About Dr. Nirvana Shanalee
Despite holding multiple degrees that span several different fields and with a background as a research and business development consultant, the project that Dr Nirvana Shanalee Pillay has worked steadily on for the last couple of years is the ethically sourced, natural and organic skincare brand, Nirvana Natural Bliss. A cause close to her heart, it was after the birth of her first child that Dr Pillay pinpointed a gap in the market for effective, natural and affordable skincare. With a dearth of options available, she was able to effectively utilise her medical training and entrepreneurial skills to create a product range that represents a luxurious approach to beauty, made using the highest quality sustainable ingredients that Mother Nature has to offer. Inspired by the idea of nirvana as a state of perfect equilibrium and spiritual enlightenment, Dr Pillay decided to tie this ancient Sanskrit word in with the branding as a reflection of the ethos underlying the brand as a whole.
Trained as a medical scientist with a speciality in Neuroscience and having completed postdoctoral studies at both the University of Cape Town and a World Health Organisation fellowship at the prestigious Karolinska Institute in Sweden, Dr Pillay brings a unique understanding and scientific rigour to the process of formulating products. Appalled by the amount of chemicals that so many mainstream products contain, Dr Pillay sought to dispel the confusion that a long ingredient list filled with technical names can often cause consumers. Instead, guided by a philosophy that espouses full transparency, the Nirvana Natural Bliss product range quite literally shines a window on the ingredient list – with all products packaged to clearly indicate the botanical actives they contain.
It’s an alternative natural approach to beauty that has always interested her and although having dabbled in trying out homemade beauty concoctions and formulations over the years, the Nirvana Natural Bliss product range is also backed by scientific findings that prove the efficacy of botanical actives. As opposed to harsh ingredients that are chemically-derived and have conclusively been found to cause harmful effects to the body, all ingredients used in the Nirvana Natural Bliss range are selected under a strict criteria that requires that at least 95% of the molecule is from natural sources such as plant extracts, botanical actives, essential oils, beeswax, plant oils and butters. In addition, no formaldehyde, hydroquinone, mineral oils, petroleum, parabens, SLS/SLES, talc, phthalates, urea, microbeads or animal fats are used in the products.
This results-driven approach mirrors the passionate drive that has caused Dr Pillay to follow a career path not rooted in convention, and instead driven by an entrepreneurial zeal and diverse range of interests. Upon completing her postdoctoral research, Dr Pillay initially joined a biotechnology firm as a Research Manager to lead a team of scientists in developing TB diagnostic kits. Thereafter she left to start her own bioconsulting firm, XCell BioConsulting which quickly earned a reputation as the leading bioconsulting firm in Southern Africa; working to combine scientific expertise with business acumen in order to create powerful and innovative solutions in the healthcare, biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors. It was in this capacity that Dr Pillay then channelled her own experience within the corporate world to pass these skills on to students at the UCT Graduate School of Business.
Identifying a need for SA-driven drug innovation and the chance to improve worrying unemployment rates among university graduates lead to a decision to develop three courses aimed at merging entrepreneurial skills with scientific knowledge. Intended to help emerging bioentrepreneurs establish themselves professionally, it’s a project that continues to be close to her heart. With impending motherhood on the horizon though along with her own entrepreneurial aspirations that have in part been inspired by her own upbringing as part of an industrious family in Kwa-Zulu Natal, she sought the freedom to craft a lifestyle that would allow her to create a skincare brand reflecting her personal ethos.
It’s a decision that she hasn’t looked backed from. “Having a more flexible schedule has not only allowed me to spend time with my son, but also apply myself fully to developing and expanding my business,” says Pillay. It’s a move that has not been without challenges, she continues, “Being outside of academia and in a new industry with so many elements needed to get a product to market has come with a unique set of difficulties, however I am striving to create the best product possible and that’s what keeps me motivated.” With a couple of exciting new products in the pipeline – including an innovative new range of vegan cosmetics – as well as a strategic vision that involves a standalone store and plans for international expansion, it’s clear that the combination of multifaceted abilities and determination of founder, Dr Nirvana Pillay make her the quintessential modern businesswoman well equipped to share the science of natural and organic skincare with a consumer market eager to make the switch to clean and green!