YANGU BEAUTY celebrates African skincare practices and honors cultural beauty norms

Sipho Gumbo is a wife, mother, philanthropist, and founder of Yangu Beauty. Growing up in rural Zimbabwe, Sipho was taught the importance of her homeland’s flora and fauna by her grandmother, mother, aunts, sisters, and community at large. After years of suffering from breakouts brought on by skincare products formulated with harsh ingredients, Sipho began her journey into researching natural skincare and reconnecting with her African roots. She recalled the importance of her culture and the beauty rituals of her grandmother, who would use African herbs, superfoods, and botanical oils harvested in the wild, to begin formulating her skincare line in the U.S.

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Each of Sipho’s seven Yangu Beauty products are designed to benefit specific skin care challenges faced by women of darker skin tones. The ingredients are also sustainably harvested by women in her native Africa, and all proceeds support children orphaned by AIDS through their sister organization, Munhu Inc., founded by Sipho 17 years ago.

BELLA sat down with the beauty advocate and entrepreneur to learn how her culture continues to influence her business, her approach to skincare, and her daily life…

Our culture can play a huge role in how we treat and care for our skin, as well as how we perceive beauty. How did your early life, growing up in Southern Africa, shape the way you approached beauty and skincare?

Growing up as a young girl in rural southern Africa, with an amalgam of southern Bantu cultures, from the Xhosa, Ndebele, and Shona groups in my case, shaped perhaps 90% of my thought processes. I was privileged when I went to university to further understand that culture when I studied traditional literature and thought. Beauty, the concepts of beauty and health, and the worth of women—hence self-esteem—come directly from that.

Mentorship for young women for health and sexuality in the rural setting of southern Africa comes from older women instructing younger women, didactics, object lessons, and leading by example. There are the roles of your grandmother, mother, your sister, and aunt—especially your paternal aunt—who teach you how to be a person. It is rooted in the definition of ubuntu (“a person is a person because of others”).

Our culture is inherently a culture of praise, confirming that you are such a great person because you come from a lineage of greats. This gave us a connection that’s like an umbilical cord with our ancestors, from which we derive unshaken confidence and joy.

The major topic was how to take care of yourself as a young woman, so you are always looking your best. This is when you learn about the best herbs to wash your hair so it is always healthy, the right plants and oils to use to wash your face to stop breakouts, and the types of fruit to apply to your skin to clear the blemishes. These remedies had been passed down, dating back to the era of transnational Bantu empires in southern Africa, thus, the beauty information was packaged by thousands of years of feminine wisdom.

As an example, the most important aspect of the afternoon was on river baths. It was during this time that girls would take a bath, braid each other’s hair, and share ideas on the new styles. There was always praise on the looks of the finished styles. Then there was the coloring of skin, called isibhuda, which you could classify as make-up, using the red powder from plants and certain soils, the ochre on the skin, that is still very popular among the Himba women of Namibia. It is with this approach that I have shared Yangu Beauty with women around the world.

The women in your family inspired your love of skincare and appreciation for your culture. Were they also the inspiration to create your skincare line, Yangu Beauty?

Traditionally, as a young woman in Zimbabwe, you are supposed to have a very tight bond with your aunts. It is from your aunts that you learn about being a woman, especially sexual hygiene, and how you and your line of female ancestors implemented this knowledge. My aunts instilled in me the confidence I have today. They taught me that when you are comfortable with who you are, all else falls in place. They taught me that once you are sure of who you are, you will do everything to make yourself the best.

As they would say, “Remember—you are MaHadebe and all Hadebe women are beautiful.” The basic rule to staying beautiful is taking care of yourself. It is with this inspiration that I draw from to create a product line that each woman would say, “I am beautiful because Yangu Beauty products make my skin beautiful.” It is my hope that every woman who uses our product line will feel and look beautiful. When I was facing breakouts and seeking the right products for my skin, it dawned on me that I had already learned everything I needed from my culture. This realization made it easy to go back to my grandmother’s oils, butters, milk, and herbs that she had shared with us many years later.

Tell us about how your rich African culture plays into the formulation of your products, and why the wild-harvested ingredients are so beneficial. 

Yangu Beauty products are an effective, natural skincare solution for people of darker skin tones. Our ingredients arose from trial and error by my foremothers over centuries, and each one has been tried and tested for Black skin, including ancient African oils and botanicals. I took these ingredients and applied cutting-edge chemistry and medical pharmacology to create products that truly work.

Growing up in Zimbabwe I had to learn which plants and their fruits we could pick and eat or use for other purposes. Marula, for example, is one of those trees I felt was everywhere; it’s so abundant, it is part of both folklore and the archeology excavations of the Great Zimbabwe empire 1,000 years ago. Because it is so ubiquitous, so much of the fruit fell on the ground, and there is a tale that we were told that elephants ate the fruit so much that they would get drunk from it.

One of the difficulties in getting the Marula nuts is cracking the nut. My grandmother would make us collect the nuts, use stones to crack them, and then help her grind the nuts into a butter. She would then tie it in a cloth and let the oil drip from the butter, affording us a small bottle of Marula oil, which we would use after our river bath.

Yangu Beauty remembers how labor-intensive it is to collect and process these oils. Yangu Beauty also supports the women that collect these nuts by buying the oils from a co-op that works with them. With each oil and ingredient, I can share a story about my culture. Each ingredient we use has skin benefits that makes our product line so effective for people of darker skin tones and those with sensitive skin.

With a full line of products— seven to be exact—it may be overwhelming for someone to know where to start. Do you have a favorite product or one that is especially good to keep on hand during the colder winter months? 

Seven products may seem like a lot, but each serves a particular purpose, and you do not have to utilize them all to achieve desired results. We have two award-winning cleansers: the Cleansing Whip, for acne prone, oily skin, and the Gel To Milk Cleanser, for dry, mature skin. We also have two moisturizers, which are self-explanatory but very significant: the Moisturizing Day Cream, a light day cream for all day moisture, and The Finishing Night Cream, a super hydrating cream for people with dry skin. Yangu Beauty also offers an award-winning Even Tone Serum, which assists with dark spots and hyperpigmentation. The Bright Eyes Cream soothes dark circles and puffy eyes. Our Renewal Oil Gentle Make Up Remover is designed for a painless process of removing makeup, without stripping or drying your skin.

For colder months, my go-to products are the Gel To Milk Cleanser, Moisturizing Day Cream, and the Finishing Night Cream—must-haves for winter. The Yangu beauty website also lists our products according to skin care concerns, making the skincare buying process seamless and user-friendly.

Why is it so important to you to keep the essence of your culture alive in your products and your everyday life?

I am glad you used the term essence, because my belief is, “I am because they were.” According to science, the mitochondria DNA is passed from mother to child. And so is language, at least in southern Africa, as the mother is the main teacher and transmitter of language, which shapes our thoughts and ideas. I believe that is the essence of being, and therefore, our culture is passed from our foremothers to us.

In Bantu culture we believe in the continuum. I believe by sharing my culture, I am keeping the essence of my foremothers alive, and my daughters will keep it alive, and their daughters [will do the same]—a continuum. I can now share with BELLA readers what my grandmother in rural Zimbabwe taught me (and what her own foremothers taught her for over thousands of years and hundreds of generations.) I believe that is the best way to keep her alive, and I hope my daughters will do the same to keep the continuum going.

As women use Yangu Beauty products, I want them to partake in the beauty rituals that my grandmothers and aunts enjoyed; the memory of my river baths lives on.

It is important to keep the essence of my culture in my everyday life, because my life beliefs and my business beliefs draw from my cultural philosophy of Ubuntu. This philosophy grounds me and allows me to treat others with respect, integrity, humility, belief, trust, and fairness.

How does Yangu Beauty give back?

Yangu Beauty gives back in every step of the business. Our ingredients are harvested by women who sell the seeds to a co-op that process the seeds into the oils we use. Yangu supports these women by purchasing the oils from this co-op. They in turn use the funds to support their families by paying tuition for their children.

We are also recruiting women affiliates to help sell Yangu Beauty, which creates income-generating opportunities for women. Through our Beauty With Compassion program, we work with our sister organization, Munhu Inc., in which a portion of our sales are donated to support children orphaned by AIDS.

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