Hawa Hassan, Founder, Basbaas


“When I moved to Seattle from Somalia in 1993, I was seven and I thought it was a big adventure. Back in Somalia, a civil war was happening. The plan was for me to live in Seattle with friends, and then my family would join me. But my mom never ended up getting sponsorship to America, so I lived with a family friend and then later a teammate and her parents—I played basketball growing up. They put me through high school and my first couple years of college until I moved to New York. I hardly had ever seen white people before Seattle. I had never seen snow. One of the things that is still fresh in my mind about when I first came to America, was seeing olives on the airplane. I called my mom and said, ‘They were serving green eyes on the airplane. Americans are strange!’

My second year of college was when I got discovered by a modeling agency. The agency said I could either move to Cape Town and build my portfolio or start in New York. I ended up moving to Cape Town a bit later, in 2009, and it changed the fabric of me. At the time I was maybe 23. I got to Cape Town, and it was the first place where I was really alone. I really got to know myself. I got to know what self-love was, what it felt like to confront my abandonment issues, to confront my loneliness. I was like, ‘Who are you going to become? What’s going to be your legacy?’ When I got back to New York, I decided that I didn’t want to model anymore. It was 2011 and I didn’t feel like it was a place where I was wanted or welcome. And I wasn’t booking jobs! And then I became very close to my family, which looped me back into my Somali identity. My mom had relocated to Norway in 1997, and she still lives there. So, a few years ago, I took my Vitamix to Oslo for four months, and I started blending these sauces that I now make. Blending the sauces every day and reconnecting with my family through the kitchen was the springboard to how I could have a conversation about my community. And that’s really how I got into food, from these sauces.

I legalized the business at the end of 2014, and then we launched in 2015. I used my savings from modeling, and I literally moved in with my best friend and her husband, and I slept in one of her kids’ bunk beds while I got the company up and running. I think getting to have a positive conversation every day about people who folks think are an ‘other’ in the western world is the best part. Oftentimes, people want to exploit cuisines from other places, but they never want to be accountable for the narrative. But I get to share this narrative from a very authentic place—I get to share it from first-hand, because it’s mine. African food isn’t anything very hard or far away. If Sriracha could sit alongside your food, so can these condiments. The condiments that we have right now are our Tamarind and Date Sauce, and our Coconut Cilantro Sauce. They are warm, tangy, fresh—when you taste it, you’re going to think it tastes like it was just made.

In terms of beauty, I wash my face like three times a day. Three times a week I use St. Ives Apricot Scrub, and sometimes I mix it with coconut oil—I won’t leave coconut oil on my face, but I'll wash with it. Or vitamin E oil. When I’m not using the St. Ives, I just wash my face with water and use toner. I alternate between the Trader Joe’s toner and one from Uma. I put everybody on to the Trader Joe's one though. It smells so good, and there’s no alcohol in it!

Trader Joe’s Enrich lotion has SPF 15 in it, so I use that, and in the summertime I just use regular spray sunscreen. I used to use the yellow lotion from Clinique when I was growing up. Then I discovered this like four years ago. I also just got the C.O. Bigelow Purifying Cleansing Mask, and I just got a bunch of products from Uma, including a honey mask. One of the things women in Somalia do is mix turmeric and honey and use it as a mask. My mom puts it on her face while she’s eating breakfast or going about her morning to get ready. So I sometimes do that with honey at home by myself.

If I come home from being out all day long, I’ll use the vitamin E oil to take my face off. Like, even my lipstick. I just put the vitamin E oil on, and I smear it off. Then I’ll tone my face and then go to sleep. For toning I also like this rose micellar water from Gulsha. I just love to tone. When I tone my face, I can tell—it feels like I’ve been eating good, like I haven’t been drinking alcohol. Sometimes I use apple cider vinegar. I try to do that a few times a week, especially when I’m sleeping alone because it can leave a lingering smell. I’ll just dilute the apple cider vinegar with warm water, and I’ll tone my whole face with it.

You guys are going to think I’m obsessed with Trader Joe’s—I use their lemongrass body oil as well. I mix that with Jergen’s lotion, you know, the brown one. I use the regular Dove in the bottle to wash my body, and then I exfoliate with exfoliation gloves. When I’m shaving and stuff, I shave with coconut oil. It just moisturizes my skin, and it ensures that my legs are going to stay hydrated. Then I use this CVS Health Therapy lotion for my hands because the back of my hands get really dry.

This is the toothpaste I use, Marvis. You’re going to think I’m such a hippie, but I oil pull with coconut oil. That’s really what whitens my teeth. So for me, by the time I get to the toothpaste step in the morning, it’s just an extra step. Like, I’ll wake up, have my hot water with lemon, have a cup of water, and then I’ll start oil pulling while I’m getting my coffee ready, or before I get in the shower or whatever. The oil pulling really cleans your nostrils, cleans your throat, cleans your gums. They say to do it for about 20 minutes a day, but I've been doing it for about 10 minutes, on and off, for four years.

I wash my hair once a week. I use a company called Curl Theory—their cleansing conditioner, and their Leave-In Miracle Conditioner. On days I’m not washing my hair, I’ll still use the leave-in conditioner. I just started using Curl Theory a few weeks ago, and before that I was using Garnier or something—things that just didn’t work for my hair, because they had sulfates in it. My hair started to get really hard and dry, and I couldn’t figure it out. Since I’ve switched, my hair has been so much better. Maybe once a month I’ll clean clean my hair with olive oil. I leave it in my hair for 30 minutes to an hour while I’m doing house chores on a Sunday, and then I’ll just wash it out. My hair is so fluffy afterwards, oh my God.

When I wear my hair down, I use my fingers to separate it, and then I try to scrunch it and separate the curls, and eventually twist them with my fingers. I’ll walk around the house for a while until I’m ready, and if it still looks scraggly and crazy I’ll just put it in a bun. I love, love my curls when they’re behaving. But you just can’t tell! When I just let them be and don’t fuss about them, they turn out decent. I have this curl gel that was given to me by my little sister, the Eco Styler. It curls your hair, but if it doesn't curl it right, then you’ve got to start over. And it’s so annoying!

With makeup, I’m so simple. If I use mascara, I just use one from the drugstore—this simple little Maybelline one. It's like a pinkish-purple looking one, and it’s waterproof in case I cry. For my lips, I use Sephora’s 97 Cream Lip Stain. Oh my God—it does not come off, it’s my little signature. And it just goes so well with my skin tone. I’ll use a strawberry Chapstick for $1.99 when I’m running around during the day. I can’t stand dry lips or a dry back of the hand situation. For complexion products, I like the Nars Radiant Creamy concealer. It’s moisturizing and it covers up these little bags that I’ve started to develop. I just use my ring finger and dab it until it’s blended.

For brows I use the Anastasia Brow Wiz, which blends well for my skin. It’s super minimal, and it doesn't make my brows look super shaped. And then continuing with eye makeup, I use Sephora eyeliner, but not all the time—just usually if I’m going out at night. I like the Tiramisu shade. I feel like it makes my face pop, you know? It’s super subtle, but it's intriguing because it’s not dark black. I don’t use any eyeshadow—the most I'll do is I’ll take the vitamin E oil sometimes, or I’ll take my bronzer, and I’ll do just in the corners of my eyes. The other thing is—my best friend taught me this in high school—Vaseline on your eyelid. It gives it this beautiful shine, and it doesn’t feel heavy.

In terms of blush, I like Bobbi Brown Pretty Powerful Pot Rouge cheek stain in 3. It goes on and it’s so moisturizing. Sometimes I put it on my lips, too. Before that I used Joyous Jennifer by Bare Minerals. I also just bought this Becca highlighter in Maui Nights, and it’s really nice. I put it underneath my cheeks, and then continue to my temples. And that's it. I think simplicity is the best way to be, in the way that I eat, in what I put on my body, on my face, in my hair. I like to do things I can do every day, and foundation would just seem like a lot. You see the young people on the subway, and everyone’s Rihanna. They all look so pretty, but I just can’t do that.

When it comes to fragrance, I used to use this Bulgari one that my mom put me on to, but I discovered a new one that I love from Zara. But I don’t want to be talking about how I use Zara fragrance! People are always like, ‘What do you have on?’ [Laughs] It’s Wonder Rose. I love rose! I just use that, and between that and the lemongrass, it’s good. I’m not somebody who wears a ton of perfume, but when I go out at night I wear that.”

—as told to ITG

Hawa Hassan photographed by Alexandra Genova on March 11, 2019.