Michelle Ntalami, Founder Marini Naturals , Kenya’s first natural hair care line for all men and women of natural hair and one of the leading natural care hairlines in Africa boldly wears the LLA crown for this week #Ladyboss series. She takes us into her world as an entrepreneur, sharing how she grew the Marini brand which at the time was an unpopular idea and how she has succeeded despite all odds, drowning the voices of the naysayers in the process.
Can you briefly describe yourself and your business?
My name is Michelle Ntalami, I am a young vibrant entrepreneur. I am the CEO and the founder of Marini Naturals, Kenya’s first natural hair care line for all men and women of natural hair and one of the leading natural care hairlines in Africa. Marini naturals has been in operations since 2015, about 3-4 years and officially in the market from January 2016. As of today we are in 13 African countries across the continent and two other continents i.e Europe and the Middle East.
In Africa you can find us in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Congo, South Africa and several others. Marini began as a very small home operation. I started it myself in the beginning in my bathroom mixing natural ingredients and products with the help of google and research and when I started giving these products to my friends and families, they really loved them and felt this could be something I could do on a bigger scale. I did and today, this is how we have been able to grow into all these countries because they believed in that dream which started from home and went into large scale.
What is it like being a female entrepreneur, and why did you chose to be one?
It is the most exciting thing I have ever done in my life. I am happy I took this path because it has been a path of not just business but self discovery for me as a person. I have come to discover traits about me that I had no idea about. For instance I didn’t think I was a patient person, but business has actually taught me to be patient, hopeful, to never give up, to keep striving.
It has built me as a person over and above the financial or commercial aspects of it. In terms of personal growth it has been my most eye opening experience. I chose to be an entrepreneur because I always knew I had it in me to really make a difference as an entrepreneur in Africa.
What new innovation have you introduced to your business?
We have several. For one, it is important that I highlight that all Marini naturals products are made in Africa, right here in Kenya. We have got state of the art machinery that we imported from Asia. One brilliant innovation we have introduced is that in all marini natural products, there is a QR code that you can scan with a QR code scanner on your phone, this is able to give you information about the product immediately without even having to go online to research, this is an amazing feature because most people are pressed for time and do not have the time to search about products, so we have made it easy. Another thing is that we have very strongly e-commerce based platform where people can come and buy marini products from across the world.
Our Mission for marini naturals is to be Africa’s leading natural hair care line, so it is built for Africans. We have several orders from across the continent and we have been able to fulfil those orders because we have a very seamless e-commerce built.
What will you say is responsible for your success so far?
The first thing I would definitely say is responsible for my success is my belief in myself. People underestimate the importance of believing in themselves. You were brought into this world to be more than you can ever imagine and you owe it as a gift to yourself, to believe in yourself. So for me it doesn’t matter how hard it may seem or the challenges that I face which has been several, I keep striving, I keep believing.
Another thing that has contributed to my success is, my resilience. I am not an easy woman to knock down, I am tough, I believe in a good and kind but also a very firm leader and this is what has led to my success. I believe in also being very diplomatic with my team. I lead by making my team feel involved in a project and not just giving them instructions and forcing them to do things, that way my entire team has also bought into the Marini naturals vision and through this they have contributed to the growth of Marini naturals.
In your opinion, would you say that there are any unique challenges that female entrepreneurs face?
I think that even the fact that I am young and female, has posed a couple of challenges in my life as an entrepreneur. First of all, my age. Most people get dumbfounded when they see that a young person like me- I am only 34 years, has been able to build a business like this at such a young age.
So they always feel like there must be somebody behind the project, a rich family, or a reason beyond myself as to where I am today or maybe I’ve been funded heavily, but I would surprise you guys that I had no external funding from any high net worth person, nothing of the sort happened, and I had no funding from a bank or an institution. It was purely my family and my savings that managed to get Marini naturals off the ground.
Also as women especially in Africa we are seen as the weaker sex, which sometimes extends to the workplace. There is a belief that you are not meant to give an opinion, you are not meant to have a say or show your authority in your line of work and I think this is a big misconception because women are responsible for building homes, families, communities and therefore they play a very integral role in building the country and the continent.
What values and principles have helped you so far?
Definitely belief in myself, my resilience, hard work and a lot of creativity. Our campaigns I think arguably are the most creative campaigns that run in the country. We have gotten several awards for this and we have been recognised by Forbes Africa, CNN and CNBC. So, creativity comes at the very top of the list. I’m actually a First Class graduate of the Master of Arts in creative design, so this is something that I always adopt into my business.
Why did you decide to go into this particular line of business?
Marini naturals was inspired by a decision for me to just live healthier, have a healthier lifestyle and also to adopt a natural way of living , so I just cut my hair, went natural and started living healthier. Then came the problem, I couldn’t find products that were able to help me maintain my natural hair, so that’s how I stumbled into it actually. I jumped into it by accident but I feel like Marini naturals has been ordained by God, it is truly my passion, it is something that I love to do, I wake up daily and I enjoy doing this with all my heart.
The natural hair movement at the time when I started the marini naturals, hadn’t really caught on, but today, four years later, everybody is going natural, everybody is looking for natural products, for hair care, skin care, beauty, so I therefore feel that four years ago, I made the perfect decision to start this company.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced, and what’s kept you going?
I mentioned some above in terms of challenges female entrepreneurs face but also to add to those challenges is the lack of Capital. As an entrepreneur you have all these ideas- I want to release a Men’s line, I want to release a dedicated dreadlocks line, so many things but capital sometimes stands in the way. But I think ever since we re branded which was in March 2018, last year, the feedback and response has been phenomenal. Africa loves our products. We are getting orders all the way from Jamaica from the Caribbean, Cuba, the states, Europe, Netherlands, It’s been amazing, so the sales have really grown. I can say we are a steadily growing company, therefore I think we are now able to plough back that capital into the business and release all these other line ranges that we want to introduce, such as the Men’s line.
What’s your five-year plan for your business?
Our Mission is to be Africa’s leading natural hair care line and the word “Natural” is really important. In 5 years, I want Marini naturals to be a household name in Africa. We are a pan- African brand therefore I want Marini naturals to stand proudly on the shelves of leading African stores and globally to stand amongst our international counterparts such as Sheer moisture, Loreal etc and to be seen as a leading African hair care line proudly from Africa, made with love, actually our slogan is “From Africa with Love”. So in five years time we want to be across the continent.
Marini naturals is at the African roll Royce in hair care, so we want to be across the continent, we also want to have released all our product ranges by that time and we are slowly working on this. So this year you are going to see a lot of interesting amazing stuff, get ready for it. It is going to be amazing. And also we intend to grow our sales, we intend to be a minimum of a Ten million dollar Kenyan company!
What do upcoming female entrepreneurs need to do to be successful in this path?
As I’ve mentioned before, you have to be really resilient, and believe in yourself. On my Instagram (@michelle.ntalami you can follow me), I am always talking about how to improve, grow, start your own business, believe in yourself, forget the noise, naysayers. I have faced so many challenges, even today and in fact the bigger I rise, the more the challenges and the naysayers and the discouragement but that just proves to me that I’m doing something right. So long as you have proof of concept, you know, a viable product and people are loving it. I want you to believe yourself young people, go the path less throdded, create your own path, why do you want to fit in when you were born to stand out, do not have a sheep mentality, don’t follow the crowd.
They will laugh at you today but in five years time just like you’ve asked above, they will come looking for you, asking you how you did it, asking you for jobs, apologising to you, telling you that they should have also borrowed a leaf from you five years ago. Today, I face that, I face people coming to me, apologising for ridiculing me. Some people ridiculed me, scuffed at my idea, thought I’d never make it. Some talked about me in crude ways, questioned how I got my funding. I mean there has been so much I have gone through as an entrepreneur, but you have to block out the noise, believe in yourself and go for your dream. At the end of the day you are your own biggest fan, motivator and cheerleader. Listen to that voice inside you, block out the noise, God is with you, He gave you a talent and a dream, wake up and act on that dream.
The LLA Lady Boss Series is a weekly interview series that highlights the achievements and entrepreneurial journeys of African female entrepreneurs. The idea is to showcase the Leading Ladies who are transforming Africa and the African narrative through enterprise and business.
It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa, a non-profit that promotes leadership, inclusion and diversity for women of African descent.
If you know any kick-ass women of African Descent doing phenomenal things in enterprise, email firstname.lastname@example.org, and she could possibly be featured.