Michelle Ntalami, a strategic brand and marketing expert, is the founder of Marini Naturals, Kenya’s first 100% organic, natural hair care line. With her wealth of branding and design knowledge, she has conceptualised and designed the Marini Naturals brand, from its name to its logo, colours, scents, packaging, label design, brand plan and marketing strategy.
Here, Michelle discusses her fruitful journey to creating Marini Naturals.
Marini is Swahili for ‘beautiful’ or ‘attractive’. What was your inspiration behind the name Marini Naturals?
From the get-go, I wanted the name to mean “gorgeous” or “naturally beautiful,” just like women are intended to be! I also wanted something very African-sounding and easy on the tongue and mind.
So I Googled how many other ways to say “beautiful” or “charming” in any African language. I didn’t mind the language, so long as it was African. And right there was the name “Marini” which is Swahili for the same. I instantly fell in love with it.
Marini Naturals is Kenyan’s first 100% natural hair product company for natural hair. How did you find and convince the scientists and other experts who helped turn your dream into a reality?
In fact, when I approached a few cosmetic scientists, most told me that the natural hair and skin market is not quite ready in Africa. They advised me to go for generic, synthetic products which “sell more and have higher margins.”
But I had a set focus and vision in mind, and to me it was producing 100% natural products with no compromise on quality. However, a few formulators and one factory believed and shared in my vision, and the rest followed.
We worked together to make Marini a reality. Soon after our first batch hit the markets and flew off the shelves, most of the ones who had convinced me otherwise expressed interest in working with us.
How do you strike a balance between running your branding company, Brandvine Group, and Marini Naturals simultaneously?
I have got a team of 10 employees who work on both Marini Naturals and Brandvine Group.
Brandvine is mainly run by my partner Niyati Patel, with her team of 8 who manage it very efficiently. I do not want to spread myself too thin, therefore my focus now is more on Marini Naturals.
Your team of 10 is within the same age range as you. Was this a deliberate decision on your part, and if so, what are the pros and cons of working with people within your age bracket?
Yes, it was. I wanted a young, vibrant and energetic team. I knew there was going to be a lot of running around, fieldwork and logistical work.
Therefore I needed employees with that same kind of energy and vibrancy to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty, so to speak. I led by example in the first few months. Today, they are the ones on the ground making things happen.@MichelleNtalami wanted a young, vibrant and energetic team so hired people her age Click To Tweet
If you had the ear of your president, what would be your advice to him about financing start-ups?
Great question. I would tell him to have a serious sit-down with banks to encourage them to believe in young entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs have a fire and a passion like no one else does because they have their entire future ahead of them and the determination to make it is ten-fold. I’d tell him to them to help us realise our business ideas, rather than shut the doors on our face at the mention of supporting our start-ups.
What’s the biggest hurdle currently facing Marini Naturals?
We have all these plans to expand our product range but capital stifles us. Additionally, meeting the demand both from Kenya and off-shore markets is quite challenging.
As much as we have systems in place to alert us on re-order levels, the fact that sales have picked up pretty well always makes it a balance of how fast we can manufacture before the next Curling Gel runs out.@MichelleNtalami is building Marini Naturals to be one of Africa's premier beauty products Click To Tweet
What does the future hold for Marini Naturals?
The future looks bright! We just got featured on CNN, and after the show a lot of Africans reached out to us to find out how they can get our products. We have solid plans to slowly expand to the rest of Africa.
Also, we’re considering exciting new products from Marini Naturals. We believe men, kids and even our dreadlocked brothers and sisters need to be taken care of too! There has been a lot of demand from these markets and we are working on something fantastic for them.
We hope for this brand to slowly and steadily be one of Africa’s premier beauty products for natural hair and skin.
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