Sustainability and Self-Care Are One and the Same for Sabrina Rowe's Beauty Brand
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There's no question that the more care we put into our planet, the healthier it will become—and the same can be even said of ourselves when we focus on our own wellness routines. Though some might say you have to choose one or the other, Sabrina Rowe proves through NTRL by Sabs—her eco-friendly hair, skin, and body care brand—that sustainability and self care can truly go hand in hand.
Rowe has always had a passion for beauty; it started with hair care since her mom was a hairdresser. The CEO's heritage also played a role in the relationship with her hair: "Coming from a mixed family meant multiple hair types in the house, and like many mixed Black kids, I struggled with my hair," says Rowe. Rowe taught herself the basics growing up and found her groove after learning more through theater makeup and hair classes at her performing arts high school.
"My mom told me to get my cosmetology license once she saw I had some interest and skill," Rowe says. "She would say, 'Even in a recession, people need to get their hair cut.'" Rowe took this advice to heart, and forged a successful hairstyling career and eventually launched her own natural beauty brand offering products for textured hair, as well as skin and body care.
Beauty Building Blocks
Rowe founded NTRL by Sabs in June 2020 as an extension of the beauty corporation she established in March 2010, to marry her "calculative, scientific, and creative mind." While she always knew that she wanted to make her own beauty products, the time presented itself during this peak period of the COVID-19 pandemic to tend to her clients' hair from afar.
"Not being able to physically work on clients due to the quarantine meant I needed to give them a piece of me to help them look after themselves," Rowe says. "I had been tinkering with formulas for a while and thought if the world was ending as I knew it, I would regret not trying to produce my own stuff." With "a little courage—and twice as much anxiety," she used her life savings to fund her brand.
The Grassroots Route
Learning the ropes of formulation came easily for Rowe, as she already mixed ingredients together for her clients and loved ones, and took free courses on the topic years before NTRL by Sabs was born. She took her skill set to the next level after completing an official cosmetic formulation program to grow her confidence in the field. "Understanding formulation and being able to make stuff myself makes it easier to work with senior chemists who help me achieve my goals for the products if and when I hit a wall," the CEO says. "Now it's a beautiful collaboration between me and my trusted lab partners."
Since in-person business events and markets were put on pause because of the pandemic, Rowe used social media as her marketing tool to get her brand's name out there. Plus, she sent free product samples to everybody in her community. "Slowly we picked up loyal customers and some beauty editors took notice," she says. "Now we proudly have proper PR, are carried by a few select retail partners, do pop-ups and fleas, and sell through our site, ntrlbysabs.com."
Diverse, Eco-Friendly Ethics
The ethics behind Rowe's all-natural beauty brand stems from her experience in beauty over the last two decades, which she says has left a pretty hefty carbon imprint. "Touching people (cosmetology) means there is a lot of infection control I must adhere to and single-use items I have no choice but to use, per the law," she says. That's why she made it her priority to create clean products.
Honoring her diverse family, clientele, and anyone who has curly strands like hers was also a priority. "As a Caribbean kid of Puerto Rican and Panamanian descent (mom and dad respectively), I was raised with not only frizzy-curly hair, [but also] a love of the ocean and sea," she says. "I knew when I had my own brand, I wanted to teach people to consume high-quality products without causing more damage to the earth or themselves."
Clean, Quality Ingredients
To create the eco-friendly line of beauty goods that tend to the body from head to toe, Rowe approaches her formulation process with a sterile environment at her home studio—which is where she makes lotions (from $20, ntrlbysabs.com) and balms ($10, ntrlbysabs.com). She makes small batches of everything in her collection for quality control, and she uses a rigorous testing process with her team of cosmetic chemists to make sure that each product is safe.
"With regard to key ingredients, I only use high-quality and sustainable botanicals that work well for skin and hair," Rowe says. "Some of my favorites are coconut oil, castor oil, shea butter, cocoa butter, lavender oil, jojoba oil, argan oil, rosemary oil, tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil, and bamboo extracts."
She infuses these nourishing ingredients across her line, in products like the El Jardín Shampoo Bar ($20, ntrlbysabs.com), LavRiche Conditioner Bar ($18, ntrlbysabs.com), and Nourishing Rose Oil ($30, ntrlbysabs.com)—all of which are some of her go-tos, because of their versatility. "Multi-use products are a really important element in the line and part of our overall ethos of offering sustainable, clean beauty," she says.
From One Entrepreneur to Another
"Entrepreneurship is an uphill battle, but if you love it—like I do—it is worth it," Rowe says. Her best advice is to start slow and embrace any hiccups—because they will happen at some point. If you move too fast, it could make the mistakes even more costly. To keep moving along, she recommends staying nimble, open to pivoting, asking for help whenever you need it. "Stubbornness and ego—which are not confidence, only fear of confidence [being] projected—do not serve the greater goal, so try to abandon those as soon as possible, or just leave them out entirely," she says.
As Rowe continues along her own entrepreneurial journey, she is excited to see customers overseas with her products and to open her own lab one day. "There are literally only a handful of Black-owned labs, and I would really love to be a part of that changing," she says. "It's a long way ahead, as I am self-funded and not interested in changing that for a while, so I will continue on with intentional baby steps."
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