27-year-old Nigerian, Zeze Oriaikhi returned to Africa from the UK in 2009 with a dream to change the perception of the African cosmetics market and, with the successful launch of her company Malee Natural Science and the recent opening of a store in Hyde Park, Johannesburg, it seems that dream has been realised.

After living in the UK for twelve years, Oriaikhi returned to Africa when her partner relocated to South Africa in 2009. There she fulfilled her dream of creating a world-class African beauty range which was environmentally kind and sustainable. Malee Natural Science has since established itself as an up scale eco-luxury line, earning rave reviews in high-end hotels and magazines such as Elle and Marie Claire. She was inspired to develop the new line after she realised that western products being used by Africans were not suitable to the continent’s climate.

“There was nothing wrong with the products that I was using because they were fine when I lived in England,” she says. “I moved here and they weren’t fine, which meant actually they weren’t designed for this climate.”

Having identified this a need for locally produced beauty products for the local market, Oriaikhi set up Malee. The company uses only local, naturally derived ingredients, such as avocado oil, shea butter and tea tree extract, taking advantage of the botanical opportunities available in South Africa.

“You’ve got shea butter everywhere you turn, coconut, almond oil everywhere you turn,” Oriaikhi says. “Mother nature hasn’t done a bad job of putting these things here.”

Despite the natural advantages of starting her business in South Africa, Oriaikhi has still been faced with certain challenges launching Malee. The skincare sector is still relatively new in Africa and in any case she arrived in the country with no experience of running such a business. She has had to learn quickly.

“The expertise of creating from the ground up, basically, so everything from packaging to even sourcing and even dealing with people in the supply chain, all of that has been the most challenging for me,” she says. The company was not something started on the spur of the moment, but was planned for years before.

“For me there was a lot of planning, it had been years in the making,” she says. “I started off as a consumer of products and knew what I’d like in a range of beauty products. I started to learn about ingredients out of interest. Business plan writing and the concept of a business larger than a “mom and pop” came from my Masters programme [in Business]. I believe in business plans in the beginning, they’re a framework for your thoughts and ideas, feasibility studies as a reference point and guideline after you’re up and running.”

She also feels challenged by the need to not only make money, but also create a healthy, affordable product for her customers. She has deliberately kept overheads and profit margins low so that her products are available for a lower price.

“I’m an African brand and I would like the average African to be able to purchase Malee and keep purchasing it and be happy with the quality and the product that they get, and if that means I’m not a millionaire in two years, so be it,” she says.

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