Introducing Nomshado Michelle Baca, the Entrepreneur on a Mission to Transform the Wellness Industry
The Beauty industry has been perceived as one that is white-centric for numerous years with a lack of diversity evident throughout the scene. However, recently, there has been a greater presence of black beauty brand owners, one of those, Nomshado Michelle Baca. Baca aims to transform the industry for Africans worldwide. Here, she tells her story.
Osazeme Osaghae: Hi Nomshado - Thank you for taking the time out to interview with me!
Nomshado Michelle Baca: Hi Osazeme! Thank you for having me – it’s a pleasure!
Osaghae: Talk me through your background.
Baca: I was born in Johannesburg and grew up in Zimbabwe under my grandmother’s care. I came to the UK when I was 8 years old. Did most of my education here and graduated during the recession. I then moved to Melbourne to work and started my career as a PA. I graduated from Business school with a degree in Business and Management, so from a young age, I knew that starting my own business was the direction in which I was going. I worked as an executive PA for the last 10 years, supporting directors and CEOs, working for Ralph Lauren in Melbourne for 4 years.
" I got to see a lot throughout my life but the mindset has always been quite fixed –
in creating something of value that was going to be an authentic addition to my life, to tell people my life story in an authentic way."
And, also to serve the many individuals I have come across throughout my lifetime, from African women to women in the diaspora.
Osaghae: What inspired you to create 'A Complexion Company'?
Baca: I spent many years trying to figure out what it is I was trying to offer through this company. I went through an entrepreneurship fast track programme which helped me test the idea. Initially, it was quite vague and not as targeted as a lot of the time you try to please everybody. I needed to be very niche.
Since 2016, I have been actively searching the industry, talking to customers and investors, I came to understand that what is truly needed, especially for women like myself is a beauty company that was going to be innovating around the unique profiles of women of African descent. Everything became arranged around the African Black Woman, which has helped tell our story, keep to our core proposition and provide something of real value. It’s no good just adding women of colour in marketing, or on your board, it goes down to the ingredients level, ensuring that you have an understanding of who you are intrinsically and therefore it’s easier to promote a portfolio of products around that.
One of the greatest things I learnt from one of the directors is that before you provide a solution, you have to really understand the question – what is it that women of colour are asking for? I spent many years asking this question before I found the solution.
Osaghae: What makes you different from other similar African wellness & beauty brands?
Baca: My love of scientific journals! I innovate from a very in-depth understanding of the African genome. I did not want to limit us and create a product. We are a solutions company, so we do not really affiliate with any of the categories in which the industry places on us. We want to ensure that when there is a problem, there is a clean solution for women of colour and that is where we show our differentiation to other companies within the market.
Osaghae: Was there anything else you wanted to be? Was this always the end goal?
Baca: I wanted to be an astronaut! I’ve always had quite lofty dreams. One of the things that have always been a common thread is that I have always been of service to humanity. If I was to do something else, it would probably be a tangent of what I’m currently doing. For me
" although I’m a beauty company owner,
my personal mission is to empower women of colour and women of African descent."
It’s about health, addressing the issues that come with female health because we are the vessels that carry the next generation. If female health is improved, then the lives of the next generation are also improved. I’m currently looking at opportunities to connect with organisations that are targeted at improving the maternal mortality rates in sub-Saharan Africa as it’s currently the highest in the world.
A lot of those cases can be preventable. As a wellness company, there are ways in which we can work towards supporting that, either directly or indirectly. I know
that for me if I wasn’t doing this, I would
be doing something very similar to help empower
African women around the world. It is about me using the opportunities that have been afforded to me here to be able to bring it back to the individuals who do not have that access.
Osaghae: Tell me about some of the early challenges you faced starting as an entrepreneur?
Baca: I've always had challenges; I still have challenges. The most difficult is creating a start-up within the UK economy and ecosystem. The information around how you start a start-up. I went to business school, entrepreneurship programmes and I’ve been very entrenched in the entrepreneurship world within London.
" One of the things you’re told is when you’re fundraising, £30,000 needs to be from your friends and family. That is near
impossible for people of colour because we don’t have generational wealth "
we don’t have wealth that we can invest in companies. For us, as immigrants, that £30,000 was spent on our education, spent in moving us to a new country, it has already been paid forward. We don’t have that as loose change when we’re older.
So, having to raise that first amount from an angel investor was extremely challenging. However, I was very fortunate to have found an investor who does invest in diverse founders as he understood the cultural and systematic issues that we have to overcome in order to get to business. That was my earliest and my biggest challenge as we are still raising funds. Statistics say that 0.06% of all start-up funding goes to women of colour. That is an extremely small amount. And when you do have that funding, you are expected to perform at 100% like a VC bat organisation, so the expectation doesn’t make sense.
These are the challenges you face as an entrepreneur and you can overcome them with sufficient perseverance and understanding of the systems.
Osaghae: What’s the way forward to tackle these challenges?
Baca: A lot of it is speaking up and putting everything in proportion. Individuals rarely vocalise these issues. What we see are symptoms but we are not going to the core of the problem. The core is that it is already expected that £30,000 should be raised from friends and family, but where in the black community is the money coming from? It is about re-educating ourselves and understanding that there are some unfriendly systematic things and doctrines towards diverse founders and it’s the responsibility of those diverse founders to identify it, call it out and say ‘do you realise that this is what is happening?’ And then it’s the responsibility for allies to create equity because we do need more support because of the systems that are.
" To say that I need the same support as a white, male counterpart is completely false.
We won’t always because at some point we will be equal and that’s the world that we want to work towards."
It’s very much about dialogue and understanding that if we have this conversation we can identify where these things can be solved. Everybody needs to own their narrative on each side, then we can have a dialogue and change the narrative.
Osaghae: How much has A Complexion Company being informed by your personal experiences?
Baca: It has been informed a lot by my personal experiences. I found that I was my customer and I had to be quite honest about the challenges that I faced and vocalise those challenges to the community. That is how I have been able to gain the support which I have because it helped me understand that I’m not alone.
A lot of my experience is from being a woman in the diaspora, being an immigrant, somebody who had their formative years in Africa, being taught that way of life and then suddenly coming into a new environment where I’m a minority. Then also having the opportunity to travel the world as an adult and to see how beauty is represented across different markets and seeing the evolution of the industry as it is expressing the desire to become more inclusive.
I would say that a lot of my experience has been expressed in the company. Some can relate to all of it, some parts of it. This year, I am really trying to get my own story across because it seems to resonate with a lot of women. Many people message us on DM. I am in charge of social media – I want to hear what they think I want to know their opinion because that is who I am serving. If I do not hear their opinions and there is no dialogue, you can get off the right track very quickly.
" Our target audience is women of African descent from the diaspora, who is looking for a wellness solution that helps them get on with the day. She has to deal with microaggressions, domestic things. She is
stressed and knows that her health is not in top form. "
That is what the moringa powder is here to solve – it is a natural supplement that helps meet all of the deficiencies that a woman of colour has once she’s outside of her native environment. The second part of the nucleus is women of colour in general, who are of Indian and other indigenous communities. They have similar issues. And then, the rest of the world, who are curious to find out more about African sourced ingredients. They want to understand wellness from a new perspective because currently the wellness industry is dominated by Indian medicine and Chinese medicine. We are offering them an alternative to say that. For centuries, African individuals have been living on traditional medicine and Western medicine has never been mainstream. Even today, 60% of Africans go to traditional healers and holistic practitioners when it comes to health because we have always been taught it is part of a system. There is a story about a traditional healer – whenever you are sick, they will ask you about your family.
They understand that wellness is not pinpointed in one area, you are a system, and a result of your system.
Osaghae: What are your thoughts on the police brutality, which still continues today against blacks in America? How can we help to tackle racism in society?
Baca: I have many thoughts. Firstly, I would like to express my deep condolences to all the lives that have been lost and the families who have to live this every day. From a perspective of living in the UK and having a company which works in Africa, I can see the bigger picture – Black Lives Matter because of the precedent that America sets on the rest of the world.
I see the echo effect of not addressing this issue within America. America is setting the precedents and Africa is following. The African Dream is to move to America. However, we are seeing an echo effect of the disregard for Black lives within Africa. The violence that is occurring from authority to civilians is a direct result of what they are seeing in America. It is certainly a movement that needs to get a lot of attention and we need to see action.
We need to examine the deeply embedded issues within the American system that is encouraging this type of thing to happen. It’s much more than the police and that needs to change. If there is justice being served in America, we will see justice being served in Africa.
" When America sneezes, Africa catches the flu, but really when America sneezes,
Africa catches pneumonia."
Osaghae: What is your single most favourite moment during your time as the CEO of 'A Complexion Company'?
Baca: I am excited every day! It is the weirdest feeling. Every day there is a moment in my day when I just think I cannot believe I am doing this! My whole being lights up and there is nothing quite like doing something meaningful and committing your entire life to achieve it. To pick out one moment, it has to be seeing my product out there positively affecting women’s lives.
To see someone come back to me and say, “You know what, this is really a game-changer”. Hearing back from the community that I have been helping for so many years and being able to be an example for others to not quit no matter their obstacles along the way. The journey does not look the same for everybody. If you truly believe in this, then the journey will be worth it. I am privileged to do what I do; it is difficult to think of a moment because it is everything.
To finally have the product I’ve been building and funding for so long out there, women using it and talking about it is so satisfying and assuring that keep going, there are other products they need, they’re waiting and depending on you. That encourages me to push through during the late nights, early mornings and rejections. I have always been driven by this mission and that is what keeps me going.
Osaghae: Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
Baca: I am not shy of growth, so I am pushing for the company to grow as fast as it possibly can. I want my unreleased products to be funded so that they can go out there and start changing the shape of the industry, so other companies can follow suit. I am not creating this company to be the only one doing what we are doing right now. There is too much of a need for me to be the only one that is doing what we are doing. We need more companies to start catering to this market. It is necessary, it is needed. I want to see more sister companies growing alongside us, catering to our community. I also want to move further down the supply chain, it is not just about being a brand. I want to bring manufacturing back to Africa.
" We have big ambitions to create sustainable eco-cities across Africa using the engine of manufacturing and creating supply chains for Africa so that we can have 'Made in Africa,' all over the world."
That is the next big step for me as an individual while taking the company alongside me.
I want to inspire the diaspora. The point of us moving to these countries was to learn, leverage and empower our people so we can have 'Made in Nigeria,' been sold in America, 'Made in Zimbabwe,' been sold in Australia.
The fact that we are here and can have this discussion shows that there is an answer in us which Africa is waiting for. I want to see a lot more of that and in the spaces where I do have a voice, I want to encourage this to happen at a pace that has never happened before.
I would love to have a physical presence, but it will not be your typical beauty store. It is going to be an educational, cultural experience. A home away from home.
We want to be able to capture all of this information and provide a modern context for it.
How do we ensure that we continue to progress and evolve as people without forgetting where we came from, without losing that anchor to our culture?
Osaghae: Do you have any advice for those wanting to take the plunge into a journey of entrepreneurship?
Baca: It is not the easiest path, however, one thing that has allowed me to survive as a sole founder is my network. Go and use the resources available to mentor yourself. Create these profiles of individuals you go to. Build your network long before you want to do anything. Being good to people, your reputation, your ability to perform, your excellence, keep that pristine. Manage your relationships online and offline. You will find yourself in a situation where everybody is working to get you to the level that you need to be. However, that does not happen without first laying the groundwork. That is in your conduct, that is your responsibility. Once you have a strong network, it is a safety net. You know that these people can act a certain way to lift you up to where you need to go.
Another important thing is to leave the ladder for the next person to come up – that is very key.
Osaghae: At the Davi Magazine, we love to ask our guests, if you had an opportunity to speak with your old self, what would you tell yourself and why?
Baca: I would say, you have it within you, believe in yourself. You can start now but take it slowly. One of the best advice I ever got was when you are doing it, take your time. Because it is a marathon, not a sprint. You will get there but you have to order your steps carefully. You can always do more than you think you can. Get started because nothing is accomplished unless you get started. Be patient in the process and always be grateful.
" Entrepreneurship is not having everybody serve you, it is you deciding that you want to serve everybody. Therefore, humility is key."
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