Six years ago, while working abroad in the African country of Chad, Calgarian Evelyne Nyairo spotted a woman harvesting mangoes from a tree, and asked to buy some fruit from the woman.
When she went to pay, she was told she must pay the woman’s husband, as a sign of respect, despite the fact the woman was the one who did the labour of picking the fruit.
“I was told, ‘If you want to keep working in this community, you must respect the norms,’” said Nyairo, who immigrated to Canada from Kenya on her own at age 16.
“It just reminded me that this inequality happens everywhere: in Africa, but also in boardrooms, in Calgary.”
At the time, Nyairo was working as a consultant in Calgary’s oil and gas industry. It’s an experience she described as fulfilling at times, but also frustrating, as men in meetings would often speak down to her — they assumed she was an assistant, when she had actually earned a master’s degree in science.
Eventually, she decided to leave her office job and start her own business, a natural skincare company called Ellie Bianca that operates out of a 16th Avenue N.W. storefront. The store uses ethically sourced ingredients, including shea butter from Chad.
Now in its sixth year, the business found success in 2020 despite the COVID-19 pandemic, getting its products on the shelves of Canadian chains including Sobey’s and Sunnyside Natural Market.
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