What Does Wellness Look Like For People Of Color? Ask Idris & Sabrina Elba

In 2019, Idris and Sabrina Elba got married and started perusing their passions together, as a team.
Beyond their individual pursuits, the two cohost a relationship-advice podcast, Coupledom, work closely with international nonprofits to support rural farmers across Africa, and have recently built a wellness/beauty brand, providing both skin-care products and resources for people of color who have previously felt left out of what Sabrina calls, the "Lululemon, smoothie space."
Here, Sabrina introduces S'Able Labs, the 'genderless' skin-care concept, and talks about the areas where she and Idris are challenging the beauty industry to evolve.
The following interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Refinery29: Tell me about what you're building with S'Able Labs. What does the name mean?
Sabrina Elba: S'Able is just Elba's backwards. It's also a rich-brown color, sable. Then with the 'Labs', we wanted to create a space to generate ideas. Idris is responsible for it. He gives me credit, too, but it was all him.
R29: What was your intention in creating this brand? Who are you hoping to serve?
SE: It's been something we've been thinking about for three years. In lockdown, when we were separated from our friends and family, we realized that community is such a big part of our wellness. We were looking into, what does wellness look like for people of color? There wasn't that much. It's a very 'Lululemon, smoothie' kind of space. I was like, wait, what about all of the stuff that's being appropriated? The amazing ingredients from the African continent.
It was a personal reflection. It came from, I don't feel represented in this space. Speaking to family and seeing the traditions they use, and I realized, Oh, I've seen that on a blog, but it completely ignores the tradition that it came from.

We were looking into, what does wellness look like for people of color? There wasn't that much. It's a very 'Lululemon, smoothie' kind of space.

R29: What are some of those traditions?
SE: Idris is West African and I'm East African. Between us, we span a large part of the continent. One example: It's a Somali tradition to use Qasil. My mom and every Somali women I know of that generation has been using it. It's a natural soap found in Somalia and it's in our cleanser, along with vitamin E, squalane, and shea. My skin is very dry in London and very oily in New York, so this has helped me so much. It's actually been our best-seller.
Photo: Courtesy of Alex Piper for S'Able Labs.
R29: Can you tell me a little bit about your ingredient harvesting and how you're working with small farms in Africa?
SE: Farmers are really important to us. The part of IFAD [International Fund for Agricultural Development] that we work for helps rural communities look at agriculture as a means to find work so they can support themselves, wean off the aid model. There's a time and a place for aid, but it's not sustainable. People need to be able to work and take care of themselves. But a lot of the time, the infrastructure isn't there.
For example, with the cleanser, my mom had to go to Somalia, help the farmer fill out the DHL forms to be able to get a safety check so we could ship it out. We need to know the farmers and who they [are] and how we can support them. We work with amazing organizations, like Farm Africa. Fifteen percent of sales go to Farm Africa because they help farmers set up these initiatives.
R29: You call the S'Able Labs skincare 'genderless'; why was removing gender important to you?
SE: Developing the products has been an education in the mind of men. The conversations we were having at the beginning were so eye opening. Idris was like, "Why is your stuff marketed as 'clean' and 'sustainable' and 'good for your skin', and mine just says, 'energizing peppermint'?" I was like, that's a really good point; you care about these things, too.

Idris was like, "Why is your stuff marketed as 'clean' and 'sustainable' and 'good for your skin', and mine just says, 'energizing peppermint'?"

R29: It's so interesting to notice how skin-care marketing is inherently gendered.
SE: Men can be scared to grab something in a store if it looks more feminine than something they're used to. It shouldn't matter, but to a lot of men, it does matter. Idris was really behind the look of the product as well. We went to 100% PCR [post-consumer recycled plastic] where we could. We wanted to go with what was the most eco-friendly, but we definitely agreed that we wanted both men and women to gravitate towards it.
PHoto: Courtesy of S'Able Labs.
R29: Prior to building S'Able Labs, what were you and Idris missing in the skin-care space?
SE: I have melanated skin; my hyperpigmentation is off the charts. I was previously using the Darker Skin Tones lines from Dr. Barbara Sturm, but I didn't want to spend that much to be able to cater to my skin. Barbara is actually my derm — we had so many great conversations with us about which ingredients work for melanated skin. She admittedly uses the Darker Skin Tones line on her own skin, because it's packed with ingredients that help everyone. To me, I was like, Why does this have to be a niche thing if you have dark skin?
R29: You have the Qasil Cleanser, Black Seed Toner, and Baobab Moisturizer; do you and Idris share them?
SE: We both use our skincare so differently. I wake up in the morning, do my three steps; go to bed, do my three steps. I also spray the toner over my makeup. When I am oily, I use a bunch of powder and I feel like I've lost that glow, so it brings the glow back out. I've also been using it as a spot treatment, because of the black seed and the anti-inflammatory properties.
Idris uses things sporadically throughout the day. He uses the cleanser when he showers. He uses the toner as an aftershave; he gets bumps when he shaves, which most people with melanated skin do because the hair is curly and gets stuck underneath it. With the AHAs in the toner, that little bit of exfoliation, he's seen such a reduction in his bumps. He's using the moisturizer all day, like he'll grab it and put it on his elbows. 
Skincare should be personal — it's however you want to use it. I don't think it's fair for a brand to tell you how to use things.
R29: People say don't work with your partner — what's your take?
SE: What I love about Idris is he'll say something so crazy; his brain has no limit, whereas I'm so practical. He's pushing me and it has made me such a better person. I'm endlessly grateful for his input and him really leading the conversation. He's changed my mind about so many things. Having a shared goal as a couple, it just adds to our relationship.
Shop the S'Able Labs skin-care products, below:
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