There was a lot that Melissa Nkomo liked about her job as a make-up artist. She spent the day chatting to people and, with a few swipes of her brush, transformed their faces. Clients would ask Nkomo for beauty tips and she was more than happy to oblige.
What Melissa didn’t like was the outside-in approach. “I didn’t like the feeling that after I was done, they would wash their faces and their confidence would disappear.” She was upset to see people start re-fretting about skin conditions – acne, rosacea – once the coverage came off.
“I realized that I didn’t want to help people cover up the issue. I wanted to help them get to the nitty gritty of the root cause.” It was this realization that led Nkomo to launch her current skincare products venture: Kunye, in May of this year.
‘Kunye’ is a Zulu word inspired by Melissa’s Zimbabwean Mother. “It means one. It represents the unity between our inner and outer selves. In a lot of African cultures, we believe that our skin is a reflection of what is going on internally. My Mum instilled this idea in me: when in doubt, take care of yourself. Eat greens, drink water, sleep.”
With Kunye, Melissa is creating small batch, toxin-free skincare products from natural plant ingredients. After taking intensive cosmetic chemistry classes, she is keen to create new salves.
Nkomo talks to friends and clients about their skin issues, then heads back to her home studio to cook up new products. “I always say I learned to make products that way I learned to cook. You know what your end goal is. The ingredients guide the flavours and aromas. It’s like one big science experiment.”
Our first Kunye purchase was the Replenish Body Butter and that, we can attest, is an experiment that worked. This pure snow-white miracle cream glides on effortlessly, smells delicious and instantly soothes angry winter hands.
“It’s got shea butter, soy butter and mango butter pressed from the mango seed. There is coconut oil, Vitamin E oil, macadamia oil and meadowfoam oil harvested from Vancouver Island.”
Nkomo’s Bioferm Coffee Scrub is another of her concoctions that is proving enormously popular. “It has bio-fermented cocoa in it. The fermentation process releases a lot of the active nutrients within the cocoa bean, which boosts its ability to heal skin imperfections and even body acne.” “The smell is intoxicating – it’s dark roast coffee and french vanilla,” says Nkomo, “and it fills your whole bathroom when you scrub in the shower.” The Bioferm Coffee Scrub is made from Fair Trade coffee from abroad, but Nkomo is looking to partner with a local coffee roaster in Vancouver in the New Year.
Melissa’s Mum is a big fan of her daughter’s products. “Right now, she is loving the GLA Youth Elixir. It has black cumin seed oil, black currant fruit oil, evening primrose and borage oil.” Of Kunye’s face masks, the most popular is Refine. “It has marshmallow root and papaya extract in it. It’s mildly exfoliating, but deeply cleansing without drying the skin.”
When she started her business not so long ago, most of Nkomo’s sales came through friends and family. “My boyfriend’s Mum made me feel amazing when I gave her a sample. She was saying: ‘where do I get it? How do I get it?”
Nkomo built a website and an interesting Instagram account. “Instagram has been my number one place to get clients. I just did my first shipping to a stockist in Miami. They discovered me through Instagram.” She also meets new customers through pop-up shops in retail spaces, such as West Elm Market on South Granville.
By getting to know her clients, Nkomo can do more of the personalized consulting she enjoys. “Vancouverites are always looking for new ways to improve their health and wellness.”
What advice would Melissa offer to people looking to improve their health and skin?
1. Drink Water
“I mean really drink water. The water is going to go to your organs before it gets to your skin.”
2. Eat Leafy Greens
“We need to rethink our portions and go as plant-based as we can.
“We stress out a lot. We don’t get enough sleep.”
4. Use good quality skin products
We know just the line.
Written by Elizabeth Newton
* Photos Courtesy of Kunye Skin & Body