Evelyne Nyairo’s first degree is in environmental sciences, with majors in biology and chemistry. After graduation, she worked at engineering firms in Western Canada and travelled around the world supporting oil and gas projects that focus on compliance management, facility integrity, conservation, waste management and emissions reduction. “I have been to some of the weirdest places and some of the scariest places,” she says in a recent conversation.
On one of her trips, she found herself doing fieldwork in central Africa, among the beautiful mango trees in Chad. She watched as children and their mother climbed trees to harvest mangoes for Evelyne to buy. When she went to purchase the fruit, she was asked to pay the husband as a sign of respect, even though his wife had served her the mangoes. “I felt a knot of anger and thought to myself: This happens everywhere around the world, just in different ways,” she says. She was motivated to create opportunities for women to excel. Evelyne determined she could do this by building a business. “But not just any business — a thriving business that is going to make an impact. And that’s how my brand Ellie Bianca started,” explains Evelyne, who was the winner of the 2021 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards, Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub Micro-Business Award.
A skincare brand all for women, by women
Evelyne decided to launch a skincare brand because she felt it was a great way for women to engage with each other. “We all use skincare products; we all want to heal our skin and regenerate our skin cells to look younger. I think there’s a lot that brings us together as women as a tribe,” says Evelyne. “Skincare also creates a link with the suppliers — there are so many amazing ingredients in Africa and other parts of the world, and most of the people that do the work are women. I wanted to create a social enterprise so we could create opportunities — and not just support our business but the entire supply chain.” She explains she is very intentional about sourcing from women-run companies and suppliers — from ingredients to photography to package design.
When it comes to formulating the products, Evelyne does that herself to maintain control of her commitment to 100 per cent clean ingredients. “When I first started, I hired a couple of labs to produce the product — but that became a problem as they introduced ingredients I did not want to see. So I said I’m going to do it myself,” she says, adding that it gives her so much joy because she gets to use the chemistry and biology she loves so much.
From a humble beginning to big goals
Evelyne launched Ellie Bianca with just a simple lip balm. “I thought it would be easy to sell lip balms but realized there are too many of them out there,” she says. Since her first days, Evelyne has grown Ellie Bianca to an all-natural skincare line with over 35 SKUs — and more on the way very soon.
When asked about how big she wants to take her business, Evelyne talks first about the impact she wants to make. “The goal we have always had from the beginning is to impact one million women,” she says. She aims to achieve this goal in a few ways. One is through the Ellie Bianca Woman Scholarship she launched two years ago for single mothers. “I am a single mother, and I could not have accessed the opportunities I did without my education,” she says.
She created the scholarship to encourage more single mothers to enroll and graduate from post-secondary school. One recipient is selected each year and receives one-time financial support, which is funded by a percentage of Ellie Bianca product sales and support from community donors. They also sponsor boys and girls in Africa who are serious about going to school but face financial constraints.
“But of course, we want our business to grow,” says Evelyne, sharing that the success of Ellie Bianca is where she can have the most significant impact. “I’m a little ambitious,” she says. “I want to build a billion-dollar brand. I often say that young girls are not going to be the women they don’t see. They need to see women like them, regular people, breaking barriers, so they know that it’s possible.”
Evelyne likes to say: If your dreams are not scaring you, they’re not big enough. Be scared but do it anyway.
While more women start businesses than men, she feels it’s time for women to take it to the next level, shifting from smaller businesses to bigger enterprises. “We have the strength and inner determination to do it — we have what it takes to endure. Yes, building a business will be tough, and there will always be something that pushes you to your boundaries. We must prepare ourselves and give other women permission to do the same.”
A 3-part model for success
As Evelyne forges the path toward her billion-dollar brand, she has introduced three different business models to help her reach her goals. The first is her business-to-consumer model, through which they sell products online and at their boutique. Meanwhile, the second is a business-to-business model. They sell to distributors and organic retailers. Their third business model is a private label, through which they sell hand creams, soaps and hand sanitizers. “Through our three business models, we should be able to grow slowly and steadily. I don’t want to be in a rush to grow — I want to make sure everything is intentional, see how we can leverage technology for growth and explore ways to do business with other countries.”
Today, Evelyne is working on her Ph.D. in Strategy and Innovation, she is studying ways to tap into technology to advance innovation, and she lives the three pillars of her brand every day: Kind to Your Skin. Kind to the Earth. Kind to Women. As she builds her brand, she is simultaneously empowering women business owners, lifting single mothers and giving women and girls the permission to dream big.
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