In retrospect, Sumera Nabi says she is grateful for a health scare that forced her to revaluate her life last year.

“These kinds of situations can have a silver lining – it can really help you get clarity on what’s important to you,” says Nabi, an alumna of the University of Toronto Scarborough and the founder of Glow Ritual, a natural hair care company that bridges health, beauty and wellness.  

As she navigated the health-care system, Nabi says became more aware of the products she was putting on her body. Investigating ingredients on allegedly “clean” and “natural” hair products revealed potentially harmful chemicals. 

“It was disappointing just to see how hair care products are mislabelled, and the gross amount of miscommunication around some of them,” says Nabi, who was recently nominated for an RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award.

At the same time, she saw an inequity in how people were recovering from the stress of the pandemic. During lockdowns, for example, some escaped to cottages or second properties, but others – particularly essential workers – lacked a similar luxury.

She asked herself what a fulsome break could look like for people unable to get away or take extended time for themselves.

“In the absence of products that focused on actual wellness, I started to dig into my own experience.”

To create opportunities for convenient, restful breaks – which she terms “micro-recoveries” – Nabi wondered how her ancestors might have found chances to rest and relax. She landed on the scalp massage, which her mother did for her as a child. Scalp massages, popular in many South Asian households, are meaningful moments for connection and recovery.  

“I wanted to revive some of those beautiful traditions and honour some of the ancestral wisdom my own family passed along to me,” she says. “The scalp massage is a recovery ritual that doesn’t require you to physically remove yourself from a location or get on a plane. It just seems so perfect for the times we’re in.” 

The inspirations culminated in a line of hair care products made of natural, botanical ingredients and a brand that emphasizes self-care rituals such as scalp massages. By eliminating chemicals that can accumulate in hair and cause damage, such as silicones and artificial fragrances, Nabi says Glow Ritual is taking a “long-term approach to hair care.” The company also offers a free workbook with tips and a weekly template for customers to design their own hair rituals.

“It’s those little micro-investments that remind you of your self-worth and give you that healthy glow from the inside out,” she says. “There’s no beauty without wellness and wellness is a process.” 

Though starting a business during a pandemic hasn’t been easy, Nabi’s journey is one of silver linings. Skyrocketing global shipping prices and disruptions in international supply chains pushed her to source sustainable materials close to the Greater Toronto Area. At the same time, the inability to network at local markets or events forced her to reach out internationally by virtually attending conferences and connecting with people who she may never have reached in-person. 

Nabi knows she is up against giants in a field dominated by conglomerates and venture-backed firms, but she’s not fussed. She says her experience in public policy, advising senior decision-makers and designing public programs prepared her for entrepreneurship since both fields rely on strategy, diligence and a people-first mentality.

Glow Ritual is already generating positive a response. The company recently got an Instagram shout-out from Rick Caroto, hair stylist for celebrities including Mindy Kaling. Nabi says that proves there is a need for her products that existing companies aren’t meeting.

Her advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is to “start small, start scared, start somewhere. Start not knowing all the answers.” 

“Don’t overthink it, just go ahead and start and you’ll start pivoting, you’ll start evolving, you’ll go in the direction your community wants you to go,” she says.