You are here: HomeBusiness2020 03 25Article 350407

Business News of Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Source: BBC

Marini Naturals: The haircare business that reaches 12 countries

Michelle Michelle

They say that when a woman gets a new hairstyle it means that there is something big going on in her life.

For Michelle Ntalami back in 2013, the big thing was sadly that her father was gravely ill with cancer.

And when his chemotherapy treatment made him lose all his hair, she decided to shave hers off in solidarity.

Michelle, now 35, also vowed that she would start to "live more healthily and naturally" to try to reduce her own future risk of being diagnosed with the condition.

So, as her afro hair grew back, she decided that she would stop using the chemical treatments that most women in Kenya's capital Nairobi use to straighten their hair.

Instead, she would only buy naturally-made haircare products for natural afro hair. Unfortunately these weren't available to buy in Kenya at the time, so Michelle started to order them from the US and Europe.

As this was very expensive, she started to make her own shampoos, conditioners, and other products, in her bathroom, using ingredients such as avocado, egg, rosemary water, and aloe vera.

"When I gave them to friends to test, they just loved them," she says. "I realised that selling natural hair products could become a viable business."

Today her Nairobi-based company - Marini Naturals - sells 50,000 bottles and tubs a month across 12 countries, 10 in Africa, plus Turkey and France.

While Michelle says that her parents taught her the importance of "working hard and following your dreams", they were also able to give her an upbringing far more comfortable than most Kenyans enjoy.

Her father, who passed away in 2014, was a businessman, and the boss of Kenya's financial regulator, the Capital Markets Authority. Meanwhile, her mother worked for the United Nations.

"My parents were always very driven in terms of career and education," she says.

After school, Michelle got a degree in design and communications from the University of Nairobi, and then spent time in Italy where she got a master's in interior design from the Florence Design Academy in Italy.

Returning to Kenya, she first worked for an IT company. She then joined the pan-African advertising agency Sanad Africa.

However, she had long wanted to set up her own business, and while at Sanad she launched her own branding agency, called Brandvine Group. She ran this together with her best friend Niyati Patel, who would become her co-founder at Marini.

"I always wanted to start my own company, because I love to build something up from scratch," says Michelle.

Launching Marini in 2015, Michelle says she soon realised that she faced "a heck of a job" to convince Kenyan woman to give up their chemical hair straighteners, and instead embrace their natural curls.

She says that she was fighting against the accepted wisdom. "Most cosmetic scientists claimed that the African market wasn't ready for natural hair products, as most African women were still convinced that their natural hair couldn't be beautiful," she says.

But determined to both change matters, and make a success of Marini, Michelle decided to make some videos, and launch a campaign on YouTube. Using 30 models she showcased more than 50 natural hairstyles created using the company's products.