. Personally, 2020 wasn’t a bad year for me, while 2019 was a tough one. But whenever I feel stressed, I try to pray more to leave all my worries to God, and I also enjoy pampering myself by having a massage at a spa, for example. We don’t know what tomorrow will be made of because we don’t have control over the future, so I try to focus more on the present, and I avoid making too many plans.
AWK: You’re a black-owned, female-led business based in Africa. You combine many aspects that are accompanied by further nuance. What was your first experience as a black woman in the beauty industry? Why was it impossible for Nebedai to be born anywhere but Senegal?
STVB: For me, the experience was more as an entrepreneur. I had to learn how to say no. When I started, I had many people giving me unwanted advice while they never launched their own company or pretended to help while they wanted something from me. But this is the beauty of starting your own business, and it builds your character. I wouldn’t say it was impossible to launch Nebedai anywhere but Senegal; but if it weren’t in Senegal, the brand name would probably not be Nebedai, and I might not have used Moringa. Senegal is a great country, moving forward very fast; the government is stable and has both the flexibility to make a start-up flourish and the economic and political reliability.
AWK: Many brands, including the Nigerian-based Opara Skincare, the Sustainable Californian Tata Harper, or the eco-luxury skincare African Botanics, contain the same natural ingredients as Nebedai, yet the prices are relatively high. How do you manage to keep the quality at prices rather friendly and adapted to every budget?
STVB: I guess it is due to the intention and the position on the market. It was evident that my purpose was to create quality products but at a democratic price. It is possible; you just need to work hard to maximize quality and work on your costs. When African brands sell quality, it is usually positioned as a luxury, and you can also notice this trend with clothing. Luxury is good, nothing wrong with it, but I believe African brands should also make products on all price ranges: low, medium, and high.
(Image courtesy of Nebedai)
AWK: There are many trends, and every year, a star oil makes the headlines of the women’s press, as was the case of coconut oil today demonized by the same media who made it famous. Moringa oil remains quite discreet; why do you think it is not more popular? Do you believe this might relate to its African origin?
STVB: I don’t think Moringa oil is not popular because of its African origin. Argan oil became very popular and is from Morocco. And in fact, Moringa also grows in India and some South American countries, not only in Africa. I think the popularity of Moringa is just a matter of time; not enough people have heard about the oil yet, so it remains quiet, which is good for Nebedai. Once it becomes widespread, every brand will use it, but by that time, we will have already diversified our brand and become a reference to quality skincare products made of Moringa.
AWK: What are the benefits of producing mainly in Africa? Regarding certifications, what are the criteria for production primarily in Africa to enter the Western market?
STVB: The main benefits of manufacturing in Africa are being surrounded by rich biodiversity, which is essential to discover new plants and developing the beauty industry ‘Made in Africa’. In the West, the market with the most regulation to enter a product in the European market. Once you have all the regulations to sell in that market, other countries like the US are easy to export. A product made in a country in Africa or a product made in Europe has almost the same requirements. The products should undergo some safety testing made in a laboratory, be notified on the European cosmetic portal, and have a European address for the person responsible for importing the goods. It is not too complicated, but it is just a matter of following the exact requirements and, of course, not using banned ingredients.
Editor’s Note: “Thank you to Safi and her team at Nebedai for sharing the origins of the brand. We love their innovation utilizing super plants like Moringa and paying homage to Senegal. As always, we’re thrilled to share emerging brands such as these with you, Pretty Birds!”
All images courtesy of Nebedai Beauty.
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