Over the past six months, Barcelona based cosmetic brand founder, Salima Issaoui and her brand UZZA have been on the lips of many cool girls, but she is definitely not fluffing around.
We caught up with her to find out more about growing up in Barcelona, being raised by her Moroccan parents, the nostalgic appeal of her roots, view on gender as well as what cosmetics to use for days ahead at home.
Where were you born?
I was born in Barcelona during the first days of September of 1994 and went to Morocco for my very first time when I was only ten months old.
What was Morocco like at this time?
Although my birthplace is Barcelona, I feel like I grew up between Morocco and Spain. My parents always cared about connecting us with our roots so every year we would spend at least three months in our house in north Morocco, two weeks in my dad’s village and some weeks travelling around the country. One thing that I love about Morocco is that it doesn’t change like other countries that look totally different from one decade to another one. Morocco still conserves its astonishing landscapes and even the most cosmopolitan cities preserve the old “medinas”. It’s becoming a very eclectic country, where the old coexists with the new and I love that. The only place that hasn’t changed a little is my dad’s village, in the middle of the Rif mountains. It’s a very rural and humble area, with no internet, almost no electricity and the majority of people still live in adobe houses painted with natural blue pigments. When I’m there it feels like time has stopped.
Pick a word from the following and describe what it means to you.
Comfort, heritage, honesty, nature, freedom, style, independence, originality
Heritage: Every time I think of heritage I have to remind myself how far of accepting it and honouring my roots I was as a teenager. As a daughter of Moroccan and Muslim immigrants I was taught to get “integrated” into this culture while being honest with my roots, and that was hard, so the easiest way to me was denying my non-white identity, which is all of me. Think about it, why do we have to integrate? The word “integrate” derives from the Latin “integrare” formed by the prefix in ("no") and the verb Tangere (to touch) and it literally means "untouched”. Isn’t that sad? Who tells someone “hey, you are welcomed as long as you don’t touch our culture, you are welcomed if you merge and become like us”. I celebrate the day I moved away from that pressure and became aware that I am part of the diaspora, and “diasporans” are beautiful. We are trees with roots in other continents, and branches spreading over new places.
What are some interesting cosmetic facts about Moroccan culture?
Morocco has a very varied range of climates and you can see that reflected in its flora, we have some really nice and rare ingredients that have amazing cosmetic properties and we love to incorporate them in all Uzza. One of my favourites is the prickly pear, the fruit of a cactus and the oil extracted from the prickly pear is one of the oils with the highest concentration of Vitamin E, it is also very high in essential fatty acids, omega-6 and -9 and amino acids which stimulate collagen. Orange blossom is another of my favourites, this is a natural ingredient of Moroccan origin with unique attributes for skincare thanks to its moisturizing, astringent, antiseptic, antioxidant and soothing properties. Leaving aside that we love orange blossom water for its aroma, capable of transmitting calm and being at the same time a subtle aphrodisiac, we love this ingredient because in dry skins provides a lot of flexibility and resistance and in oily skins, thanks to its astringent properties, helps control the excess of sebum. Rose oil and rose water from Kalaat M'Gouna would be another key ingredient… the list goes on and on.
Why Uzza? What does it mean to you?
Al-Uzza was an Arabian goddess associated with the planet Venus. She embodies strength, beauty and power and she’s usually represented with a star between her eyebrows as a symbol of self-knowledge and wisdom, and these last two things are one of the main goals of our brand. From the very beginning we wanted to create a brand that would offer customised skincare, we believe in creating safe spaces to engage conversations that lead you to look inwards. Most brands present products to make you look like something that is not you, shaping your identity to fit in a mould that wasn’t built for you. That’s why we decided to name the brand after Uzza, she represents all we want to encourage.
As a woman from Morocco, what is your view on gender?
Hard question to answer without jumping into a twenty pages essay, haha! Women have always been under the radar, but women of colour, other ethnicities, religions, other sexual orientations or sexual identities carry the majority of this weight. I won’t speak for others and I won’t generalize because this is a very personal matter and different people express it in different ways. From my personal experience, as a “diasporian” I always felt too heard in Morocco and too unheard in Spain. I am someone who likes to express her thoughts no matter who is in the room and got myself in trouble several times for speaking my thoughts out in family gatherings, and well...if you say something inappropriate there, the whole family and neighbourhood is aware of your defiance. Here what happens is the complete opposite, it takes time and effort to be listened. I felt the superiority of straight, cis, white men several times, putting me and people like me in either box a: an exotic creature or box b: another “mora” (moro/a is Spanish for Moor and is usually used as a derogatory term for North African Muslims).
You live in Barcelona now, what is it about Spanish/ Catalan culture that initially resonated with you? What brought you here?
My parents migrated from Africa to Europe for a better life and I definitely grew up being very aware of the opportunity that living in Barcelona was, my parents used to blackmail us joking about “going back to the village” so we could feel privileged. I don’t think I would’ve had the same opportunities in Morocco as I have in Barcelona. So yes, you can definitely see my Catalan side in my love for the Costa Brava, in how much I enjoy spending endless hours in the beaches of Cadaqués. Also, travelling is something that I really enjoy doing and that I don’t take for granted, I think a lot of people don’t realize how lucky they are to have zero restrictions to access other countries, but I’m always very aware of it.