It has been six months since the launch of Eben Naturals and I couldn’t have dreamt of a better post-college path.
Are you wondering why I’m even sharing this with you?
You’ve heard it before: Starting a business is, indeed, quite challenging. But it is worth noting that listening to people’s business experiences, and bringing your own entrepreneurial dream to life are worlds apart. The level of risk associated with entrepreneurship is well documented, and there are countless tales of success and failures out there for anyone to read. What can’t be documented, however, are the experiences, and the whirlwind of emotions one goes through when trying to get a project off the ground. How well can books, Ted Talks or blog posts translate emotions such as fear, anxiety, doubt, and anger for their intended audience? The truth is, until you do it yourself, and feel it in your bones, you will never really know.
Where did the drive come from?
I’ve had a very privileged upbringing. Unlike the vast majority of my fellow Congolese countrymen, I never lacked basic necessities and never worried about material possessions. It is a fact, the world is made up of class bubbles. No, Karl Marx was not crazy. The decision to break out of your own bubble, and venture into others’, whether to broaden your horizon or make a difference, rests solely on you.
No one can force you to go to a refugee camp in South Sudan, and volunteer for Doctors Without Borders. Those things have to come from within. Most people are simply afraid to take a deep dive into the unknown to discover the other sides. I’m not here to judge, but there’s something truly exhilarating about stepping out of your comfort zone .
I would be lying to you if I told you that Eben is not partly driven by the desire to make profit . Yes, I believe in the free market economy, but I would also be lying if I told you that stacking up Benjamins was my only motivation.
Let’s get back to where it (really) all started: Kinshasa. As one of the only four African megalopolises, and the capital of the DRC, Kinshasa is a bustling city at the heart of what is arguably one of the most complex regions in the world. Belgium’s brutal colonial rule, which led to an estimated 10 million deaths, was followed by decades (and counting) of dictatorships. As a result, it left one of the world’s richest countries in natural resources at the near bottom of virtually every macro-economic index. Tragic, indeed. But enough with the geopolitics. Let’s take a look at the micro repercussions of this, and their trickling effects into the realm of beauty – the genesis of Eben.
When people are desperate, in self-doubt or have existential crises it becomes easier to play with their perception. While visiting the Congo, I couldn’t help but notice the deceptive techniques of beauty companies. Playing up the combination of years of oppression, mixed with the ethnocentrism of global pop culture, they were successfully manipulating an entire people’s collective understanding of what beauty ought to look like. In their view, or at least so they would have people believe, the lighter your complexion the more beautiful. I was appalled.
In fact, those companies were profiting by selling harmful products aimed at bleaching the skin of desperate people. They make millions of dollars using people’s distorted view of beauty. A distortion they excelled at amplifying. (Helen Cooper wrote a masterful piece in The New York Times about this very problem).
I had to do something about this. I was boiling, and I had found my drive, my motivation, something I could fight to change. See, there are moments in life when you need to get off the sidelines and take matters into your own hands. Change begins with oneself. So yes, I’m super driven to be a part of what I hope can become a movement. As defined in our mission statement, Eben “provides multicultural consumers with beauty products that inspire, empower and celebrate their natural color”. And for now, that’s the difference I’m making in the world, and it is very fulfilling.