Post by Thandie.
I first heard about Swaady Martin-Leke through her luxury tea and candles brand Yswara. I was taken by the romantic messaging behind the scents, and names of the collection. For example ‘Ubuntu’; a belief held by South African Xhosas and Zulus, that each person’s humanity is inextricably intertwined with others. ‘Ubuntu’ translated means “I am because we are”. I drank the Ubuntu tea, thinking about the first time I heard the term mentioned years ago in a rousing lecture given by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Unsurprisingly, I discovered that Swaady is working under the auspices of the archbishop on ‘Tutu’s Children’ – a leadership scheme which sees 5 potential young African leaders coached by 23 successful, inspirational African mentors to become a ‘moral task force for Africa’ (Al Jazeera is documenting the progress in a televised series).
Swaady, who made her name as one of multi-national General Electric’s first female leaders, is one of those inspirational mentors. Coaching future leaders is a typical day at the office for Swaady; she is a force of nature who sees herself affecting change on a global scale. Having succeeded in the hard hitting business world, she is now giving a platform to values that have the potential to help heal and uphold the moral structure of Africa, and by extension, the world.
The candles too, are proudly inspired and named after pre-colonial African kingdoms. The loftiness of these ideas underpins the exquisite excellence of the products (which also include accessories, handcrafted teaspoons & bowls) and the result is a sensory journey which restores and inspires.
1. What is your earliest make-up memory?
Growing up in West Africa allowed me to develop a strong sense of glamour and beauty from a young age. I lived in three different African countries during my youth, and as a result was exposed to a wide variety of different cultures and traditions. One thing in particular that I was fascinated with was the manner in which the West African women expressed their femininity through their make-up, jewellery and hair styles. They were always impeccably dressed in traditional wear and had the most exquisite make-up applied, especially when attending cultural celebrations and ceremonies.
I feel most beautiful when I am home in Africa; this continent has the remarkable ability to revive my inner serenity and soul each time I return to it. When I am in Africa, I feel uplifted, both the people and the energy of each of the different African cities allows me to feel more in-tune with myself, both physically and spiritually, and that is when I feel my best. If you were to scan my heart, you would see it has the shape of Africa (smile).
My mom juggled the task of being a single mother with two kids and a professional woman, both of which were equally demanding positions, and as a result she often did not have time to apply a full face of make-up. But this was never an issue as my mom has always been naturally beautiful and has never been the kind of woman who puts on a lot of make-up anyway. She would rarely need to apply foundation or even mascara and eyeliner. She relied on red lipstick, a perfect manicure and pedicure as her top beauty treats and simply let her true beauty shine from within. I do think she is the most beautiful woman in the world.
For me, make-up is an absolute delight. I love how applying make-up gives women the ability to be festive and creative with it, and how it also allows us to express our femininity in a strong and confident manner. While I do enjoy the fun that comes with wearing make-up, I also consider make-up as an extension of who we already are as women, and its main role is to magnify a woman’s existing beauty. I believe that all women are beautiful without make-up, and that true beauty comes from within. I have days where I wear make-up and others when I don’t. It really just depends on the weather, mood and schedule for the day.
My parents divorced when I was very young, so not that I can recall. Although, through the experiences of being both a professional woman and a single mother, my mother taught me that a woman doesn’t need a man to reaffirm both her inner and outer beauty. She has always been incredibly elegant and has a very strong sense of style, and this is portrayed in the way she carries herself – she is the perfect example of a woman whose beauty comes from her own inner strength, self-worth and confidence. To her, beauty should not be measured through the eyes of those around you, but rather that you, and only you should be the one to measure your own beauty.
A few years ago when I was in Nairobi I was pushed to highlight my hair, now I don’t usually trust people with my hair, but I was impatient and decided to go to the lady who usually braids my hair… well, needless to say I ended up looking like a Kenyan Zebra! We then tried to dye it back to my natural colour but the damage had already been done, and I was extremely humbled by the entire experience when I found out that I had to cut my healthy long hair into an incredibly short style in order for it to recover. I learnt a big lesson from this impulse decision, one in particular was that the mishap led me to be more humble about one’s appearance, and that even if you have moments when your risks don’t turn out as planned, at least you have tried and are now wiser from it – I know I certainly am!
I think that when you visit Africa the one gift that every woman should receive is pure Shea butter body cream. Not only is it incredibly soothing and good for your skin, but it is a product that is unique to Africa and difficult to purchase anywhere else in the world at a reasonable price. If you cannot get hold of any Shea butter, then the next best thing has to be an YSWARA soy oil massage candle (smile). You can use the essential oils from the candle as moisturizing massage oil, which is perfect for any climate, especially as all skins need a rich, nourishing product. The YSWARA candles also have excellent aromatheraputic healing properties which is fantastic for body, soul and wellbeing, which is what I believe beauty products should focus on.
Being as busy as I am, I often find myself running out of time to apply make-up and have to resort to applying it while on the run in-between meetings and appointments. But if I think about it, the craziest has to be while driving between meetings – have you ever tried to apply mascara or lipstick while navigating a traffic congested road in Southern Africa? One wrong move and you could end up looking more like a circus clown than anything else!
Definitely more African brands, especially as Africa has a long reputation of beautiful woman with a wide variety of beauty secrets based on their different cultures and values. I would love to see some of these beauty secrets converted into organic beauty products made in Africa. This would be an opportunity to not only reveal and promote the gems of the African continent, but would also stay true to Africa’s heritage and nature.
A couple of weeks ago the prestigious French Centre of Luxury & Creation nominated us as one of the finalists for the year’s most outstanding “Innovation Talent” award in the luxury industry. This is unbelievably exciting and a tremendously prominent award for us to be nominated for. I was incredibly proud and honored that YSWARA is flying the African flag high, especially because this is the first time that Africa was included in the nominations. The entire experience was extremely overwhelming for both myself and the rest of the YSWARA team, so I think we all had a little bit of mascara than ran that day!
See Swaady’s wonderful wares on the YSWARA website here
Follow Swaady on twitter here