South African born Nomshado Baca, is the founder and creative chief executive of A Complexion Company, an eco-luxe African wellness and clean beauty brand for women of colour. We caught up with the entrepreneur and she told us all about the inspiration behind her brand and her intricate journey to building an inclusive, sustainable business.
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and the journey to becoming an entrepreneur
I am Nomshado Michelle Baca and I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa but like many immigrants, came to the UK in my youth to complete my education here. I am a Kingston Business School alumna, having completed a BA Hons Entrepreneurship & Management degree. I was one of the first, pioneering such a course at the undergraduate level and remain very active within the Business School. In 2012, I landed a role that shaped my career, assisting the VP of Marketing at Ralph Lauren. It was a dream job and much of my experience in that role I credit to my deep knowledge in premium luxury.
I began the building blocks of A Complexion Company in 2016. I knew I wanted to build a luxury beauty brand for women of colour, but the pure essence of the company still escaped me – I hadn’t discovered the wellness element that carried the narrative. The Centre for Entrepreneurship fast track program which I completed in 2018, helped me have an environment to test my idea and create a blueprint for the company as it stands today. The process was very organic and methodical, testing at every stage to see what resonated and what wasn’t essential. The singular path to getting A Complexion Company to women of colour started during that year.
Q: Why the name ‘A Complexion Company’?
One of the features that make African women stand out is our skin. I wanted the name to focus on what makes us special – the wide spectrum of our complexions. I wanted the message to also be clear that we are here for these women, to aid in maintaining their beautiful skin, from the inside, out. Our skin, much like our hair, gives us our dignity and connects us to our heritage – it is an inseparable part of who we are and where we are from.
Q: What inspired the decision to start A Complexion Company?
During my time travelling for work and frequenting many beauty stores around the world, I noticed a steady rise in products marketed for women of colour – because at last, we had gained visibility as high-value consumers. However, I felt these efforts were incomplete and sometimes, inauthentic. The methods of representation felt outdated and there was no true innovation around darker skin profiles. Changing the colour of a product at the end isn’t innovation, innovation begins at design. This is the principal problem with the rise of beauty-related toxicity in black bodies; our genetic and epigenetic profiles are not put into consideration during product design.
3 out of every 4 products marketed to us contain highly hazardous ingredients which present in black bodies as hormonal imbalances, fertility and reproductive challenges and the rise in skin cancer. I have personally experienced the negative effects. Clean beauty as it is today, offers few product choices for us in any given category and even fewer that provide actual solutions for our specific problems. It was important for me not to create a company that simply brings African/black beauty up to date but to create one that is at the forefront of innovation and is as international as a heritage brand like Chanel, Celine or Hermes, but deeply rooted in African heritage.
Q: What is the unique selling feature of A Complexion Company that sets it apart from other beauty products in the market?
Our design and innovation process is entirely centred around women of African descent and creating high performance, clean formulations to solve very specific problems. Being solutions led, we do not fall in a singular beauty category. We either innovate within a category or create a new one. This combination is entirely unique.
Our Raw Organic Moringa Oleifera Beauty powder is the only one in the natural ingestible beauty category, providing women of African descent with sufficient bioavailable nutrients in a single source to function optimally day-to-day. There isn’t a single multi-vitamin in the UK that can make that claim. The best-selling multi-vitamin brand is nutritionally insufficient for the daily requirements of a black woman and the deficiencies common amongst us. We are the first to cater to black women in the UK within this category.
Our follow-on products will follow the same process – we will identify the most pressing problem in our community in relation to beauty and wellness and/or the most high-risk category in relation to toxicity exposure to black women and, proceed to create a best-in-class solution for women of colour.
Q: Have you always wanted to be a beauty entrepreneur?
I knew I wanted to be in luxury from the age of 16 – which is interesting because up until then, I had not come close to owning anything that was luxurious. I knew I wanted to be within an industry that leads and teaches you to create the best products and that was the definition of luxury for me – refinement.
Life was difficult moving to the UK. I had never been a minority prior to that time, and I had not experienced being at the bottom of a socio-economic system. I didn’t know what that meant at a young age, but I knew that we couldn’t afford things like other families could. Going to Boots and smelling the air and looking at the beautiful counters with immaculately made up advisors was the closest thing to luxury I had encountered at that age. I wanted to be an advisor behind the Chanel counter at that age, but my mother would disapprove because I had to go to university. In my heart, I decided that I will own a brand like Chanel someday.
Q: What is your plan to reach your target market?
Our customers fall into two categories – women of colour seeking elegant solutions to problems they have been dealing with without success, and women in general who are drawn to learning more about African Wellness™ practices and the ingredients used to promote it. The products alone become this transportive travel piece in which you can learn about ancient practices not previously shared on a global platform. I have been keeping our communications strategy streamlined to being active on Instagram and within our newsletter.
Women of African descent are a global majority and the women in the second category are also large in number. Our market positioning makes us niche and we serve in a market where the consumer has the wallet to spend on products that work for her and represent her authentically. We are seeking retailers with a storytelling platform and who are aligned with our values to partner with us. We now ship to the US, Canada, Australia and Europe. We will be entering Africa’s top cities by the new year through retail partnerships and we have inbound requests for a presence in the Middle East and India.
Q: Where do you see yourself in five years? As an individual and business owner
I have big ambitions for A Complexion Company. Over the years I have built up a vault of unreleased formulations and ingredients I would like to introduce to the world. I have encountered many personal challenges with my skin so you can imagine I have created many custom solutions in line with mine and the company values. I would like to see these solutions in the hands of women around the world and on the beauty counters I have admired since my teen years.
African wellness is the narrative and the storytelling element of our products – the collection of holistic practices across the continent paired with the indigenous ingredients used in our solutions creates the opportunity for us to curate a cultural anthropology and blueprint for modern living. In Zulu culture, when a girl is young, she is sent to live with her grandmother or the family matriarch to be taught the ways of her culture and ancestors. We are the elders of our children and the matriarchs that connect the past to the present in order to teach the future. I am the next matriarch in my family, the bridge to my ancestors and the knowledge carried across the centuries. I am also the matriarch of African Wellness™. I would like to see our practices as widely known as Ayurvedic and Eastern holistic wellness practices.
To make this a reality I foresee us vertically integrating and owning our own supply chain and creating manufacturing in Africa. I believe we can create a global standard manufacturing industry easing the industries reliance on the East. Our ingredients are African sourced where possible, so it is to our advantage and to the benefit of the communities for us to invest in our own infrastructure. From here we could create an incubator for other beauty brands arising from Africa.
As an individual, I will continue to build businesses aligned with my life’s calling; to support, empower and provide resources within female health and wellness to the future generations of women in Africa and across the diaspora.