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Q&A: Afari creates clean skincare with an indigenous ‘hero’ ingredient

by | Jul 29, 2022

In South Africa, we live in landscapes rich with indigenous plants that have wide-ranging benefits from medicinal to skincare. Afari is a clean skincare brand embracing just this.

Margaux Knuppe founded Afari after exiting her previous company, rubybox, in late 2014. She went on a three-day, guided hike in the heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom. During this immersive experience in nature, she learnt about indigenous fynbos and has never looked back since.

We caught up with Margaux to learn more about her skincare brand which is inspired by the local biodiversity and rooted in social upliftment.

Margaux Knuppe

What inspired the creation of Afari skincare?

During the guided hike in the Cape Floral Kingdom, I learnt that there are more than 8000 species of fynbos in South Africa, of which 6000 are indigenous. This meant one thing to me: opportunity.

I approached a well-known cosmetic chemist to see if there was a new, indigenous active ingredient that we could include in a luxury, anti-ageing skincare range.  He told me that rooibos or buchu was our best option, as he didn’t know of any other local species with anti-ageing benefits that had been clinically tested.  So, I embarked on a journey to find a different indigenous botanical with anti-ageing benefits that we could showcase to the rest of the world.

Several local raw ingredient suppliers told me I was looking for a needle in a haystack. I also spoke to the head of phytochemistry at Wits to see if he and his team had discovered anything recently – no luck.  I spoke to my ex-business partner from rubybox and her husband told me about a friend who was farming Moringa in Limpopo. He introduced us, but we didn’t manage to meet face-to-face as I was busy with an e-commerce launch for a corporate retailer.

After more than two years I heard from the cosmetic chemist, after his return from an annual raw ingredients expo in Paris. He had met up with a farmer from Limpopo who had just finished clinical trials on an indigenous raw ingredient called Bulbine frutescens. Can you believe that it was the same farmer who my former business partner introduced me to a year before?

After reading through the clinical trial results and all the technical information, I knew the ingredient was going to be a game-changer for the skincare industry.

Hands holding indigenous plant Bulbine frutescens

Before you created Afari, what did you think was missing from the industry?

I noticed a gap in the market for luxury South African skincare and I knew I wanted to create an anti-ageing skincare range for time-poor women, following the popular K-beauty trend, which was known for its ten to twelve-step routines. The Afari Collection aims to address the eight major ageing concerns in only four products.

What does ‘clean skincare’ mean at Afari?

We only use skin-friendly ingredients. No parabens, mineral oils, sulfates, silicones, petrochemicals, or synthetic dyes.

Afari Collection skincare products

How do you prioritise sustainability and ethics?

Our hero ingredient, Bulbine frutescens, is completely sustainable. After the sap has been extracted, the pressed leaves are replanted and can fully regenerate.

We source this indigenous shrub from an ECOCERT-certified organic farm in rural Limpopo, where the team of women harvesting the plants receives a 10% share of our profits each year.

All our products are PETA-approved (vegan and cruelty-free). And, our airless pump bottles are made of fully recyclable PP plastic. We purposefully haven’t included foiling on the artwork ensuring the bottles are easily recyclable.

Your ethos is “rooted in tradition, refined by science”. What does this mean at Afari?

This refers to our unique hero ingredient, Bulbine frutescens, which is at the heart of the Afari Collection.

This small shrub is indigenous to Southern Africa, where its gel-like sap has been used for generations as a remedy for skin injuries, due to its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties.

New scientific research has shown the plant has a lot more to offer. The sap has clinically proven benefits in the stimulation of collagen synthesis, a fundamental process in maintaining the skin’s healthy, youthful-looking appearance.

Can you tell us more about the women who harvest this plant in Limpopo for Afari?

We source our Bulbine frutescens from an organic farm in rural Limpopo, where it is sustainably cultivated by female producers. Each Afari product sold directly benefits them and keeps the circle of upliftment flowing.

The women who harvest Bulbine frutescens for the Afari Collection

Why is women empowerment important to what Afari does?

In addition to sourcing an indigenous botanical for Afari, I wanted to empower women through the skincare range. Both those at the source, who are planting and harvesting the raw ingredient in Limpopo, as well as women who are purchasing the end product.

I believe that there are customers who are willing to pay a premium for products that do good, almost like a luxury tax. It justifies their indulgence. And the premium that they pay can be passed on to people who need it most.

What is your clean skincare bestseller?

Our Priming Cleanser. With a pH of 5.5, it can be used daily without drying out the skin. It effectively removes makeup and perfectly primes the skin for optimum absorption of products that follow.

Afari Collection's priming cleanser against a pink bckground

What are your top tips for someone interested in embracing a clean skincare routine?

Firstly, learn to read ingredient lists, so that you can avoid things like sulfates, silicones, and petrochemicals.

Try cutting down on the number of steps in your routine. Just a few products with high-quality ingredients can make a difference.

Look for products with recyclable packaging.

Lastly, support local.

  • Images supplied by Margaux Knuppe
  • To learn more about Afari, take a look at their website.
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