When my Morocco trip was cancelled because of the pandemic, Umuhle Apothecary brought Morocco to me via one of the many luscious skincare products produced by Founder Thulie Sonjica Ellis.
I asked Thulie what makes Umuhle, so divine: ‘Our plant-derived ingredients have been trusted for centuries, so it’s not me telling you, it’s centuries of proven results backed by science.’
Over the years, my skin has become highly sensitive to chemicals. These days I want my skincare to be natural, not overloaded with ingredients I can’t pronounce. And that’s where Umuhle takes us back to basics with clean and honest skincare derived from African plant-based goodness.
I speak to Thulie to learn more about the passion and vision behind Umuhle Apothecary.
I have always been engrossed in the fashion and beauty industry for as long as I can remember. I took the plunge in 2009 and enrolled in a make-up course. I was disappointed but not surprised to see the small portion of the course dedicated to POC.
You should have seen how excited I was to soak up everything I could learn that evening. However, there was not much learning for me personally on the night. The educator used me as the model and then had the class ask me questions – which I answered.
This really highlighted for me the gap in the market for make-up artistry for women of colour. I then started a small mobile make-up business for women of colour, which was called Umuhle Beauty. Not long after, I started my career at one of the largest beauty companies in Australia.
Umuhle was a decade in the making. I was fortunate to work for beauty companies because they have given me so much education and learning opportunities. They taught me that my future was more in skin than it was in cosmetics. The ugly side of that is so many women of colour would come to me and seek me out on social media. They would either try to book a one-on-one consultation with me because they didn’t feel welcome or comfortable walking into the store. They also didn’t believe that ‘other specialists would understand their skin and its needs’. This saddened me but made me determined to create a space for them with my own brand.
I tried to make this apparent to previous businesses I was employed with. But I was met with some resistance around ‘treat the skin type’, not the racial background. Even though I respected them for their knowledge, I went away and educated myself. For me, a huge source of knowledge was booking online time with overseas dermatologists and skin specialists that specialised in POC skin. There is a huge gap in the market in Australia. We are only now seeing the diversity in make-up, but we have leaps and bounds to go with skincare – diverse across all races.
There was an occasion where I caught the eye of a customer. I was on my way out for a meeting, and I handed this wonderful woman over to one of my team. The look in her eyes killed me. I told her, don’t worry, I will do your consultation myself. She sighed with relief and thanked me. I can’t tell you the number of stories I have that are similar.
I would often have clients from so many different backgrounds asking me for step-by-step skin rituals. I was loyal to my company and shared all the amazing world class brands we had that were best suited to their skin type. However, I would always add additional advice that I grew up with from my South African mother. Gauze for exfoliating the skin, African soup for collagen, vitamins and mineral for inner and outer health and of course, the African oils that I have been bathed in since I was a baby in Kwa Zulu Natal until now.
Oh, I am so glad you love them; they are the two original products. When I was formulating with my Cosmetic Chemist, Ayize was our first formula. I was stubborn, and when I gave him the product brief, I insisted that it must have Marula and Moringa as the key ingredients. These are the two oils I grew up with. My mother used them, My Gogo and Khula (Grandmothers both used them). They have been staples in my house. I have seen firsthand the benefits for skin and hair for all in my family.
Skin science is my passion, so each ingredient has been researched and vetted to prove they make noticeable results on skin. Honestly, clients have told me over the years how overwhelming the information is out there. I wanted it to be simplistic. Our plant-derived ingredients have been trusted for centuries, so it’s not me or my brand telling you, it’s centuries of proven results backed by science.
MARULA LUXURY FACIAL OIL Antioxidant Face, Hair & Body Oil | 30ml $60.00
AYIZE SLEEPING INJECTION Brightening Overnight Facial Oil | 30ml $71.00
This was always going to be part of the brand DNA. I was born in South Africa in 1982 during Apartheid. My mother and many women in my family haven’t been given the opportunities my sister and I have been afforded. I wanted to use Umuhle as a tool to showcase the woman in my family and my birthplace. Taking shortcuts and cost savings were taking away from women like my mother, aunties, Gogo and Khula. There is so much false information and so many suppliers who offer you great deals, but the more I dug into their farming processes, the more I knew I wouldn’t work with them. We buy directly from a farm that is heavily vetted every six months to ensure they honour their sustainability practices and fair work commitment.
I was advised by so many to pick any other charity!!! They said skincare and sexual assault of children don’t go together. Nobody wants to be confronted with that when buying skincare. I sat with this for weeks on end because I feel a sense of responsibility for getting this charity the attention it needs and not triggering unsuspecting customers when they are on my website.
This is an epidemic in South Africa and has been for well over a decade. However, globally, it doesn’t get the attention that other charities do. We are still a start-up, but I hope that as we grow, we can raise more funds and more awareness for Bobbi Bear.
Hmm, I am not sure if you are ever 100% ready. Covid allowed me to pause and finally put the wheels in motion. I am also at a place in my life where I want to start a family in the future. I needed to give the brand the time and attention it needs. My biggest advice is ‘trust the process’ I am very lucky that my years in business and industry experience set me up for the right pre-and-post-launch expectations. I am in it for the long haul. I want to build an incredible trusted brand, and that takes time, hard work and dedication. For those starting out, make sure whatever the industry is, you’re in love with it! That you have an absolute passion and drive for the industry. It’s a lot of long hours, but for me, skin is it!!! The best parts of my day are at 1 am answering skincare questions on Facebook and Instagram. Why? Because I love skin science, and I love educating people and helping them feel better about themselves. I had a follower message me the other day and tell me, ‘you really seem to be about the people’. It made me smile because that’s why I do it.
I want to acknowledge there are so many incredible high-end African beauty brands out there. Some who I look up to tremendously. We are certainly not the first nor the last. I believe Umuhle is unique because we are an African plant-based brand born in Australia. That’s unique in itself. Many of my Australian customers had never heard of some of our ingredients and their benefits. So, I want to continue to share African Beauty with the skincare industry. I have only scratched the surface with our key ingredients. We launch in South Africa in 2022. I am going to utilise this time on the ground in South Africa to uncover some African plant-derived gems.
We have some exciting new releases. You will see an additional two products launched before the end of 2021.
2022 is going to be phenomenal for product development. You will hear me talk a lot about learning my beauty tips from the women in my family. I am currently in the works of a very unique skin product that I have developed alongside one of the most important women in my family. This product is very close to my heart as it contains ingredients that are native to my family home.
I will be spending some time in South Africa, which will be very special personally and professionally. I am excited to share these experiences because South Africa is at the core of this brand. I pay special attention to showcasing how incredible Africa is as a continent. It is rich in culture and beauty, and unfortunately, so many people don’t know that. The number of messages we have had from people putting Africa on their travel list has warmed my heart.
AMAHLE BELDI SAVON NOIR HUILE D’ARGAN Gentle Exfoliating Face & Body Gel | 250g $72.00
To learn more about Umuhle Apothecary connect with Thulie online.
Thulie Sonjica Ellis, Founder of Umuhle Apothecary