What we do defines us. And yet at times, life takes a turn, and everything changes. After she had worked for 14 years as a PR person, worked as a publicist for Priyanka Chopra, something happened in Zahara Gizelle Nedou’s life. Something that changed everything. Read on to find how a critical illness in Zahara’s family, and the revelations of the harmful exposure to chemicals through diet and skincare products, pushed her to venture into organic skincare.
Zahara Gizelle Nedou, 36, Entrepreneur, New Delhi
Interviewed by Chirantan Shah
Why did you decide to give us an interview on career?
I used to be in PR and Marketing. I spent 14 years of my life promoting luxury brands in India and Dubai. A few years ago, I had a life-changing experience that made me enter the organic skincare line and I became vocal about clean and green living. This decision altered my life and that’s why I want to talk about my career.
You had said you spent close to 14 years in marketing and branding. Can you talk a little bit about it?
Initially, like many others, I was not sure about what I wanted to do and I stumbled upon PR. I enjoyed it because it was basically building luxury brands, making these famous, allowing these to seep into the everyday life. All that was very challenging for me. In 2008, I got an opportunity to work with Priyanka Chopra as her publicist.
It was a time in India when there wasn’t enough awareness about what a publicist could do. It was really exciting; I worked with her for four and a half years moulding her such that she looks a certain way, speaks a certain way, and the audience perceives her in a certain way – that was very challenging.
But in 2011 something personal happened in my life and I stopped working, while Priyanka moved to Hollywood.
Can you take us through that personal experience that changed your life?
That year, my sister fell sick. For two years we travelled to 36 hospitals worldwide. We were in and out of hospitals in India, America, and Europe but nobody could diagnose her disease correctly. She passed away in June 2016.
How did this affect your career?
While I was travelling with my sister across the world, I met a lot of people who opened my eyes to what we as human beings ingest and put in our bodies, and what it can do to our bodies. For instance, we met 17-year-old children who had Lupus and other autoimmune diseases. The diseases occurred because of the soap that they were using every day, or the fruits and vegetables that they were eating every day. Imagine, just eating this food and using these products could give you something that is life-threatening and incurable.
I noticed there was a pattern that led to these diseases. This journey of discovery ended two years ago when my sister passed away. By then, I had decided that I needed to start something to promote organic living.
I was very passionate about skincare. I am half Arab, half Croatian. Both sides of my family – be it my grandmother from the Arab side, or the one from the Croatian side – taught me a lot about their cultural skincare. They didn’t know the modern, chemical stuff. I was one of the grandchildren who was fascinated by it, so I would write it down in a diary or experiment with it.
Three months after my sister’s death, I started my own organic skincare company.
The idea was to build a community in Kashmir where it was more about awareness and education and not just growing organically.
How did you go about setting this up?
I had started procuring the orchards in 2014-15 itself, once I understood what autoimmune diseases were and how they impacted children.
I had realized how bad it was to drink and eat the stuff that was available on the shelves in the market. I had met men and women who were dying because of simply consuming all the chemically loaded food.
My family has its own orchard and farms which grow fruits, vegetables, saffron, lavender.
For an entire year, I researched and found more vendors whom I could convince to grow organically. I also wanted to find out what was stopping most people in the valley from growing organically. They couldn’t grow organically because it formed a very small proportion of their harvest, which in turn would give them little money. I spent a year travelling through the valley and Ladakh, to get a sense of ‘Why?’.
What did this ‘Why’ refer to?
Why people in a small valley don’t feel the need to eat healthy? or Why something that they used to understand 25 years ago, has stopped making sense? I decided to test out a model wherein I gave the farmer extra money as an incentive to grow organically.
These products were evaluated and certified as organic. Whatever organic food they sold to me got them double the market rate. I procured a lot of farms in Ladakh and Kashmir valley — saffron, lavender, almond, apricot, peaches, cherry. These were the fruits that I needed to make the skincare farm.
The last question has nothing to do with your topic. But we ask everyone we interview – what does love mean to you?
Love is everything. I know it’s a cliche. But love actually is one emotion that is put into us since the day we are born. It is something that we cannot live without. It is within us. Whatever we do, we do out of love. Love is everything – you can love what you do, you can love your family, you can love the earth, you can love the atmosphere. Love is inherent and it is everywhere. Everything I do in life is out of love.