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Idris and Sabrina Elba believe that when you treat yourself well you treat others well.
That ethos forms the basis of their new project, a genderless skin care brand called S’able Labs, launching on July 12 with three products made with natural ingredients from East Africa.
S’able Labs skin care is a natural progression for the duo, who wed in Morocco in 2019. The two first launched The Hub by S’able Labs, a website discussing interpersonal relationships and partnerships and how they pertain to self-care, in 2020, followed by an Audible podcast, Coupledom, in June 2021 featuring interviews with other notable duos like Kim Kardashian and Kris Jenner, filmmakers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, and Ben & Jerry founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, on how they manage their partnerships.
As the Elbas began to build out conversations around coupledom and partnership, and how it relates to self-care, their attention turned to skin care, not only in terms of the self-care aspect and how couples traditionally share skin care products, but also for how it aligns with their notion that when you treat yourself well, you show up as your best self and treat others well in kind.
“We realized that if we’re going to support self-care in the way that we were looking at it at the time, it had to be community-focused,” said chief executive officer and cofounder Sabrina Elba. “It had to make people feel good so that they do good, which very quickly became a mantra of ours. When you meet someone for the first time and you feel good and hold yourself more confidently, that has a massive impact on how you treat other people and how you treat yourself.”
Enter S’able Labs, a genderless skin care line formulated with natural ingredients and an accessible price point for users who want effective solutions at a value price and those who wish to simplify their skin care routine for less.
The debut assortment consists of a cleanser, toner and moisturizer with ingredients like Qasil harvested from the leaves of the Gob tree, baobab from the African baobab, scientifically classified as Adansonia digitata and also referred to as the “Tree of Life,” and black seed with anti-inflammatory properties.
The Qasil Cleanser, retailing for $30, is a sulfate-free formula that blends kaolin clay, shea butter, rice milk and squalane with Qasil, a Somalian beauty staple that Sabrina’s mother used on her face as a natural antioxidant and antibacterial.
She also had childhood experiences with baobab in Kenya, where her family would visit often. It is a key ingredient in the $56 Baobab Moisturizer, with niacinamide and tranexamic acid, to lighten hyperpigmentation. The product also contains bakuchiol, a natural alternative to retinol, to improve skin texture and tone, regulate pore size and accelerate cellular turnover.
Finally, the Black Seed Toner, priced at $37, blends fruit acids to refine skin’s texture and reduce pigmentation, while chamomile and vitamin B restore and soothe inflamed skin. Black seed is naturally rich in vitamin A, amino acids and essential fatty acids.
“Funny enough, my dad used to drink black seed tea every day because he thought it helped you live longer,” Sabrina said. “We do know for skin it has anti-inflammatory elements.”
The products will launch direct-to-consumer in the U.S., Canada and in the U.K. Chief operating and financial officer Emma Bates said they are in discussions in both North America and Britain for retail distribution.
“We’re focused on launching the brand well and creating a brand that has longevity,” said Bates, who before joining S’able Labs was head of finance at Uniqlo Europe and global CFO and later COO of Crabtree & Evelyn, where she was part of the company’s rebranding, digital transformation and organizational restructuring in its bankruptcy. “We have targets set and our main KPI is watching the evolution of the brand, the growth and repeat consumer of the brand to this stage.”
“We are trying to bring in new skin care users who haven’t had that education and still serve credible skin care users,” added chief product officer Jessica DeBruyne, who’s also a makeup artist and was a sales and education executive for Tom Ford Beauty. “We’ve made the formulas to be most effective with minimum harm to the planet and skin and chose ethical ingredients that are combined with high performance ingredients most companies would use individually. You only need three to five core products that are highly effective and simplified.”
S’able Labs arrives at a time when celebrity skin care and beauty products are on the rise. Kim Kardashian is trying her hand at skin care with Skkn, Pharrell Williams has Humanrace, a simplified genderless product line; DJ Khaled has Blesswell, a CBD-based men’s grooming range; Scarlett Johansson has The Outset, now sold at Sephora, and Hailey Bieber just debuted Rhode.
But the Elbas have a different mission with their new line.
“We’re U.N. ambassadors for the International Fund for Agricultural Development,” Sabrina Elba said. “We try to support sustainable agriculture as a way to combat climate change so we’re looking at skin care and are trying to do it in a way that holds true to all of the work we’re doing. We decided to create something that really spoke to traceable ingredients with sustainable practices.”
To that end, S’able Labs works with local farmers to source natural ingredients, has partnered with B Corp certified companies on the products and received the Butterfly Mark accreditation by Positive Luxury. The products also come in packaging made with post-consumer material. The Qasil Cleanser packaging is made from 100 percent post-consumer material, as is the Black Seed Toner, and both will have refillable options in the fall. The Baobab Moisturizer is an airless press pump made with 70 percent post-consumer waste.
“What sets us apart is our beliefs and values,” DeBruyne said, “and the partnerships we hold and the purpose behind it.”
“We’re trying to source it so that we are creating an ecosystem with partnership,” said chairman and cofounder Idris Elba. “We get our ingredients naturally and source them naturally and that enriches the ecosystem of the planet.”
He continued, “We’re a start-up. As much as there is an outward-facing profile to what we’re doing, and we’ve taken our time with the back engine of it. We want to be fully transparent and we believe that consumer consciousness is very healthy. I’m at a place now, especially being a male, where I want men to look at skin care differently. Our product transparency is a big part of that, so that process of being transparent and just getting the right people to look to our products and hold us accountable has been a journey.”
Sabrina Elba added that the couple wanted to do things the right way from the very beginning rather than backtrack to make it a sustainable brand later on.
“What could we use from the earth that feels natural and also helps a community of farmers, something that potentially people may not have heard about,” she added. “That’s the most innovative thing that’s happening in our skin care: reworking ingredients people haven’t thought about.”
The Elbas wanted S’able Labs to be as inclusive as possible, including genders and skin types. They posit that genderless products allow for brands to cut down the number of products they produce, which contributes to sustainable initiatives and also challenge longstanding companies’ hyper-gendered marketing for products.
“Our skin products are trying to be inclusive of everyone of all skin types,” said Idris Elba. “There are many products out there where the science is amazing but don’t actually fit all types of skin, so for us that was a focus and that’s why it’s taking a long time to formulate with these ingredients.”
Inclusivity was equally important. The Elbas both spoke of the lack of products for darker skin tones. To that end, S’able Labs’ advertising features product on different genders and complexions to communicate that the brand, though formulated with ingredients native to Africa, is meant for everybody.
And that includes people who felt skin care wasn’t targeted toward them or fit their lifestyle. Idris Elba spoke of using Vaseline on his face, or having a very simple grooming routine of just washing his face and brushing his teeth. For years, men felt most comfortable grooming their hair and beards, with any extra steps considered less masculine. More recently, though, men have found communities beyond their barber shops online and IRL where they can discuss skin care, grooming, personal care, and beauty in a non-judgmental forum. This was spearheaded by a large number of men’s skin care brands that cropped up in the 2010s all with unique branding and marketing strategies and messaging. All in all, the skin care practice has been a gateway to self-care for men, who use their skin care regimen as a moment to slow down, check in on themselves, and create the habit of prioritizing themselves.
“We’re leaning into well-being,” Idris Elba said. “Well-being is different than self-care. This is part of our language. I’m here to say this is going to be good and it feels good and it’s coming from a good place, but we hope that we can be part of the landscape for men to say I’m going to look after myself a little bit. I’m on the treadmill now of well-being.
“For someone who doesn’t have a lot of skin care knowledge, as you would put it, you were the best guinea pig because you were super organic,” Sabrina Elba said to Idris. “I sometimes think we could get brainwashed when brands say this is going to decrease your wrinkles in three to six months, but we’re not selling a false dream in a bottle. We’re saying there is so much beauty in this earth and so much great ingredients and natural ingredients that you could just nourish and protect your skin with and that’s doing the job. That’s what you need to do instead of look at it as a problem-first type of skin care.
“When Idris is saying “I like this, but I got psoriasis” we definitely don’t want fragrances,” she continued. “We’re both going in a vegan direction so it’s important to us that our products are vegan. We’re using our own learnings to affect the skin care and that has been the most fun process for me. Selfishly, you’re creating something you love for yourself and it’s exciting to share that with other people and see if they love it, too.”
The duo naturally bounce off of each other, which gives a glimpse for how easily they formed a union in marriage and in business. Idris shared that in a past interview he said he would never marry again, which spurred the question of why he would get back into a partnership. He believes that they can answer that question, and they have been answering through the Hub by S’able Labs and their Coupledom podcast.
The Elbas are also working on new projects as a duo. Together, they teamed with Christian Louboutin for their “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” collaboration, which launched its second capsule in 2022. And now they’re growing the conversation with skin care, arguably the thing married couples and partners share the most.
“Hopefully it’ll extend to our partnerships and friendships and it feels super idealistic but it’s really coming from an honest place,” Idris said.
“I hope that it comes across,” Sabrina added. “There are so many new brands out there. We’re not short of skin care, but we just hope our intentions come across and we’re trying to do this right and do something that’s changing the world, but we want to impact the little change that we can.
This story originally ran on WWD.
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