How I made a thriving beauty venture by cutting my hair down-naturally

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Michelle Ntalami, Founder, Marini Naturals

Established a few years ago by Michelle Ntalami, Marini Natural aims to be the preferred hair care product of choice for the African hair.

“I am not an ordinary young lass but an entrepreneur with a lioness’s spirit,” opens up Michelle Ntalami during an interview with Edge Magazine.

Maybe that explains why at 32 she sits at the helm of a Marini Naturals, having founded BrandVine Group a few years before.

Within a year of operation, Marini won the ‘Product of the Year’ at Salon and Beauty Contest Awards 2016, and ‘Brand of the Year’ at the Afro Hair Awards. She was also named amongst Top 40 Under 40 Women 2016 in Kenya by the Business Daily Africa.

After a short stint in the corporate world, she opted out on her own into the murky waters of entrepreneurship. Along the way, she figured out bits and pieces and finally unravelled her success puzzle. Admittedly, it is crucial for potential entrepreneurs to have mentorship and effectively brand their business to succeed, something which she lacked when starting out. This has seen her come up with a programme where potential entrepreneurs would be mentored and taught how to effectively brand their businesses for success.

What defines you Michelle? “Everyone is defined by their personality, their heart and mind. I’ve got an outgoing personality, a soft but brave heart with a gentle soul. Besides, I love dogs, the colour red and passionate about traveling.”

Michelle studied Graphic Design & Communications at the University of Nairobi and graduated with first class honours. After which she got a scholarship to do a Masters degree in interior design at Florence Design Academy−one of the best design schools in the world.

By then a 22 year old, she used to work while in campus and later joined Access Kenya Group as a brand executive then made a quick shift to the advertising industry.

“I moved to Scan Ad where I worked as the Digital Manager for Squad Digital which at the time was the digital agency for Safaricom. I then got appointed as the Account Manager of McCann Ericson where my biggest client was Coca Cola Africa. I’m a very artsy individual and I loved my life in the agency more than the corporate. No sooner had I settled than I stepped out to begin my own branding agency−Brandvine Group,” she says.

She reminisces having an early start in the creative world. At 19 she used to paint windows during Christmas at shops in Yaya Centre, Sarit Centre and the Mall. “People would marvel at my paintings and my unique depiction of Santa Clause which gave me endless referrals. I was a rich little girl over Christmas,” she quips.

Natural African Hair

When Ntalami had her hair cut, she realized that there was an immense demand for hair products that would actually work for the African natural hair.

Necessity led her to invent her own products that work for her hair. This later sparked the idea of actually doing it as a business. She instantly knew this could be the answer for her friends with similar needs. Marini Naturals− a natural hairline brand with a raft of quality beauty products for the African hairs −was hence born.

“We’ve got everything from Sulphate-free shampoos to curling gels and butter,” says the entrepreneur.

Since its launch, Michelle says the products have been well received in the market.  “Kenyan women love our products. We’ve received encouraging feedback from our clients across the country. We get such touching stories, of how a kid’s hair which was once bad is now manageable, or how husbands have noticed a big change in their wives’ natural hair and began complimenting them. Every time we get this kind of feedback, my partner-Niya-and I do a jig in the office as it reminds us why we started this in the first place.”

The thrill of being an entrepreneur continues to excite her, she says. “Every new single day is different from the other. One you can be dealing with an angry customer, the next you wake up to a testimonial of a happy client on social media.” Since then, her friends have kept her grounded, her parents being her biggest motivators.

Michelle envisions to spread her footprint across the continent and to the Middle East of Asia. Plans are also underway to launch a deep conditioning treatment for both protein and moisture, as well as a few creative products that she is hopeful will excite clients.

Beyond that, Marini looks to be the leading natural haircare brand in Africa.