Kenyan biochemist tackles gender inequality through skin care line

Lena Weib

CBC is highlighting stories of Black Canadian immigrants to share the joys and obstacles on their paths to Black excellence. From their first steps in Canada to the moments that shaped their lives. These are their journeys here.

Before becoming a successful biochemist, Evelyne Nyairo, who arrived in Edmonton from Kenya in 1996, had to overcome many challenges.

Nyairo was the only Black student in her university program, which she says “wasn’t easy.” 

“I mean, those days you will not see Black people,” said Nyairo. “I remember, you know, you would take the bus and you go months and months of not seeing anybody Black.”

She dropped out during her first year because of “cultural differences,” but ultimately completed her degree in biology and chemistry, right around the same time she found out she was pregnant with her daughter.  

Nyairo, who said becoming a “great scientist” was her childhood dream, went on to pursue a career as a biochemist in Alberta’s oil and gas sector. 

After that industry took a downturn in 2008, she started thinking of ways to go back to Africa.

WATCH | Biochemist and skin care entrepreneur Evelyne Nyairo shares her goal of tackling gender inequality:

Biochemist tackles gender inequality through skin care line

Kenyan-born Evelyne Nyairo was the only Black student in her university program in Edmonton, which she says ‘wasn’t easy.’ She went on to become a successful biochemist and later created a skin care line run by women with the goal of igniting ‘meaningful conversation around gender equality.’ 5:21

It was on a work-related field trip to Chad in 2011 that Nyairo realized she wanted to make a major career change to focus on gender equality.

While in the country, she experienced and witnessed intense gender inequality, and it brought back memories of her own experiences with discrimination.

“That moment brought me back to the boardrooms in Calgary, in Houston, in Paris and all these places that I had been,” said Nyairo. “Most of the time I was the only Black woman in the boardroom.”

“And I said, ‘You know, I can’t just continue to be in the groups of women in science, women in engineering. I’m going to start something to ignite meaningful conversation around gender equality.’ “

While in Chad, Nyairo was struck by the “beautiful skin” of the women there and decided to channel her experience into creating a skin care line run by women.

Evelyne Nyairo is pictured with her daughter Ellie, after which the skincare line Ellie Bianca is named. (Submitted by Evelyne Nyairo)

The line, named Ellie Bianca after her daughter, produces natural and sustainable beauty products ranging from lip balms to bath salts.

“We didn’t just want to build any skin care line,” said Nyairo. “We just wanted something that truly leaves a legacy. Our company is all women-owned, women-run … kind to the Earth … and kind to women.”

Her products have now made their way onto the shelves of some of Canada’s biggest retailers, including Whole Foods and Hudson’s Bay.

Being Black in Canada: My Journey Here is a special series where Black Canadian immigrants share the joys and obstacles on their paths to Black excellence. From their first steps in Canada to the moments that shaped their lives.

Being Back in Canada highlights stories about Black Canadians. (CBC)

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