“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.
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.
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.
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