inspirations, perspectives and discoveries
Like yours, my Facebook feed is full of the beaming or bewildered faces of little sweeties returning to school.
Parents are buzzing. My niece and nephews have been giddy in anticipation this last week. There is so much promise for them! Children learning, parents hustling to make sure their children get opportunity… it is inspiring. It has inspired me as I created Bézi.
Bézi’s passion is three things:
Here is the connection: Bézi uses fine, nutrient-dense ingredients that rural women harvest from trees growing wild in Zambia and Zimbabwe. Through every purchase, Bézi customers help harvesters earn income so they can afford to send their children to school.
In the rural areas where our ingredients are harvested, families are subsistence farmers. They eat what they can grow or catch. They barter for basic goods. They build mud huts by hand on land apportioned by chiefs. But they need cash to send their children to the nearest schools and to pay for school uniforms, books and boarding. No cash means no school.
Like us, the harvesters have dreams for their children. They have friendships. They have hustle. And they live among rare, wild trees that yield exquisite skin care ingredients. The mamas in these areas might have little leverage: no property, little education, weak markets and very little economic power. Many are widowed.
Yet through trade with customers like you and me, these women are building a life of greater promise for their children. It is simple. It is powerful. It is nurturing. Just like our Bézi products.
A week ago I had the privilege of visiting an innovative secondary school for girls in rural Tanzania. The girls learned math and science by designing their own bathroom and shower block on campus. They are building an aquaponics system to sell fish to the local tourism market. The girls are confident. They have plans for their lives. Their eyes are bright and their voices strong.
Normally the girls would be out of school, married off early or expected to trade sex for basic material goods or school fees. It is shocking to think about their prospects compared with those of the little sweeties in our Facebook feeds. But some of the parents in the area are saying “not my girls.” And some of the students are saying “life can be different.” They create new prospects for better lives by making a way for the girls to stay in school.
Mamas making money. Kids in school. A gorgeous combination.
As Father’s Day approaches, stand-up, dive-in men have been on my mind.
A distinctive characteristic of my male customers is that they love their people.
They build community around them. They volunteer and host and connect. If they are family men, they talk with appreciation and respect about their wives or partners. They reach for their children. They are active and thoughtful, creative and adventurous. They are entrepreneurs and leaders and dads. They invest in people. They show compassion. All of that and style, too.
Impressed much? Yes, I am.
It is not the beard that makes the man. Not the shave. Not the cut, not the clothes. The man makes the style, not the style the man.
To all of you men who through your actions and character shape the space and people around you...
To all you men who inspire, reassure, and make way for other people...
To all you men who show up and stand, sometimes with misty eyes and sometimes with a pit in your stomach...
I salute you. It is an honor to make fine products for you and share this world with you.
To celebrate fabulous men and fathers this week, Bézi is running a giveaway of our Polished Beard Oil, Fearless Shave Oil or Brilliant Facial Oil. Nominate men you admire by tagging them and following Bézi on Instagram or Facebook: @beziskin or on Twitter @bezitweets.
Five winners will be drawn on June 20 from those men nominated by June 19. Winners must be 18 or older and have a US shipping address.
Mamas. You are a pretty big deal.
You fight for us. You play with us, care for us, teach us and plot in our interests. You sacrifice for us. You provide for us.
Bézi’s ingredients are harvested by mamas in rural villages of Zambia and Zimbabwe. These widowed women make a way for themselves, their children and grandchildren through grit, work and relationship with one another.
You might have heard me talk about Bézi’s impact sourcing philosophy. The core is this: use ingredients whose very purchase has a social impact because of who harvests them, where and how.
Years in humanitarian and development work taught me that mamas making money play a unique role in economically poor communities. When mamas make and control money, their children have better nutrition. Girls grow taller. The whole family is healthier. Boys and girls make it through more years of school.
Over time, the better health and education of children and the increased stature and negotiating power of women lead to other benefits for the community.
It starts with money in the hands of mamas.
Gathered under a sprawling mongongo tree in Zambia, I asked several harvesters, “What are your hopes for your children?”
“That they will be able to go to school,” the first woman replied. “That they will have clothing and shoes so they don’t feel shy with the other children at school,” said another.
After talking for a while, I asked them: “Do you think of yourselves as strong women?”
They all began to laugh. “There is nothing else to do but be strong.”
Mamas. I salute you.
(For more on women and economic development, see the World Bank's World Development Report: Gender Equality and Development, 2012)
The realization hit and I thought OOOOOHHHH.
This is it: skin care and grooming are about dignity, not vanity.
I had a closeted interest in skin care for years. It was closeted because my work was about serious things, I considered myself reasonably intelligent, and I did not identify with the fake beauty messages from popular media. Anti-aging cream ads showing underfed models who were not yet 20. Multiple, half-dressed women rubbing the chest of some guy because he shaved with a certain razor. For real?
One night while talking with a friend over drinks on H Street in DC, a camera reel started to roll in the theater of my memory. I saw glimpses of salons across the many places I have been in the world, from chic boutiques in Paris to street barbers in Delhi. I saw women sitting on outdoor mats in a remote village in Congo, braiding each other’s hair while war threatened nearby. I saw people washing their faces in slums in Jakarta. I saw my 95-year-old grandma applying her makeup fast-fast in the morning. I saw the suited executives enjoying a shoe shine and trim at The Grooming Lounge in DC before meeting prospects for happy hour.
With this stream of images, grooming and self-care looked different. The grooming rituals we have are a way we respect ourselves and one another. They are a way we express our dignity as people, whatever our circumstances. They get us ready for the challenges, dreams, hopes and people of the day. They soothe us. These rituals run deep in our psyches. Male. Female. Young. Old. Any skin color. Exceptionally beautiful or average or plain looking. Across the whole world, we do this, not out of vanity but out of dignity.
You know what else is about dignity? Work. It, too, is about making a way for ourselves and our loved ones by using our wits and wiles to get along in the world. I appreciate the work and honest hustle of my customers…their creativity, problem-solving, warmth, and grit. I see those same qualities in the harvesters and processors of our ingredients.
I wanted to build a skin care and grooming company that honors the people I admire, from my customers to the harvesters.
In the savannas of Zambia and Zimbabwe, scattered trees and dense woodlands emerge from the sprawling grassland. The Zambezi River flows quiet and wide before plummeting with a roar into a deep gorge at Victoria Falls. Vibrant towns with high-speed internet and tiny villages with no electricity appear along roadways and riverways.
This is where Bézi's ingredients originate.
It is a gorgeous scene, evoking wonder and mystery. Like many remote outposts the world over, townsmen and villagers share the habitat with wild animals and vegetation. Majestic animals like elephants, rhinoceros, giraffes and zebra have long enjoyed the leaves and fruit of indigenous marula, mongongo and baobab trees. Locals sometimes refer to these as miracle trees, or trees of life, due to their medicinal and nutritional value. The trees' fruit, seeds, bark, leaves and wood all provide for the needs of the people and animals. Everything has a use.
There are no plantations. No tree farms. Just a scattering of trees where wind and animals drop the seeds.
The oil we use in Bézi products comes from the seeds of the trees' fruit. Women and men trek into the bush to collect ripe fruit that has fallen to the ground. Harvesters I talked with in a tiny village in Zambia explained how they leave at least 30% of the fallen fruit for the animals.
The practice of leaving a remnant ensures that trees repopulate. It also ensures that wild animals have enough food to eat. With full bellies, the animals are less likely to raid the villagers’ gardens. Ingenious!
Sometimes people and places imprint themselves on our souls. Even when we are far, we feel connected. We identify. The smells of the place, the faces of people looking at ours, the feelings…they become part of us.
That’s how it has been for me working and traveling in Southern and East Africa. The smell of the dirt, the tempo and energy of the streets, and the deep gaze of people all stay with me. The joking. The work side by side. The worry. The humanity. The majesty of the animals and beauty of the earth.
People periodically ask me why Africa is so important to me. I grew up in Nebraska and Colorado and lived on the East Coast most of my adult life. I’ve worked and traveled in other places…South Asia, Southeast Asia, Latin America, Western Europe. And I’m a white woman. Why do I orient my work and care to Zambia, to Zimbabwe, to Madagascar? Why start a business tying my success to the success of rural harvesters along the Zambezi River?
All I can say is that it’s not enough to bring back amazing art and photos from my travels. People have imprinted themselves on my soul as we have worked together and laughed together. And while there is a lot separating us, I have seen and felt how we are connected. We impact one another in our use of resources and our sharing of ideas.
You might have heard of the idea of ubuntu, the concept that we are all connected in our humanity and success. This powerful, distinctly African philosophy shapes ethics: if you can help, do.
When I lived in Democratic Republic of Congo with the International Rescue Committee, I was initially uncomfortable that my team had cooks and cleaners. Slowly I learned that our cooks and cleaners also had cooks and cleaners. And sometimes those cooks and cleaners had their own cooks and cleaners. Paying for help was not only a privilege; it was an obligation. If you could afford to spread the wealth, you should. So if I can help enterprising harvesters and processors make a living by bridging the distance between Africa and America, I should. After all, we are in this life together.
We respect that you have options in your skin and beard care. Bézi offers premium products that are accessibly luxurious. Here is what makes them special.
What makes Bézi the best beard oil?
We're glad you asked! Our ingredients are extremely high-quality, rare oils that are naturally loaded with vitamins, antioxidants, ceramides and essential omegas. Nearly all beard oils on the market use inexpensive oils that are heavy, greasy or sticky. By contrast, our customers get a deep skin and hair treatment resulting in loads of luster without greasiness. Besides, it's the only beard oil on the market with a strong social impact!
What makes Bézi the best shave oil?
We've formulated our shave oil as a powerful skin treatment and shaving aid. We worked with barbers and shaving product connoisseurs through dozens of prototypes to create an extremely effective shave oil. Our ingredients are high-quality, rare oils that are naturally loaded with vitamins, antioxidants, ceramides and essential omegas. Besides, it's the only shave oil on the market with a strong social impact!
What makes Bézi the best facial oil?
Our ingredients are amazing. While each one is an individual powerhouse, the combination is highly effective in balancing skin while reducing the appearance of age and the appearance of scars. Skin is incredibly soft and smooth. It radiates light and vibrancy. The oils are considered dry, meaning that they soak in quickly without leaving a greasy or sticky feel. And because the oils are harvested by cooperatives of women and men working in rural communities in Southern Africa, each Bézi bottle helps harvesters provide for their families.
It is not enough for products to be all natural.
I take for granted that skincare and grooming products should come from plants, with no synthetic chemicals, petroleum ingredients or other nasties. Of course products should not be tested on animals.
But that's not enough. I want to know that the ingredients themselves are excellent...that they have the properties shown by scientific studies as effective for healthy, ageless, luminous skin and hair.
Plant-based oils vary remarkably in their molecular structures, vitamin and lipid profiles. Most inexpensive oils on the market are greasy or sticky. They stay on top of the skin or hair. Some essential oils can be sensitizing or irritating to skin, especially when they come into contact with the sun. I researched and experimented to find highly effective, skin loving ingredients suited for the faces of men and women. I chose dry oils from the botanical bounty of Southern Africa, oils that penetrate well and leave a smooth finish. I did a LOT of experimentation with fine oils before deciding on the Bézi blend. Men, women, barbers, stylists and chemists weighed in on everything from skin feel to absorption rate. We stopped when they said: I LOVE it!
And even that is not enough. We want to know where the ingredients originate and what difference it makes.
Most brands have no clue where their ingredients come from. By contrast, Bézi uses wild-harvested oils that we sourced directly from places like Zambia and Zimbabwe. I have visited harvesters in remote villages and learned how it matters to them to harvest marula, baobab and mongongo kernels. What I learned: they use the income for household necessities and, if they can grow their businesses by selling their premium ingredients, they will be able to afford to send their children to school. This means that Bézi customers directly impact households across the world in Southern Africa.
Why not make a difference if we can?