Meet MARIAM DIABY: Côte d’Ivoire’s top natural hair influencer

Mariam Diaby is a natural hair influencer from Côte d’Ivoire. She holds a degree in Marketing and International Business.

In 2011, she created Nappys de Babi, a community of more than 26,000 members mobilized to promote natural beauty, with a focus on nappy hair.

Under her entrepreneur’s cap, she launched the Kun’si Hair Centers chain in December 2017.

Miriam is one of the 5 She Leads Africa x Dark and Lovely Beauty Accelerator, finalists. As part of the program, she just completed a 1-week intensive boot camp at the L’Oréal HQ in Johannesburg.

In this article, she shares her experience and highlight of the program with us. 


About my business…

Kun’si is a hair care specialist brand providing quality services to natural women through a network of affordable centers.

My experience during the SLA x Dark and Lovely Beauty Accelerator residency…

It was very empowering meeting experts in different sectors, who shared the best practices to enhance our business development.

It was also interesting to discover multiple experiences in the same domain, each one adapted to a specific environment.

Highlight of the residency program…

Pitching my business was definitely one of the best moments! I learned to introduce Kun’si in 5 minutes and also highlight the best assets to retain attention. Working on my pitch deck was a very good exercise.

Now I understand my unique selling proposition. I’m a natural hair influencer, and I have the facility to collect essential information from an existing community and then adapt my offer to its needs

As a business owner, what would you say is your unique selling proposition?

I have the facility to collect essential information from an existing community and then adapt my offer to its needs.

Quality and consistency is important for consumers - Mariam Diaby Click To Tweet

What’s the most important thing the SLA Accelerator residency has taught you?

“Constant quality is important for consumers.” – Heard in the PR session.

For me, this sentence summarizes the essence of success, insights, content value, customers, and competition.

Constantly studying your environment and target audience will lead you to always produce the best solution to your target.

One of your exercises during the residency was to create a vision board for 2019. What’s that one goal you MUST achieve in 2019?

LOSE WEIGHT. If I do this, I will do ANYTHING.

What’s your secret sauce? How do you get your glow up?

Faith. It leads me to everything. Happiness, joy, strength, optimism.

 

Are you a Tea or coffee gal?

Tea all day, every day!


 Interested in contributing for She Leads Africa? Click here.

ABIGAIL NAA TAGOE: In 2019, I must be among the top 5 most sought-after makeup artists in Ghana!

Abigail Naa Lamiokor Tagoe is a 23-year-old beauty entrepreneur from Ghana. She developed an interest in all things beauty, during her undergraduate studies at the University of Ghana, Legon.

She is the founder of Finesse By Maanaa, a beauty community which features a team of professional makeup artists and hairstylists. Her mission is to empower women through beauty and leave her clients feeling the best version of themselves.

Abigail Tagoe is one of the top 5 finalists of the SLA x Dark and Lovely Beauty Accelerator program where she recently went through a high-intensity residency week with the SLA team at the LO’real HQ in Johannesburg, South Africa.

In this article, she talks about her takeaways from the SLA x Dark and Lovely Beauty Accelerator residency week.  


The world is not looking for mediocre people. To be a driving force, you have to be exceptional - Lessons from the SLA x Dark and Lovely Beauty Accelerator Click To Tweet

How did you hear about the SLA x Dark and Lovely Accelerator program?

I saw a sponsored post on Instagram about the program and immediately knew that it was what I had been looking for.

However, I was a bit hesitant to sign up after reading the rules, as I had never created a pitch deck before. But I went ahead with it and was so grateful to have been contacted.

How would you describe your overall experience?

Putting my experience in very few words, I would say it has been the most challenging mountain I’ve had to climb in my entire life.

My whole thinking process was disrupted, I mean in the space of a week I’ve had to think outside the box. I’d say I have certainly been driven out of my comfort zone.

Meeting all the important people who are the driving force of the beauty and digital marketing industry was a highlight for me. The information I received was priceless!

What are your 5 key tips for submitting a winning application

  • Be clear about what problem your business is solving
  • Hone in on your strongest asset
  • State some factual evidence using numbers!
  • Be transparent
  • Keep it short, but convincing.

 

Tell us the most important thing the SLA Accelerator residency has taught you.

The SLA Accelerator has raised the bar for me. This program has urged me to press on until I reach my goal. I’ve also learned that the world is not looking for mediocre people. In order to be a driving force, you have to be exceptional.

Now I know that In 2019, I must be among the top 5 most sought-after makeup artist in Ghana!

 

How do you get your glow up?

My glow up must definitely be from God honestly. It’s too bright, I don’t see how anything else could have done it.


 Interested in contributing for She Leads Africa? Click here.

Lola Denga: Intensifying your Inner Beauty

As a seasoned businesswoman, Lola Denga has been in the beauty space managing her own business for the last nine years.  She offers exclusive services that can be enjoyed from either her own home or that of the clients. Her services include Swedish Massages and manicures among others. 

Over the years Lola noticed that these beauty treatments enhanced women’s self-esteem and decided to take a step further. Instead of just focusing on external beauty she decided to write a devotional called G.LO.W (God’s love overwhelms women) to help women intensify their inner beauty. 

In a 7-day devotional, Lola helps women foster a deeper connection with God and in doing so, focus on their internal beauty. 

She believes that beauty has to come from within and by connecting to the maker, God himself you will achieve wholeness.


What inspired you to open a beauty business?

From the time I was 14 years and went and got my first manicure, I have always wanted to be in the beauty industry. After going to beauty school, I’d go to certain places and see the standards were not the same as those taught in school.

That’s literally where my passion started; I really wanted to bring beauty’s standard and dignity back. I wanted to create an ambience where clients would feel like they are getting the best service and are relaxed.

Beauty school focuses largely on the outside. Why did you decide to go a step further with your devotional? 

I realized that after speaking to more women, a lot of them were dealing with inner issues.  Yes, they were coming to enhance their outside beauty which consequently led to a temporary sense of confidence. But, the truth is, only when the inside is in harmony with the outside, do you enjoy beauty to its maximum.

What has opening a business taught you about yourself?

It has taught me that I really love people. It has also helped me showcase my creativity and organization skills. I have managed to pick up a lot of other skills through this experience.

What setbacks have you faced while starting and continuing your entrepreneurial journey?

There’s been a couple. It has taken me longer to get off the ground as I personally finance everything. I’d be saving to try and buy equipment by doing other jobs on the side.

Also, people’s attitudes have also posed a challenge. They are becoming more receptive to luxury beauty but largely it is seen more as an unnecessary indulgence rather than a necessity. It has made me see a gap in the market for education.

Educating people on everything from the healing properties of beauty treatments like a massage. I also educate people on how a good regular self-care routine can help reduce stress levels and create a work-life balance.

Where do you seek encouragement during those moments?

I am fortunate to have a strong support system.  I have my parents, my husband and my friends and definitely my relationship with God.

When I feel like I am about to give up, I remember why I am doing this in the first place. - @lolaruZW Click To Tweet

How important do you think a relationship with God is to an entrepreneur?

Honestly, it’s very important. Number one, it will keep you sane! There are a lot of things you’ll come across that you didn’t expect to come across. Business competition notwithstanding, there are people you expected support from that disappoint you.

Having a strong relationship with God ensures you know that this is not just a business idea. It is actually a gift and you need to understand that you are using it to worship Him and to impact lives.

At this point, your business should have a purpose and should not just be to make money. The purpose part makes sure that you don’t give up easily.

What are your proudest moments during your nine years as a businesswoman?

One of them was when I published my book. I was very proud of that! Over the years I have been involved in numerous photoshoots as a makeup artist. Those were enjoyable experiences.

I think overall, every day has something that makes you feel like it’s worth it. Even the small things like when a client expresses their gratitude are enough for me.

Do you feel that in Zimbabwe there are enough structures put in place to assist women to open businesses?

Until recently no. But so far, it looks promising. There are quite a few women in business organizations that are starting. The government is also coming in with funding.  I am excited to see how this will translate for future business owners.

As a seasoned businesswoman, what are you doing to support women in the entrepreneurial space?

I like to host prayer lounges. During this event, I keep in touch with women in business and keep encouraging them. I also offer career guidance tests if people are unsure of which direction they should be heading in.

I definitely do want to grow these ventures and I have intentions of being a facilitator and speaker in this year.

How do you balance it all?

I’d say time management, though I am not perfect at it yet! Prayer too, because that’s where I get my energy from. I also believe in incorporating things that you love to do even if it’s just reading a book. You need that time to distress and reflect.

That’s how you balance and you don’t end up breaking down or cracking. You have to make sure you get that allocated time for just being you and not thinking about business, not thinking about being a wife and just zoning out.

 

How do you unwind?

I like journaling, sometimes I’ll just journal for no reason. Occasionally, I enjoy either reading a book or watching a chick flick with a bowl of ice cream. I’m simple like that!

Definitely, I do try to spoil myself when I can. I go and get pedicures and foot massages done by someone else.

What are your top five tips for achieving wholeness?

1. You need to discover your strengths and weakness and accept them!

2.To realize your dreams, set goals and timelines for yourself.

3. Check your relationships with God, family and friends. Make sure that if there are any gaps, try to fix them. Also, let go of things that hurt as they will only hold you back.

4. Work on your self~esteem and general image. Once you find your personal style, you will avoid the pressure to follow trends and be a certain person.

5. Do stuff for others. Sometimes when we are hyper-focused on ourselves we can become closed off. Find something you enjoy doing that will bring impact to someone’s life.

Check your relationships with God, family and friends. Make sure that if there are any gaps, try to fix them.- @lolaruZW Click To Tweet

What does success look like at the end of everything? How will you know you’ve achieved your dreams?

Tangibly, it will be when I can see that loads of people have been impacted and there are many beauty shops open.

However, for me, impacting people is more about having a legacy than shops. So when my following has really grown and people come to know who Lola Ru is, then I shall know I have had an impact.

Finally, I intend to take the beauty industry by storm and develop a range of products from beauty school, shops, spas and others.


If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.

Vaida Odongo: You can start a business anytime with the right mindset

Contrary to what many people and businesses might think, investing in your brand online is not just about spending money on the brand.

Instead, it’s about building an entity that will resonate with your customers and keep them coming back again and again—even when there’s no deal or promotion to entice them.

Who is Vaida?

Vaida Odongo is a young woman living in Nairobi who’s passionate about empowering women and leveraging on technology for sustainable development.

She studied Gender and development studies while in university but came to love marketing after a short stint working as a trainer in the Google Digify Bytes Program that was being implemented by Livity Africa, a youth-focused nonprofit based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Vaida loves seeing businesses grow and coming up with strategies to solve various business challenges. “You might be having a challenge with selling a product online, what I do is that I sit down and look at all the possible solutions that might help solve the problem then we choose one that works. I love the adrenaline rush that comes with brainstorming”. 

“I have always been interested in empowering women. When I was younger, my dream was to work in an NGO that would enable me directly work with women.

I hadn’t figured out yet what exactly I wanted to do when I actually landed the job, but I knew things would become clearer with time.

When you empower a woman, you empower the society - @vaida_odongo Click To Tweet

Fast forward almost ten years later, I have found myself working with women though not in an NGO.

I now help women brand and market their products and services online. I am very passionate about helping women grow and sustain their businesses because I believe that when you empower a woman, you empower the society.” 

Why Digital Marketing?

“The world is increasingly going digital. With more than half the population using online platforms such as social media, companies are now forced to look at how they can leverage these platforms.

The social space is set to grow and there’s a need for training so that the teams which are set on marketing online have the capacity to do so”. 

What does your work involve?

My work involves training women-led business and enterprises on branding online. This means creating a brand story that their online audience will be attracted to. I have been working on this for the last two years and I’m loving it every day.

My pieces of training are conducted over a one to two-day period and tailor-made to fit a customer’s needs.

I love the adrenaline rush that comes with brainstorming - @vaida_odongo Click To Tweet

Whether you are in beauty, fashion, construction or advocacy, I have the right curriculum to help you amplify your online voice. I also help companies come up with strategies that will help amplify their voices online.

I also offer mentorship sessions to my clients. Maybe along the road the strategy we picked might not work, I’ll come in again and we’ll come up with another one. I also offer refresher training to me customers for free. My aim is getting their businesses to grow so we do whatever it takes to make sure this happens.

To empower more businesses to grow, I also offer pro bono services to customers who are just venturing into business and need some advice.

I do this because at the beginning some people just need to know different ways they can market their products and services. 

When building your online brand, you need to:

  • Make sure you understand your audience, their needs, and why they interact with you.
  • Create an online persona that is fun and captivating at the same time.
  • Be consistent. Make sure you post when you are supposed to.
  • Take time to appreciate your customers e.g. through give away. 
  • Remember to have fun. Captivating your audience is trial and error. Have fun while at it.

How do you manage your business?

Being your own boss is a challenge because most of the time, you never know when to stop and take a break. I have learned to schedule myself so that I have enough time to catch my breath and relax.

Also, I enjoy reading and watching animated movies and cartoons.

I also love cooking and discovering how I can use different spices and herbs from all over the world in my food.

What is your advice for young women who are looking to venture into Digital Marketing?

My advice to young women out there is that you can start a business anytime and with the right mindset, you can take it to the next.

Becoming a digital marketing expert requires you to do a lot of research to know what’s happening in the online space. 

Remember that deciding to be your own boss doesn’t mean lots of free time on your hands.

You have to be willing work overtime because most of the time you will have to do everything on your own without a cheering squad. 


If you’d like to share a story with us at She Leads Africa, share your story us here.

Morolake Ogunbeku-Bello: I started selling shea butter locally before getting international buyers

Originally trained at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Nigeria as a physiotherapist, the foray of Morolake Ogunbeku-Bello into business was needless to say, a daunting task.

Marrying her background in the medical profession with growing up in Nigeria, Morolake was well positioned to acknowledge the importance of Ori (African shea butter), a viable product used extensively in Nigeria. But she went further, after various works of research and training, to reinvent this product. She calls her brand the Ori-Ewa Shea butter

In this exclusive interview, she talks about her journey so far and why every home should have Ori-Ewa shea. Her story is inspiring as much as it is challenging. Happy reading. 


 

Tell us briefly about your brand, Ori-Ewa shea butter.

 

Ori-Ewa shea is an indispensable companion and every home must have one. This is because from our head (hair) to the toes (foot), shea butter is very useful. Apart from preventing hair breakage and promoting hair growth, it’s effect on joint pain and inflammation is magical.
In addition, here are a few of its other benefits/uses: Good for rough/dry skin, skin rashes, and a peeling skin It helps to heal small skin wounds, sunburn; It can also remove blemishes and wrinkles.

 

On the whole, Ori-Ewa shea makes the skin healthy, and can even prevent stretch marks during pregnancy.

How did you start the Ori-Ewa brand?

The business idea came when I was looking for something to do outside the medical field where I was originally trained. I have always wanted to be an exporter. So the search began and then I came across non-oil products and shea butter happens to be one of them.

 

I did an extensive research on how to start, by training and joining an international association on shea butter.

 

I also joined a cooperative here in Nigeria to know more about the product and for proper training because shea butter is more than what we see on the street and most especially when you’re looking at the export side of the business.

 

After this, I went for the international conference of Global Shea Alliance (GSA) in the Benin Republic and several other conferences organized by USAID, NEXTT, NEPC etc.

 

Indeed, the startup capital is not quite much, but the cost of training, as well as conferences, is quite high. Although some are free, becoming a member of the cooperative and international body is not.

What inspired you to start it?

Like I said earlier, I got into the business because I was looking for a source of extra income and export happened to be my target. I needed to start small.

 

I was counseled to start selling locally before getting international offers and buyers. That was how I started shea butter formulations and packaging; packing them in small plastic containers based on the training I have had.

 

I got into the business because I was looking for a source of extra income Click To Tweet

What and what obstacles stood in your way when you started and how did you overcome them?

As for me, I don’t see obstacles. Rather, I see them as challenges and those things I need to work on. However, a major issue remains the quality and pricing; most people compare the price of Ori-Ewa shea butter to the shea butter they sell on the streets as well as in the local markets.

 

Little do they know that the local ones are usually exposed to direct sunlight and dust making them dirty, thereby lowering their quality. Having said that, it’s important to emphasize that Ori-Ewa Shea is pure, clean and packed under good hygienic conditions.

As a result, you will surely get value for your money on any pack of Ori-Ewa shea butter bought.
I don't see obstacles, rather, I see them as challenges Click To Tweet

What makes your brand stand out in the market

The Quality of our shea butter is top notch. Ori-Ewa Shea is unique just because the quality is not what you can find in any market in Nigeria today. It is Grade A, with an export quality that has all the healing properties intact.
When it comes to our brand, quality takes the front seat. And that’s the major reason why our customers keep coming back.

 

Compared to when you started, how large is your market right now and how do you hope to scale it?

To the glory of God, I started in a very small way with 1kg, then 5kg, then 7kg and so on. At the moment I have buyers in different parts of the country and with God’s help, I have some of my products in the USA already, Texas to be precise.

 

Right now, I’m seriously on the lookout for partnerships with international companies that make use of shea butter.

Looking back, what are those two key qualities you think any budding entrepreneur must have?

The two key words are; One, take that step (as in START). Two, DON’T GIVE UP (once you’ve taken that bold step, the next bolder step doesn’t quit, don’t stop, don’t give up, just keep moving).

 

The reason is that life is all about risk taking and it’s better to fail as a brave woman and not as a coward who hasn’t tried anything. People would say “she actually tried even though she failed; she didn’t give up“.

 

Remember the popular saying, quitters never win and winners never quit. Even the Bible says it that no one has put his hands on the plow and look back is fit for the kingdom of God. Just keep going, don’t stop.

In addition to taking the bold step and being resilient, what other qualities do you think a budding entrepreneur must have? Share your thoughts here

Joy Kendi: Your 20’s are not for chilling. Work hard now, so you can relax later

Joy Kendi is a lifestyle blogger, vlogger and content creator who covers everything from fashion, beauty, and travel.

She has built her creative career from the ground up, constantly teaching herself along the way to allow for continuous growth in her profession.

Joy is a SLAYboss and runs things on her own terms earning her global recognition and her story below tells us that this journey is only the beginning of far greater things to come.


When did you first get into blogging?

I’ve always been interested in fashion, ever since I was a young girl. I wanted to get into design after high school but most of the schools I applied to didn’t offer scholarships and I don’t come from a wealthy family so I had to scrap that idea.

I took up styling right after college for about six months and I hated it. So I quit that and the blogging bug hit me.

Back then, when blogging was still quite relevant and at the time it was just a hobby, I had been following a few blogs.  Never thought I could make money off of it, until about a year later when Nancie Mwai (popular blogger in Kenya) got the opportunity to go to Germany because of her blog and my entire mindset on it changed.

Then I decided to focus on it more and figure out how to make it more of a business. I knew nothing at the time but I just hit the ground running, going to different offices, telling them about me and what I can offer them.

That’s really how I learned most of the stuff I know now, through trying and getting rejected.

Weirdly enough, everything didn’t change until I shaved my head and I’m not sure why but going bald was the first step in getting people to see me as a different person and not just a regular blogger.

Your 20s are not for chilling, work yourself to the core now - @justjoykendi Click To Tweet

I realized that fashion is very limiting, especially in Kenya, so I started to expand more into beauty.  Then tried travel and food and all that turned into a lifestyle direction for me.

Less than two years ago, lifestyle blogging opened a lot of doors for me because it meant I could do anything – be it advertising phones, makeup, hotels, restaurants, airlines, even countries!

 

What three things do you consider while creating content and/or partnering up with a brand?

My biggest thing to consider when I’m partnering up with a brand is to answer the question – do I or will I actually use the said product? If I do use it, does it go with my brand? And third, will this propel me in a positive or a negative direction?

When it comes to content creation, I think about:

1. How much work is it and how much time will it take on my end because that’s how I figure out my rate.

2. What have other content creators within the continent done in regards to the product that I need to create content for?

3. Is there a possibility of collaboration with others? If I know a friend or fellow blogger who can do it too, I will always try to bring them in and we both benefit from the job.

 

 

Was this your career of choice? What would you be if you hadn’t gone the blogging route?

If I wasn’t doing this I’d probably still be working in TV/film production. When I was still in school, I was interning at a local TV network, KTN and I was also working in a production company, behind the scenes doing things like writing scripts.

I got burnt out for a while though, which is why I eventually quit at the beginning of this year and solely focused on content creation.

I went to the University of YouTube and watched how other people do photoshoots and edits Click To Tweet

You take 90% of your images, manages your blog and brand on your own. Is there a particular reason why you chose to be a one-woman team?

Well when I first started out, my boyfriend would take my pictures. Due to our different schedules though, I realized I needed to learn how to do this on my own.

When starting out you don’t usually have a flowing income to be able to pay photographers so they would usually do it as a favor to build their portfolio as you build yours.

If they get a paying gig, they will pick that over you thus leaving you stranded once again, so getting a photographer wasn’t an option for me.

I went to the University of YouTube and watched how other people would do things like editing, photo shoots, what cameras to use, what kind of specs to look for and with that information, I slowly started to invest in myself.

I write all my proposals, attend meetings, create content, and do my own accounts Click To Tweet

I saved any money I got to buy my own equipment i.e. camera and lighting equipment, a laptop, computer programmes etc.

It is important that I have a say in what I do, and have control over what goes on with my work such as the editing process.

Before now, I used to have a manager who was actually very nice but sometimes we’d bump heads over things like working with certain companies so these among other reasons is why I decided it’s better to learn and do everything myself.

It’s a very stressful job I can’t lie – I write all my own proposals, attend all the meetings, create the content, send to the client, wait for approval, do my own accounts… It’s so much work but it’s how I prefer to work and also means I don’t have to pay anyone else.

 

What challenges have you faced as a blogger so far?

Getting paid is the biggest challenge and there’s a lot of corruption especially in regards to big global companies that hire agencies here to handle their brand. A budget usually set aside for influencers such as myself is misused by the agency and we end up getting short-changed.

Another challenge is getting burnt out. I kinda got burnt out with blogging, I got bored and couldn’t see more ways to make talking about outfits exciting again. That’s why I got into YouTube, which is so fresh and so much fun. Getting burnt out helped me expand and open up new opportunities, which I never thought I could do before.

One last challenge I will add is learning how to say no. I usually have a list of companies that I would like to work with and if a similar company approaches me that isn’t on my list, I will say no to them, with the belief that the company I really want to work for will come knocking one day.

It’s hard because that is essentially saying no to a paycheck, but I have a belief in my brand and how big it can grow and I think the companies I have written down, will be key in helping my brand grow.

Don’t assume that everyone knows you exist, you have to make yourself known Click To Tweet

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?

The Hidesign campaign I just wrapped up in India. My face is in ELLE magazine, in an entire two-page spread!

The HiDesign people linked up with me online because they were planning on opening up a couple of stores in Nairobi. They liked my style so they wanted to meet me.

The head of the company explained how he started the company, his inspiration being how great colored skin complements leather. I was so inspired by his story and his vision, I decided to take a picture with the bag gifted to me by the company, just to say thank you while using his inspiration as my inspiration.

The picture that I posted is what got me the job as the face of Hidesign bags, just like that. Most of the jobs that I’ve gotten came about by chance, mostly because of the passion I have for what I do.

My next goal is Vogue, I’m putting it out into the universe!

 

Do you think vlogging is the new blogging? Do you think blogging will still hold relevance in the future?

People are not interested in reading blogs anymore, they’d rather just use 5 minutes, look at what you did over the weekend and move on.

Vlogging also gives your audience a different view of you. Blogging isn’t what it used to be. It’s hard to tell whether it’s ever going to come back to what it was.

Things are moving fast and people want to consume as much information as they can in a very short time.

 

How would you encourage young women who want to build a brand using social media?

I can’t really tell you how to do it because a lot of things have changed and getting things like followers now isn’t as easy as it used to be.

I would say figure out your brand first if your content is good, companies will be willing to work with you. Figure out your demographic, what stories you are trying to tell because not everything works for everyone, that helps a lot with your direction.

You need to be very patient, it gets hard, especially when just starting out but you have to put yourself out there. Don’t assume that everyone knows you exist, you have to make yourself known.

 

Who are your top three favorite fashion bloggers and YouTubers?

YouTubers: Casey Neistat, Philip DeFranco, Jenna Marbles

Fashion Bloggers: Karla Dera, Song of Style and Fashion bomb daily

What is your life mantra?

‘Work hard now, so you can relax later’. Your 20s are not for chilling, work yourself to the core now, where soon enough your name will make money on its own.


If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here

Mona Faces: Taking over makeup artistry in Uganda one face at a time

“The future is female and African”- is a phrase I’ve heard many times but it was only after my conversation with Mona that I had the feeling of having met a true embodiment of this phrase.

Mona is the young entrepreneur behind the brand “Mona faces” which has taken the Ugandan makeup artist scene by storm and is certain to leave an everlasting mark on the entire African continent.

I had the opportunity to conversate with Mona about her business, her life, and her future.


Who is Mona?

Umutoni Monalisa, also known simply as Mona, is a self-taught makeup artist, a self-proclaimed perfectionist and a connoisseur of beauty.

Mona is a 25-year-old entrepreneur whose passion has led her to the path to mastery of makeup artistry and who is set to take Uganda and indeed Africa by storm, one master class at a time.

Mona holds a degree in Office and information management which she obtained from Makerere Business School.

I taught myself how to do makeup through YouTube - @monafaces Click To Tweet

How did your entrepreneurial journey begin?

Shortly after Senior 6, unfortunately, my father passed on leaving me with the formidable responsibility of taking care of myself and my siblings in whatever I could.

I remember thinking to myself that it was now my responsibility to take care of my family. In my senior six vacations, I started working for Bold in Africa- an upscale fashion boutique in Kampala- have I had the opportunity to meet and be mentored by the founders of the brand, Nunu Mugyenyi, and Angel Kalisa, who taught me how to run and manage a business.

Having learned the fundamentals of business from these two ladies, I partnered with some friends in my first year at university and opened a retail outlet- buying clothes from downtown and reselling them to clients in the urban areas.  

With all this taking place, I still nursed a deep passion for beauty and makeup. I started reading lots of magazines, watching tons of YouTube videos, following makeup artists on Instagram and learning from them with the dream that I would be able to someday turn this passion into profits.

With the help of a friend who worked at blush media, I organized my first ever photoshoot showcasing my talent, to my surprise and delight, my work went viral within a short amount of time and as they say, ‘the rest is history.’

I officially started Mona faces in October 2014, which is when the pictures from my first professional shoot went viral.

Women have often been told to choose between work and family, what are your thoughts on this? Can a woman have it all?

Women can have it all- but not all at the same time. I think a woman can have a wonderful career as well as a great family, what matters is the timing.

A woman might decide to first focus on her career or her business until it grows to the point where she can step back from it a little and give her attention to her family and vice versa. But then again, I’m single so I wouldn’t know.

All I’ve known for a long time has been work, work, and more work, but I do believe that it’s all about timing.

Women can have it all- but not all at the same time - @monafaces Click To Tweet

If you could have any superpower in the world, what would it be and why?

Invisibility. I’d like to be invisible because I love working behind the scenes.

What would you say African entrepreneurs should keep in mind to grow their brands?

African entrepreneurs must stay hungry, that’s the most important thing they should keep in mind.

I think a lot of female entrepreneurs get comfortable very easily- if she can pay her rent, and look good in the process, maybe buy a car- then she is satisfied.

I think the goal is to achieve as much as possible and never let yourself get comfortable. At the time that I started Mona faces, there were no recognizable makeup studios in Kampala, I had to learn and build my brand and in the process sort of paved the way for other makeup artists to be able to join the industry as well.

If you could have anyone in the world as your mentor, who would it be and why?

I have been blessed with so many people in my life that I count as mentors already, right from my very first bosses, Nunu Mugyenyi and Angel Kalisa, who still mentor me to this day, all the way to friends and family.

Ann Kansiime also plays a huge mentoring role in my life, I admire her success and ambition. Internationally, though, I’d say powerful women like Oprah Winfrey are a great inspiration.

Honestly, If I could have every successful businesswoman mentor me, I would. I admire powerful business women across the world.

You can never fail, you can never fall, you simply learn - @monafaces Click To Tweet

What is your greatest business lesson?

Like a lot of people, change terrifies me and it wasn’t until I realized- you can never fail, you can never fall, you simply learn- that I finally started getting comfortable with change.

My greatest business lesson so far has been the fact that you never know whether what you are doing is going to succeed or not, but you should keep in mind that at the end of the day, you cannot fail and you cannot fall, you can only learn.  

Tell us about your toughest day in business, what challenges did you face and how did you solve it?

First, there have been so many tough days, I almost fail to pick one. My business is extremely people-centric, which basically means, people’s opinions matter a lot.

On my toughest day, I’d done the makeup on a bride and she was very happy with my work. However, during her function, someone took a few unflattering pictures of my bride- it was a case of a bad camera, poor angles, and very bad lighting- and posted those pictures on social media.

Social media can be great for business but in some instances, it can also be the cause of great anxiety, especially if you are being bullied. I got a lot of negative feedback and my brand was vilified, it was very heartbreaking because I knew that my bride had been very pleased with the work I’d done for her.

Eventually, though, some beautiful pictures were posted and my brand was exonerated which proved to me that when you do good work, that will always stand as a witness.

What’s the next step for Mona Faces?

Mona is going to be doing many more master classes. At the start of this journey, I didn’t know that my brand would grow to this level, and right now, I feel that there are many more young people that are now where I was two years ago and I would love to be able to teach them how to get to the next level.

I also see myself producing my very own makeup line in the future.

As a bonus question, Mona was asked what advice she would give to all those hoping to follow in her footsteps and start their own makeup artistry brand; here was her inspirational advice…

“Start where you are with what you have. When I started, I literally had a little bag with one tube of lipstick, one eyeliner stick and one small box of powder, and with that, I was able to book my first bride and slowly add to my inventory.

I taught myself how to do makeup through YouTube and by following international makeup artists on social media. You can never know until you start, so you need to just start.

Do not fall into the trap of waiting for the perfect time, the right amount of startup capital, the right client etc., just start and slowly you will see yourself move from one level to the next”.


If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here

Jacqueline Nwobu: I Am Proud Of The Changes We Have Sparked In The Wedding Industry

Jacqueline Nwobu is the CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Munaluchi Bride Magazine, the leading and nationally distributed wedding magazine and online wedding marketplace; which caters to multicultural couples and serves the $200 billion wedding and events industry.

Since the launch of Munaluchi in 2010, Jacqueline has grown the brand into an industry leader with a robust multi-cultural marketplace and social media influence of over 600,000 followers worldwide.

With a strong and focused vision to champion diversity, Jacqueline has successfully disrupted the industry to influence positive change and inclusiveness. Her TEDx talk on “Reshaping an Industry, One Like at a Time” has received rave reviews.

Jacqueline obtained her B.S. degree in Medical Technology and has worked for major pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies, including Johnson and Johnson. The rapid success of her magazine has landed her interviews on NBC, ABC and WPIX NY.

Jacqueline resides in New Jersey with her husband and three children.

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Why choose to start a bridal magazine publication?

I initially started out as a photographer shooting alongside my husband. In the first year that we began shooting weddings, we noticed a void in the wedding industry. Weddings, like the ones I was attending and shooting, were not being featured in mainstream magazines or blogs.

From that point, it became my mission to launch the first nationally distributed wedding magazine, catering to women of color, and that was how Munaluchi Bride Magazine was born.  I did a TEDxtalk in 2013 describing in more detail how we got started.

Did you acquire any training to help run your business?

My background is in Science, specifically Medical Technology.  I worked as a QA Scientist at Johnson and Johnson, and then a Technical Specialist for a major Diagnostics Company, so publishing a magazine was not something I studied or had any training in.

In fact, it took me 6 months to tell my proud Naija parents that I had quit my very well paying job, to launch a bridal magazine while we were in the middle of a recession in the United States.

When my husband and I decided to launch the magazine, I taught myself InDesign and Photoshop via the awesome website Lynda.com.  I used my newly acquired InDesign and Photoshop skills to layout the magazine and build our first website.

Everything I learned in business was truly through trial and error – and a heavy dose of faith!  Truthfully, Google was my BFF. There is nothing you can’t learn online. You just have to put in the work and be committed to it.

 

Were there times you doubted your business decision? How did you snap out of it?

Of course! Leaving a great career in the middle of a recession (with two children under the age of two, and pregnant with my 3rd) to launch a bridal magazine, when print was being considered “dead”, was not a seemingly logical decision.

So there were times when I would wonder if my decision was the right one. Those thoughts, nevertheless, were very short lived because I had an extremely strong belief that what I was doing was necessary and important.

I knew that it was going to be hard work, because nothing good comes easy.  But I was faithful to God that this idea and blessing wasn’t given to Chike and I haphazardly.

Moreover, it was given to us because He knew we could handle it.  At the end of the day, there was no opportunity for failure, because every action deemed as a “failure” by many, was instead an educational component for us. It was an opportunity to learn from our mistakes and grow a stronger brand.

 

Your co-founder is your husband; can you share three (3) points to note before starting a business with your spouse?

 

1. Ensure that the marriage is on a solid foundation

The last thing you want to do is get started in business, without understanding the sacrifice that a solid marriage takes. If your marriage is suffering, a new business will not necessarily bring you together.  On the other hand, a new business can cause strain in your marriage if you aren’t discussing openly the number one thing that causes the strain, money.  Have the “money talk” regularly and openly with your spouse.

 

2. Understand your strengths

If you want to succeed as a team, you’ll need to recognize what your strong points are, and those of your spouse. Make sure your roles are defined and you both have an understanding of who’s responsible for what.

You both will be wearing many hats when starting out, so you’ll need to know what those hats are,  to avoid conflicts along the way. I’m involved in the Editorial, Marketing, Content creation and visualization; while Chike focuses on Partnerships, Advertising and large-scale growth. It works out beautifully because we aren’t blocking each other’s lanes.

 

3. Have respect for your spouse and a little time for fun

When you run a business with your spouse, you never stop working. It goes from the office, back to your home and the business becomes front and center.  Remember to respect one another at work and try to keep your personal life at home.

Take some time out bonding time. This is where you do something that doesn’t involve the business, or where work isn’t allowed. For Chike and I, we love to stay home and watch movies. It’s simple, but it works for us and gets us away from talking about work, even if it’s only for a few hours.

 

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What has been your proudest moment so far?

Wow. I can’t say there is a “proudest moment” because I am genuinely proud of what Chike and I have built.  Every.single.day!

I am proud of how far we have come. I am proud of the changes we have sparked in the wedding industry, totally transforming the way multicultural weddings are viewed and admired.

I am proud of the team we have in place, that help propel the brand to greater heights.

What do you love most about weddings?

I love the ceremonies; the walks down the aisle, the vows, the facial expressions, the tears, and the joy; all of it.

 

Do you see yourself ever returning to the field of medical science? 

I miss and still love Science, but I most likely wouldn’t return. Things have changed so much since I was in the field of Medical Technology.  It’s great to have it as a backup plan, but we won’t need that because answer #3.

 

What is the first luxury item you would buy if you got a million dollars now?

This is a hard one! I live a very simple life.  Can I pick a luxury service instead? If someone was to give me a million dollars right now, I would put it back into my business.

But, in the spirit of this question, I would use it on a new house for my parents- fully equipped with rooms for each of their grandchildren, extra rooms for future grandchildren, a basketball court, a grand dining room (cause my mom loves to cook and entertain and we love her okro soup!).

Creating family memories is so important to me. After all is said and done, family will always be there for you, so it’s important to enjoy your family as much as you can.


Do you have a career or business in the wedding industry?

Let us know more about you and your story  here.

 

Carol Nyazika: Ndanaka is not just a beauty brand, it’s a lifestyle brand

We last spoke to Carol Nyazika 10 months ago, when she was still in the process of launching Ndanaka. Ndanaka is an au-natural lifestyle brand with products predominantly from Zimbabwe and other African countries. It brings together a variety of beauty elements and infuses them into one. Hence their tag line, A Fusion of Beauty.

Revisiting our last sit down this is what she had to say about it.

 

How was the seed planted?

I started Ndanaka in 2011 when people were not really talking about natural products. Ndanaka started as a lifestyle blog and YouTube channel that promotes natural skin and hair care.

I was suffering from dry skin and my mothers skin was breaking out due to menopause. All the products she was using were not working for her, so I started mixing up a few ingredients that she could try. I then trained as a formulator and are now qualified to create products.

 

How did the name, Ndanaka, come about?

I gave my brand a Shona name because there are so many products with either French or foreign names we can hardly pronounce but we learn to. The word or statement, Ndanaka, has several translations and can mean ‘I am beautiful’ or in slang, ‘I’m good now’.

 

Fast forward to 2017…

Ndanaka was launched in January and it took four weeks. The process included: formulation, procurement, manufacturing, packaging, marketing and eventually making it available to the public.

 

What attracted you to this industry?

My initial drive and motivation was seeing my mothers confidence return when she felt beautiful and happy with her appearance.  Later on, my mum would say, “You keep running away and going into other industries and even though you excel in those, you are not using your God given gift”.

Before, I was scared of entering the beauty industry because of the labels that sometimes come with it, but eventually I decided to give it a go. God gives us the power to profit, so I believe that now I am using my God given gift.

 

How was it like leaving your full time job to start a business in a struggling economy?

It’s interesting and the economy pushes you a bit more because now you are literally eating what you kill. I have nothing to fall back on so I have to learn to  budget  and also work very hard to generate sales. But, it is not only about me, but our service providers as well.

Even though the economy is struggling, we are forward thinking and putting sustainable structures in place. Structures that cover our cost to meet demand. The company is self-funded. Like any business our profits are still going back into the business and we are grateful that we have managed to increase our profit every month ever since we started. We work from home, where we have a work station or lab and a garage that we converted into a storage.

Because I am a trained formulator, I make my own products. It is therefore easier to come up with new products that our clients require or ask us to make . We started off with four products and we now have seven.

 

How has the market responded to your brand?

 

The response has been overwhelming. We started selling on the 28th of January, since then it’s been a whirlwind. The demand is growing within Zimbabwe and other countries like Kenya, Zambia, Tanzania, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. In our first week of operation, we sold out in four days and our first retailer sold out in the first week.

We are now currently in three retail shops and working to increase our presence across the country and into different markets. We aim to maintain good quality products as we continuously build, evolve and grow.

 

What challenges have you faced with the launch of Ndanaka?

Not meeting demand. However, we started taking this into consideration when pricing and formulating our products. At the end of the day we aim to provide an affordable brand because we understand our vision and goals.

Another setback is packaging. We are still not where we want to be but it is all a work in progress and we understand that.

With the issue of unavailability of cash in Zimbabwe, how are you managing to run your business?

We have all methods of payment –  most people pay cash, our second biggest method of payment is Ecocash (a mobile money transfer powered by Econet), swipe then transfers.

We make sure we have nothing to hold our customers back from purchasing our products.  We work with what we have, always searching for a solution and not letting the current hardships set us back.

 

How does your brand support the Zimbabwean economy?

Besides paying my taxes, I try to work with Zimbabwean companies and service providers as much as I can. Printing and graphic design is done locally. Some of my ingredients are sourced in rural Zimbabwe, therefore creating jobs.  I am also pushing for my brand to be recognised internationally as a Zimbabwean brand.

 

What personal traits are necessary to run a business like Ndanaka?

  1. Resilience
  2. Confidence in one’s product
  3. Ability to constantly evolve
  4. Good listening skills
  5. A good support system
  6. Be good at delegating
  7. Ability to take criticism
  8.  A hunger to learn

 

What advice would you give to your younger self?

  1. Just start – figure it out as you go.  Have a skeleton and add flesh as you progress.
  2. Do not be afraid to ask. Be humble enough to ask for help and its okay if you dont know.
  3. Be curious about everything.
  4. Always have a contingency plan.
  5. Be resilient. People will always say something about you. Don’t take it personal. Feel your feelings – feel challenged, sad but move on- keep going.
  6. Try and be authentic – do what comes naturally to you.
  7. Try and be supportive of others.
  8. Put the work in and do what it takes to build your brand with integrity.
  9. Have a contract for everyone. Things change, people change and situations change.
  10. Operate as a business not an individual. When you respect your brand people will also respect it.

 


What is your favorite African lifestyle brand?

Let us know more here

 

Meggy Pyaneeandee: Miss Ile de France 2017 was never my dream

Meggy Pyaneeandee
Meggy was set on getting the best grades and never thought of contesting for a beauty pageant Click To Tweet

“Miss Ile de France (region of Paris) was never my dream but it became one as I realized what it could mean for women of colour to represent beauty in a supposedly “white” region.” These were the words of Meggy Pyaneeandee when she spoke of her election as a representative for the region of Paris in Miss France 2017.

Meggy, who grew up in the hood of Paris (in the suburb of Paris) has always had one dream and that is to get into a prestigious university, excel and help educate other children in the hood as she believes education is the only way out for people who are not part of the elite. Born to Mauritian immigrants who moved to Paris when they were just 20, Meggy witnessed firsthand the hardships of living in the hood and as her parents never got the opportunity for higher education, their dream was to get Meggy the best education they could.

Meggy through ambition and positive action got into Sciences Po – one of the most prestigious universities in France which used to be restricted to the elite. This was the first step to reaching her goals as she got the opportunity to live and work in New York for a year which was on her dream board.
With Meggy set on getting the best grades in the field of Marketing, she never thought of contesting for a beauty pageant.

That was until she chanced upon French journalist, Francois Durpaire who made her understand that her personality would make a great difference as no one has a story like hers. Then Meggy realized that representing beauty for the region of Paris as a woman of colour would not only empower women like her but it would also encourage the children in the hood to dream bigger.


How and why did you join Miss France 2017?

I walked for a fashion show in March 2016 for a friend who needed models at the last minute. I didn’t know how to walk or anything but I did it to help her and that’s where I met a French journalist called Francois Durpaire. We had the opportunity to talk at the after party and when I told him I was in Sciences Po, he told me he was going to come for a conference in a week.

I attended the conference and we talked again, that’s when he told me about being a member of the “Miss Ile de France” committee. I found it funny that a serious person like him would be a part of something superficial like a beauty pageant. When I shared this with him, he told me to just give it a try. I then spoke to my parents about this opportunity and my mom basically told me she wouldn’t speak to me if I don’t go for the casting. And so, it began.

The reason I agreed to join was because I knew from the beginning that my participation was going to be different as I was different. Most of the girls in the contest had dreamt of this day while I had never thought of it. I never even thought I had a chance to compete because I didn’t think I was “beautiful enough”. But when Francois told me that I had my chances and that my personality would also make a difference, I realized how big this could be.

There was something symbolic about representing beauty for the region of Paris because I am a woman of colour. Some would hardly call me black because I also look Indian but to me, my skin tone is dark, I am Mauritian and because of it I’m a mixed girl. I grew up with immigrants in the hood. I entered one of the most prestigious schools in France and I am still living in the hood. I knew there couldn’t be another girl like me in the contest with the same speech. From the beginning I knew my body would not be my chance to stand out. My speech would and I was right.

There was something symbolic about representing beauty for the region of Paris as I'm a woman of colour Click To Tweet

What did being elected as Miss Ile de France mean to you? What kind of responses did you receive after the election from the community and other contestants?

It was such an honor and a pride. I know I won thanks to my speech and it was empowering to people like me who come from the bottom and sometimes feel like it’s forbidden to dream. I just wanted to let everyone know that you can do whatever you want to do if you work and if you are well surrounded.

With regards to the responses, I received all sorts. To be honest I mostly saw, in the beginning, nice comments. People were very surprised that I would be elected. Unconsciously, no one expects a non-white girl to be elected. I remember when I posted my official photo on Twitter, I had a lot of retweets and most of them were black people.

But the show isn’t popular in my region so I wasn’t the girl everybody would hear about suddenly. The Mayor of my city got very excited and immediately asked to meet me and write about me on the journal. There were also the racist comments I would rather forget. I received very different responses from the contestants. We were 30 in number – some were indifferent, others adored me. I, however, got close to 3 girls during the entire month and we cheered each other.

What was the criteria for your election? What preparations/sacrifices did you make towards both Miss Ile de France and Miss France?

It was a beauty pageant contest so we needed to be at least 170cm tall, pretty, slim, mostly with a nice body and elegant. The show for the contest is made up of several dances, walks, and speech so they wanted cheerful and self-motivated women.

For my preparations towards Miss France, I had to gain 5kgs because I was always a little too skinny. I had to work out and eat way more to do so. I also learned how to catwalk; walk in heels and hold myself right. These were things I had planned to do at some point in my life so I was happy to finally do so.

I was lucky I didn’t have to sacrifice anything. It was my gap year and I was supposed to do internships. I told my school about my election and asked them to give me 5 months off and consider it as an internship. I was going to be away for a month during the Miss France contest so I knew no enterprise would seriously hire me for 3 months. I was lucky my school supported me.

What was your biggest challenge and achievement in the contests?

My biggest challenge was being on stage and looking confident in my body when I wasn’t. I’ve always been bullied about being too skinny so being in a “beauty pageant” was hard to believe. I also had to show my body with a smile in front of millions of people which was unnerving but I knew why I was doing it. I also knew that though I had been selected on physical aspects, I could tell people how I feel about beauty.

My biggest achievement was my speech. Also, that I remained myself the entire time. Even though people saw me differently, I was the same Meggy and I’m proud of that.

My biggest challenge was being on stage and looking confident in my body when I wasn’t Click To Tweet

How has life been after the pageant personally and professionally? Will you say you have achieved your goal with this pageant?

Professionally nothing happened to me related to Miss France. I had to find an internship on LinkedIn. I worked for an audiovisual production company. But I met interesting people who are now a part of my network and can help me someday. Francois Durpaire is first on my list.

Personally, I’m still the same Meggy with a dream to excel in school but also a representative for my region as I am sometimes invited to events where I have to wear my sash. I am sometimes recognized on the streets and people take photos with me. It’s so weird because I feel like I’m nobody but it seems I’m ‘famous’ to the people who saw me on TV. When I have autographs sessions, it sometimes gets very emotional for those who relate to my story.

Have I achieved my goals? Yes and no. I achieved my goal of delivering my speech in front of millions of people (Miss France is the most watched show of the year on TV) but I feel like people didn’t get it because I was giving it at the wrong place. I was hoping a woman of colour being a contestant at Miss France would make a difference but obviously, it did not. I made it to the top 10 and that was it. I did not have many votes. And given the racist comments after my election, I felt like I did all of this for nothing (which is wrong of course). But imagine giving an empowering speech and all people can see is your skin colour, body size, and looks? I suppose I was expecting too much. I should have known that it is a beauty contest and people only care about physical beauty and that’s that!