On this Friday we are very excited to share with our readers our latest interview with the founders of the vegan, natural beauty brand True Moringa. Emily and Kwami give us the lowdown on what it’s like working at a start-up and what inspired them to create True Moringa. Learn more about this beautiful beauty brand and the benefits to your skin, the Ghana community and all the inspiring work that goes on behind each jar.
Hi Emily & Kwami! Tell us a bit about your childhood and background and how you feel that has influenced you today?
In our undergraduate careers, I studied development economics and my co-founder Kwami Williams studied aerospace engineering. Kwami was born in Ghana and moved to the US at the age of eight with the ambition of commercializing the flying car. He did a bit of a 180 when he traveled back to Ghana in college on a mission trip, spending time in rural areas and learning about the challenges families faced there. Throughout my college career, I worked and volunteered for a number of organizations involved with poverty alleviation and social enterprise creation in developing countries. We were both drawn to the potential of rural development through investment in agriculture and connections to the international market through very different paths, and we were fortunate that those paths crossed!
When did you decide to create True Moringa and why?
Kwami and I first learned about the moringa tree in 2012 while working in rural Ghana through a program at MIT called D-Lab. Thousands of moringa trees had been planted by Peace Corps and NGOs throughout West Africa for their nutritional value – gram-for-gram, the dried leaves contain more iron than spinach, more calcium than milk, more vitamin A than carrots, and more protein than eggs. The trees also thrive in arid climates and require little water. There was no economic incentive, however, for farming families to cultivate and care for the trees, so, understanding the inherent value of the tree farmers came to us with a question – how can we bring moringa to the international market? Back in the states, we began to study the properties of the moringa tree. We learned that the seeds of the tree were rich in antioxidants and unique anti-aging and moisturizing agents, and that by purchasing seeds and leaves from farmers at a fair price, we could increase family incomes by as much as 10x. We set about creating a complete vertical supply chain to introduce moringa beauty and food products to the global market.
Why is the origin and manufacture of True Moringa products in Ghana so important?
Our aim is to unlock the potential of agriculture in Africa – too often raw materials like cocoa or coffee beans are exported to be processed and packaged in the Western world with no value addition done or jobs created locally. We believe that by creating a holistic, vertical supply chain we allow conscious consumers to understand where their natural ingredients come from. Understanding and managing the entire supply chain allows us to cultivate and create the finest natural ingredients.
What were the biggest challenges when starting up the business?
We face a unique set of challenges working across two countries in both the beauty space and the agriculture space. We dealt with everything from building trust with farming communities to government corruption and power outages in Ghana, to learning the ins and outs of global import and export, to distinguishing our brand in a huge and growing beauty industry. There’s never a dull moment!
Can you tell us a bit about the benefits of the Moringa tree?
I mentioned the nutritional and environmental benefits for communities – we’ve harnessed these nutritional benefits into a moringa tea product through our sister brand, Minga Foods.
From a beauty perspective, the True Moringa oil goes on smooth and dry, similar to jojoba or argan oil, but with additional anti-aging benefits. It’s extremely versatile – the same 2oz bottle of all-purpose oil can be used as a facial cleanser or moisturiser, hair serum or conditioner, cuticle oil, and makeup remover. It’s non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t clog pores or cause breakouts. Best of all, it’s very similar to the oil your skin and hair produce naturally, so it’s ideal for all skin types. Moringa oil stabilises oil production for oily or combination skin, and hydrates and nourishes dry skin. It can heal scars and stretch marks, and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
What positive impact has the True Moringa brand had on the farmers living in Ghana who farms the trees?
We manage the entire supply chain for moringa products, starting at the farm. We provide farmers with the inputs (like organic seeds and fertiliser) and training they need to grow moringa trees to the standards of the international market. We have agricultural extension officers in each region to check in on farmers and assist them with best agricultural practices. They’re also our eyes and ears in the field, alerting us to the needs of farmers we work with outside of our contract (help with financing or additional tools, training, or materials). To date, we work with over 2,300 small farming families throughout Ghana to increase farming family incomes by 10x. We’ve planted over 270,000 moringa trees to prevent deforestation and malnutrition locally, and work on small-scale pilot programs to encourage job creation and malnutrition prevention. Next year, we’re launching our nucleus farm – the largest organic certified moringa farm in Africa. This will be home to our off-grid processing centre, and a training and experimentation ground for the latest permaculture and farming techniques.
What’s your favourite True Moringa product?
I use the Tranquility All Purpose Facial and Body Oil for just about everything – from a facial cleanser and moisturiser to a hair mask to a cuticle oil. I prefer to keep it simple – especially while travelling!
Was it important to product all natural, vegan products?
Not only are natural ingredients safer than conventional synthetic cosmetics, they’re also more effective! Oils and butters provide simple and lasting hydration and keep your largest organ – your skin – healthy and youthful. There is a growing consumer movement toward cruelty-free, vegan, effective natural products. By catering to that demand, we can feel good about the products we produce and provide more income to the farming families we serve.
Why do you think there has been such a rise in veganism over the last few years?
Consumers are growing increasingly conscious of the ways in which their products are manufactured. It’s become easier to research how products benefit you, the environment, and the world, and to choose products that are more consciously crafted.
What is your one beauty tip?
I wash my face with moringa oil (no soap or cleanser, which can be drying) and have found that it’s the best way to care for sensitive skin.
What inspires you?
We’re inspired by the incredible potential of agriculture in the developing world. There are 1.5 billion acres of fertile, uncultivated land in Africa and 120 million small farming families living on that land earning less than $2/day. We hope that our vertically integrated model will be replicated for other natural food and beauty products.
What’s your average day like?
One of the best parts of working on a startup is that there’s no such thing as an average day! We try to set a regular work schedule of 8 or 9 to 6 or 7, but often during busy seasons, we tend to work more than that. I try to make time to exercise or meditate before work – I find that if I start the day with a clear head, I get much more accomplished! On a given day, I am negotiating partnerships with other brands or suppliers, mapping out marketing campaigns, designing products or packaging, taking sales meetings, and thinking about how to make our supply chains more efficient. Meanwhile, in the field, Kwami might be overseeing our production teams and agricultural extension officers, visiting farmers in the field, or working on financial models.
Do you think you have a work/life balance?
That’s certainly what we aim for! It does depend on the season though…
What’s the best part of your job?
Seeing the impact that our work has on the families we serve – whether that means that a mother is able to pay for school fees or nutritious food during a season when money would otherwise be tight.
What words do you live by?
Kwami is a huge fan of George Washington Carver and what he did with something as seemingly simple as the peanut. I l really like his quote “Where there is no vision, there is no hope.” It’s so easy to get bogged down in the not-so-glamorous parts of getting a startup off the ground – and in those moments, it’s important to remember to step back and think about the grander vision we are trying to build.
What’s next for you and True Moringa?
2017 is going to be an exciting year! We’re in the process of planting the largest organic certified moringa farm in all of Africa and onboarding hundreds of new farming families. We have a few new products on the horizon for 2017, and we’ll be expanding to new stores around the world, and growing our team!
If you enjoyed our interview with Emily and Kwami just as much as we did, and are interested in the True Moringa and supporting this incredible brand check them out here. If you are vegan blogger, business or just about anyone leading an inspiring vegan lifestyle then please get in touch about being part of our interview series 🙂
All images via True Moringa.