The mother-daughter team behind high-end soap brand Nefertari talk about their mission to produce quality products crafted by Egyptians and their commitment to giving back to the community
Written by Sara Romany
Photographed by Hayssam Samir
As a woman, I always seek the best beauty and body care products for myself, spending more than I probably should on international brands. It was only recently that I stumbled upon a national treasure. Nefertari body care products have actually been around since the late 1990s, but because they are made from natural ingredients and tagged “Proudly Handmade in Egypt,” they have managed to stand out from the commercial brands and really make a name for themselves. Each product is beautifully presented in a handwoven basket or a hand-painted jar that gives it a very personal touch.
Intrigued by the quality, pride and integrity put into these products, I looked up the mother and daughter team who together have built the Nefertari brand from the ground up. Dr. Mona El Erian creates the products in the labs, while daughter Chahira Adel is left to handle all the logistics.
From the minute I stepped into her office, I could see that Adel was swamped, with a stack of work piled in front of her. She quickly wrapped up and, with a sparkle of excitement in her eye, began to tell me the story behind Nefertari.
“It all started around 1998 after I used a shampoo that burned my scalp. [My mother] went on a quest to find a natural alternative for [me], but a quick survey of the local market rendered zero results,” Adel explains. “Coming from a pharmaceutical background, she understood the chemistry behind creating natural soap and took it upon herself to create a safe product. […]She went home to prepare what would be the start of Nefertari. Her first batch of natural soap was a big hit among family and friends, and to [our] surprise, the demand for the soap grew.”
Today Nefertari is the largest natural body products company in the nation. Adel speaks with great confidence about the quality and integrity of their products. She and El Erian traveled abroad to discover and learn from international natural brands such as the legendary Savon De Marseille, manufactured for some 600 years from all-natural ingredients in Marseille, France. They were surprised to find that the ingredients El Erian used for her Nefertari products were of an even higher grade than what was going into international products. Upon their return, Nefertari decided to launch its soap under the name of Le Savon D’Egypte, a testament to the mother-daughter duo’s pride in their Egyptian identity.
Adel explains that what sets Nefertari apart is that they never skimp on quality.
“We hear a lot these days about companies using cheaper ingredients; after all every company’s goal is to maximize profit,” she says. “But that’s not our goal. We are so devoted to using Egyptian products that we don’t compromise on any element, even if it is in the packaging.”
Naturally the quality does come with a price. “We insist on buying everything Egyptian. A jar produced in China costs an average cost of 10 piastres while a jar made in Egypt carries an average cost of LE 3. Despite the price difference of 300%, [we] stay faithful to the Egyptian products.”
As a company, Nefertari is committed not only to Egyptian products but also to Egyptian society, and it participates in many community development projects. “It all started with an old blind man weaving baskets,” recalls Adel. “We made a deal with the old man to buy all his products. And a few months later the office was filled with baskets sitting there not being used.” Adel got creative and decided to use them as packaging for their products. Soon enough, Nefertari was buying entire woven basket lines from five different families.
Seeing that they were making a difference in the lives of these five families, the Nefertari founders decided they wanted to keep giving back to the community. Adel began traveling around Egypt looking at the village crafts and exploring how she could incorporate them into Nefertari products.
“From the oasis of Farafra to underprivileged neighborhoods in Old Cairo,” she says with pride, “We are [so happy that we have] a substantial network of suppliers and are able to empower marginalized residents all over Egypt.”
It’s a story I expected to hear from an NGO and another charitable foundations, not from a profit-based company. Yet the two women behind Nefertari seem to have created the perfect business model for sustainability: one that is committed to producing a high-end brand to international standards while simultaneously empowering Egyptians and give back to the community. et