Nêô Sephiri was founded in 2020 by a team who have been producing and researching Kalahari Melon Oil for nearly 10 years.
Their community in the Kalahari is being acutely impacted by climate change, with frequent, harsh droughts becoming the new norm. In their search for ways to adapt to this changing climate, they discovered Kalahari Melon oil.
While other crops struggled to adapt to the changing climate, this special plant was able to withstand the changes to survive in these extreme, arid conditions. Through scientific investigation they discovered that the seeds of the melon, when pressed and filtered, produce a highly nutritious facial oil packed with essential fatty acids and vitamins.
On a single farm in the Kalahari Basin the seeds from the melon are cold pressed and filtered through cotton to produce a 100% natural oil that nurtures the skin. Just reading about the process already feels good for our skin so we had to find out more. We spent some time with the founders, Bernard and Olga van Vuuren, so prepare to be inspired…
Tell us about the journey that led you to launching your brand, Neo Sephiri?
BvV: About 10 years ago, the province in South Africa where I grew up was hit with the worst drought in 80 years. Traditional crops failed year after year, causing farmers to lose their land which resulted in huge job losses for the local communities. However, the Kalahari Melon, an indigenous plant which evolved in the desert and is widely considered by most farmers to be a weed, was still standing despite the harsh conditions.
I was nearing the end of my PhD in Chemistry, when my uncle reached out to me after he had discovered that the seeds of the Kalahari Melon contained an oil, and someone mentioned that it might have applications for skincare. Together, we investigated the properties of the plant oil. My uncle produced the oil from the melons he had growing wild on his farm, while I used my scientific background to study the oil’s properties. Soon we found that our oil contained 70% essential fatty acids, and the highest concentration of vitamin E than any other plant oil. It was then that we knew we had to share this naturally powerful, truly sustainable and unique ingredient with the world.
Sustainability is at the core of what you do, why is this important to you?
OvV: True sustainability runs through our entire being! Nêô Sephiri was founded specifically as an intervention to mitigate the effects of climate change in our region. Our single ingredient has huge social impact potential for the people that live in these remote, marginalised communities, where the melons grow naturally. We are delighted that skincare industry leaders are also excited by the prospect of this pent up potential, with our facial oil winning numerous sustainability awards, including Best Socially Responsible Luxury Oil 2021 by Harper’s Bazaar.
Further to community impact, our transparent production process is completely circular. All the waste is recycled on our farm, but what’s more, when we harvest we return over 95% of the melon waste back to the land. This means our total ecological impact is absolutely minimal, and we hope that soon this will become the new normal. Sustainability has to be about so much more than just packaging considerations. Your purchasing decisions are an incredible tool for impact and change!
What are the benefits for the skin when you use Kalahari melon oil?
BvV: Our 100% natural Pure Kalahari Melon Facial Oil targets skin cell recovery and moisture balance owing to two unique properties. It’s down to the combination of the two properties I mentioned earlier; it’s proven to have more vitamin E than any other plant oil, coupled with the 70% concentration of omega-6 linoleic acid. This is an essential fatty acid, which your skin barrier needs to repair itself, for healthy glowing skin. Linoleic acid also balances your natural oil levels, meaning it helps to reduce clogged pores and is compatible with acne-prone and oily skin types. The vitamin E helps to stabilise this component, meaning it can remain active on your skin for longer. It also gives our Kalahari Melon Oil powerful antioxidant benefits which help to reduce fine lines and wrinkles.
What has been the biggest hurdle you have had to overcome since you launched the business?
BvV: As a start up, we face challenges constantly. The key is to stay motivated, positive and don’t give up. The more we power through the more motivated we become. The biggest challenge so far has been spreading awareness of our purpose and convincing people to try this brand new ingredient. It’s a naturally powerful plant oil with such interesting chemistry and so many skin benefits, we just need to share this with the world!
Looking back since launching your brand, is there anything you would do differently?
OvV: Coming from science and economics backgrounds, there are a lot of things that we’ve had to learn along the way including; branding, marketing, PR, ecommerce, SEO and the list goes on… These learnings require lots of trial and error, which take up time and resources. Knowing what we know now we would have probably done almost everything differently, as knowledge would have saved precious time. Having said this, it’s a beautiful and challenging journey, which we are happy to be on!
Tell us more about what inspires you…
OvV: Travel is inspiring. Soaking up the culture, mood and energy of a new destination, opens your mind and broadens your perspective. Our oil actually transcends me to the Kalahari every night. The natural scent and fast absorbing texture transports me back to the desert!
If you could describe your brand in three words, what would they be?
BvV: Traceable. Authentic. Naturally Powerful (sorry that’s four!)
What advice would you offer to anyone wanting to launch a skincare or beauty brand?
BvV: Try to think about your brand’s impact in every way possible. not just the packaging! The impact on skin through efficacy, on the earth through your ingredient choices, on the environment and people through your supply chain choices. The incredible thing about starting something new, is that you can build it with absolutely minimal negative impact. It’s not easy, because everyone is trying to claim that their product is ‘sustainable’. The real challenge (and achievement) is understanding all of the impacts. Good and bad.
Talk us through an average day in your life…
OvV: 7am alarm, followed by coffee and breakfast. We start the day with a catch up with our dream team split between South Africa and London. Then it’s more calls and meetings, sometimes in beautiful cafes, as well as admin and sending out samples. The day escapes so quickly and there is always lots left to do. After work we do some exercise and now that things are opening up, we use the evenings to explore London. The day finishes with a face cleanse and 5 drops of Kalahari Melon Facial Oil before bed.
How much has social media played a role in the success of your brand?
BvV: Social media is so important in amplifying Nêô Sephiri’s purpose and sharing our unique ingredient with parts of the world, which we wouldn’t be able to reach without it.
You’re very well traveled but which place really has your heart?
OvV: There is just no place like South Africa, from the Kalahari Basin to the Western Cape. The beauty, warmth, honesty and wilderness that South Africa holds is simply outstanding.
Our readers love to travel, what destination is at the top of your bucket list?
BvV:We really want to explore more of South Africa, Namibia and Botswana! It’s a vast area of land with so much biodiversity. We love it!
What is your go-to quote when lacking motivation?
OvV: Time is the most precious commodity.
BvV: Every wall is a door.
What’s next for you and the brand?
BvV: We’ve only just begun! We are currently working towards developing Nêô Sephiri’s voice so that we can share our authentic and transparent farm-to-face approach that people want to see from the beauty brands they consciously choose.
What does self care mean to you?
OvV: Self-care is allowing yourself the time to focus on your needs, whatever they might be. Your need to think, sleep, explore, challenge or maintain. It is whatever you need to feel balanced and happy!