By Faith Cummings
Africa’s richness has existed for millions of years, but the beauty industry is only starting to crack the surface when it comes to giving the continent its credit. Natacha Paugam is working to have that happen sooner rather than later, with her brand of skincare that helps to nourish melanin-rich skin and deliver the glow that people all over the world are seeking from their routine.
Though a former Miss Congo and an international model, Paugam battled skin issues in her teenage years that lingered into adulthood. As a model, her skin was her calling card, so she tried several solutions in the market and none of them remedied her concerns. But upon returning back to Africa and drenching her skin in homemade elixirs from her mother, her skin issues dissipated and she knew that she wanted to share these ingredients with the world. Thus, USTAWI was born, which translates to “wellbeing” in Swahili.
“My dream is to create through USTAWI a community far beyond the origins of each individual. By continually exchanging and sharing one’s personal experience and background through gestures of care and beauty, we can reconnect people with the true wealth that is Mother Nature.”
Hyperpigmentation is a longstanding concern for Black and Brown women, so Paugam hopes to take it on directly with ancestral African ingredients including baobab, bamboo water, myrtle leaf, and red algae. Products like a Dark Spot Corrector, Vitamin C Antioxidant Serum, and Detoxifying Toner further help to deliver glowing skin, as well as being anti-pollution which is a concern people have to deal with the world over from metropolises to small villages.
Paugam has assembled a powerhouse team of Black women to aid her in creating and bringing these products to market including dermatologist Elyse Love and R&D Manager Marie Noelle Akassan.
Philanthropy is also a cornerstone of the brand’s mission and they’ve partnered with Childfund International to give young students in Africa better resources that will help conditions improve in their everyday lives.
GET TO KNOW - NATACHA PAUGAM
What was the impetus to start your brand?
It was when I saw the results and benefits of my mother's natural recipes on my own skin. At that moment, it all clicked and I decided to explore the wonderful possibilities in-depth with the help of scientists in France.
Where are you from originally? Where do you live now?
My parents are from Angola, I was born in Brazzaville, Congo, and I live in France.
Do you have a beauty philosophy? What is it?
I always associate beauty with art, because art has always given me a feeling of pleasure: seeing it in different variations of shapes, sounds, and colors. Even when a work seems unsightly at first, when I listen to my heart, I always find or grasp a detail that I find beautiful. My philosophy of beauty is more than what can be seen. Your beauty comes from listening to your body, giving it what it needs, and trusting what you feel.
What were some of your first memories of beauty growing up? What are some early beauty influences?
As a child, I do not remember having to use this or that beauty product. I have a lot of other very early memories, including seeing my mother always preparing herbal teas from plants and herbs. We made weekend routines based on red clay and other mixtures of oils with my cousins and we would then rinse ourselves in the river. Afterward our skin was soft for months. One of my most vivid memories is of going to school and my mother would apply a kind of powder that was supposed to protect us from the sun on my skin. This made me so self-conscious and I took a malignant pleasure in scraping off all the powder as I walked to school, so my girlfriends would not make fun of me. Otherwise, I grew up normally, but I do remember my mother’s routine well: always moisturizing her skin in the morning and evening. Those routines became quite natural for me as well.
What does self-care look like in your life?
Self-care for me has always been essential, starting with always treating my skin from the inside out. I am obsessed with the benefits of natural herbal teas by combining them with my outdoor care routines.
What inspires you most about the beauty landscape and industry today?
In my opinion, beauty is akin to art, so music, art, and fashion will always be sources of inspiration for me. I think the integration of the arts and the creators who make art bring something new and fresh in this industry.
What has been the biggest challenge in starting your business?
Finding and setting up a good, inclusive team that shares my same values.
What has been the biggest win thus far?
It was the validation and positive feedback from the scientists regarding our formulas. And even moreso, the realization of the final project
What would you like to see more of in the beauty industry when it comes to diversity and inclusivity?
First, I would like to thank Rihanna who has been a pioneer in highlighting diversity and inclusion with her brand Fenty brand. I really think her impact has been a source of inspiration for so many – corporations, brands, and individuals – in understanding how the needs and desires of communities of color have been neglected for so long. Whether addressing major social issues such as systemic racism, or simply offering products to help the community care for itself, this is such an important and necessary movement, and I am very proud and honored to be part of it. As a woman of color, I'm more than thrilled to see the changes happening and heading in a very good direction. I only hope it's not just a fad and that will require all of us who believe in it to continue our work in this positive direction. My dream is to create through USTAWI a community far beyond the capacity of each individual. By continually exchanging and sharing one’s personal experience and background via gestures of care and beauty, we can reconnect people with the true wealth that is Mother Nature. And nature proves to us that it is diversity that moves the world forward.