When Idris and Sabrina Elba, husband and wife, launched their gender-neutral skin-care brand, S’able Labs, in July 2022, it was just ahead of the boom in celebrity beauty launches.
The brand had been in development for over a year, born during the height of the Covid-19 era. The impetus was an Instagram Live series the couple started together called “Together Tuesdays,” in which they talked about couples. The idea of S’able Labs is that skin care is genderless and something that couples can share. Growing up in Vancouver, Canada and experiencing acne as a teenager, Sabrina Elba became a beauty aficionado from an early period. But the co-founder of S’able Labs said she also struggled as the only Black person in high school and felt the lack of representation in beauty, too.
“My relationship with beauty early on felt a lot like an investment on my part into brands that weren’t investing in me,” she said. “I had a complete misunderstanding about how to care for melanated skin. But it wasn’t only because I wasn’t surrounded by people who looked like me, but it was also because the beauty industry didn’t cater to people who looked like me.”
As her relationship and eventual marriage to Idris Elba blossomed, Sabrina was exposed to a more entrepreneurial culture and mindset, which eventually translated into S’able Labs. Today, the brand is just over 1 year old and sells five products ranging from $28-$50 through its e-commerce site and SpaceNK.
Zooming in from Camden, London, joined the Glossy Beauty Podcast to discuss how the Instagram Live series inspired the brand, what it’s like operating a celebrity brand and what it means to be a melanin-inclusive brand.
Her wellness journey
“[Before 2020], there was no wellness in our household. Wellness to me was like watching other people go to the gym or reading a book about how to get more fit. I had a very poor diet and still sometimes do. [But after getting Covid-19], I said ‘This is my moment; I am changing.’ [In 2020], we were stuck in Santa Fe, New Mexico … so we had a lot of time to figure out what wellness was for us. But I quickly realized that I didn’t fit into the wellness space. It felt very Goop-centric, in that it serves a certain type of woman who dressed a particular way or looked a certain way. But where Idris and I felt that we both could relate to our wellness was around community. Our mental health was directly impacted because we couldn’t see our family and friends. And then it was like this light bulb went off in our heads. We started an Instagram Live [series] called ‘Together Tuesdays’ where we interviewed duos that we thought were great. People would always say, ‘If you want to have a strong relationship, you need to have a strong sense of self.’ And community became so intertwined with everything we did when discussing wellness.”
What it’s like to work with your husband
“It’s not always easy. I’ll be completely honest. But I love him to bits, and we’ve developed good boundaries and barriers. When you’re working together, you have to go through work avenues when you want to get information from each other. Trying to ask him about an email at midnight in bed will not be the most productive thing for our relationship, even though I want that answer so I can be productive at work. I need to go through his [personal assistant] and find a scheduled time to have a work meeting. It’s different from trying to organize a date in our romantic life. Learning to treat work like work and love like love was a big learning curve for me.”
Reconciling with the idea of a ‘celebrity’ brand
“When we started this brand, it was before this [surge] of celebrity brands, as you may call it. It was one brand after the other, every week, it felt like. But we created this brand because we felt there was a space in the market for a brand that catered to melanated skin and was melanin-inclusive without excluding anyone. So then when we got lumped into this overly saturated group of celebrity skin care, it was really frustrating. We never wanted this brand to be about us.
We go to the chemist with our formulations; we decide every ingredient in there and everything we take out because we want quality ingredients. … That’s part of the reason I tell people, ‘Call it a celebrity skin-care brand if you want, but the passion and heart that’s been put into this brand [makes that term] feels like it’s discrediting [our work].’”