From Africa, With Love: Meet Charis Udeh of KYALLI Natural Skincare
Combining its founder’s African heritage with organic, botanical ingredients from around the world, KYALLI creates natural skincare products that really perform. We chat with Charis Udeh about luminosity, life as an entrepreneur and why the beauty industry needs diversity.
09 November, 2020
Powered by nature. Backed by science. Spirited by heritage. That's the tagline of KYALLI, a skincare brand that is scouting out the world's finest natural ingredients - from Turkey, Egypt, Ghana, Russian Siberia and beyond - and putting them into its high-performing, synthetic-chemical-free products.
Founder Charis Udeh, a former management consultant and accidental entrepreneur, draws on her travel experiences and Nigerian heritage when concocting her formulas. Here, she takes us on her journey that turned a lifelong passion and generations of knowledge into a business.
Natural luminosity and life as an entrepreneur: in conversation with Charis Udeh
What inspired your approach to skincare?
I am from a family of formulators. My maternal grandmother and great-aunts created products using potent African herbs. I have always been a product junkie, too. I experienced hormonal acne from the age of 13 and, when I moved to London at 16, my skin became dehydrated, dry and itchy, especially in winter. I felt dissatisfied with the products offered - even those by luxury brands - and found that colleagues, friends and family had similar issues. People needed products that made a real difference, not ones filled with texturisers and fillers that deliver little value.
How did KYALLI come about?
I started formulating my own products in autumn 2010. My mother passed on remedies given to her by her mother and soon we were in the kitchen together, creating products using natural, organic, phytoactive ingredients. The results were phenomenal.
For 10 years, I created products for use by myself, friends and family, though I had no motivation to start a brand; I had a flourishing career as a management consultant at Ernst & Young. Yet the demand kept increasing. I saw the gap in the market and I knew I had outstanding formulas. So, I invested a lot of time, resources and effort teaming up with experts to create products that solve real problems.
Tell us about the pivot between consulting and beauty entrepreneurship?
There are many similarities between consulting and entrepreneurship. When I joined Ernst & Young, people would ask me: "What do you actually do?" I'd respond: "I am a doctor for businesses. I help sick ones get better." It was an analogy people understood.
Like the beauty industry, consulting exists to solve problems. As an entrepreneur, I make products to help solve similar issues to the ones I experienced as a teen - that is the heart of my business. Everything I learnt in the professional services industry is being applied in KYALLI today.
Why was it important for you to create a natural beauty brand?
I was initially sceptical about the power of nature; I thought these ingredients needed to be supplemented with other things to help people look and feel luminous. This couldn't be further from the truth. Just like every other organ within our body, our skin needs adequate nourishment to function optimally. When you're sourcing food to improve your health and wellbeing, you seek the best on the market. In most cases, this will be fresh, natural and organic produce. It's the same for skin and body care.
But that's not all. Synthetic chemical ingredients can be harmful to our bodies, so KYALLI's products are free from manmade ingredients. It was a very easy decision to create a safe, honest, transparent and all-natural line.
How has travel influenced your approach to beauty?
My first experience with natural beauty and travel was as a child. Owing to my father's job, we lived all over Nigeria. While we were in Sokoto in Northern Nigeria, he became great friends with the Sultan of Sokoto. I spent a lot of time at the palace, where it was common practice to see the queens and princesses use the oils and liquid extracts from the yakuwa plant for skincare and internal consumption. To this day, their skin is among the most flawless and luminous I have come across in my life. When I started creating my own products, I made sure to use yakuwa.
My research didn't stop there. Every year, my friends and I travel to a different country to learn about people and cultures. During these trips, everyone had a spot on the itinerary to "do what they wanted" - mine was always to visit a spa. I've always been curious about beauty and wellness practices across the world. I'd visit masseuses with beautiful pots of oils and creams made with natural ingredients, and ask about their therapeutic and healing properties.
The ingredients in your products were sourced across the world, including from Turkey, Egypt, Ghana and Russian Siberia. How did such diversity come about?
As a Nigerian raised in London, I was raised to accept diversity and difference. When it comes to beauty, there are several common issues: dry skin, eczema, stretch marks, hyperpigmentation, wrinkles - the list goes on. Such issues are faced regardless of race, skin tone, sex or even geographical location. During my travels, I saw that people had secrets and rituals they used, passed on from generation to generation. We use lots of ingredients from Africa in our products, but African ingredients can't solve all the problems people face - so we are brave enough to reach out to other countries to harness the powers of their indigenous plants. Our expert blend of the world's finest ingredients is what really makes KYALLI's formulas stand out.