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Pan African: The term ‘green chemistry’ aptly describes Mawena’s 100%-natural products

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Founder Helena Mendès shares all

How did it all begin? 

Mawena, which means ‘what you see is what I am’ in a West African dialect, was created thanks to a crowdfunding campaign using the Ulule platform. It was an obvious choice, as my sole ambition is to unite energies. I aimed to help the Maya women to form a cooperative. Before this, they’d been making a living mostly by selling fruit and vegetables on the roadside. I pledged to buy ingredients from them, at consistently above-the- market prices, to help them reap the benefits of their ancestral knowledge, fairly and equitably. Their faces are on Mawena’s packaging, bringing together two worlds that appear so far apart but have things in common. 

What’s the most rewarding part of your business?

Being a 100%-natural, organic and slow cosmetic brand, with absolutely no concessions made when it comes to the human values we consider fundamental: honesty, transparency and authenticity. Our products are free from all synthetic colourings, artificial preservatives, alcohol and parabens. Mawena’s high-performance formulas are packed full of goodness. I’ve dreamt up formulas that, instead of being inspired by nature, actually contain it. And it’s this nuance that makes all the difference: our luxurious products can contain as many  as 25 active ingredients, which give the skin everything it needs. Our complex formulas prove that organic cosmetics are capable of rivalling conventional ones. There’s no need to choose between nature and effectiveness, sensory appeal and scientific rigour, thanks to these universal, inclusive formulas, specifically designed to help every woman feel in harmony with herself. 

Your customers’ most pressing needs?

Our products are made for women who refuse to compromise between their beauty, health and commitment. We’re a luxury brand that’s committed to being transparent about the composition of our products – that’s why our customers trust us. 

What goals have you set for your business?

To share the beauty secrets of women from around the world, from South America to Africa and Asia. The beauty industry has been using ingredients from these areas for so long, without necessarily caring, sharing or highlighting these women. My goal is to help them by bringing them to light, which should’ve been done since day one. It’s not about cultural appropriation. We’ve built our brand with them and for them, and we share its benefits. This is why we give two cents from every product we sell to the cooperative. 

Your beauty mantra? 

Caroline Caldwell once said, “In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act.” If you don’t become your best friend, who else will? 

Your favourite beauty moment? 

Treating myself to a spa treatment. There’s nothing better than that. 

What’s the most significant barrier to female success?

Confidence, for sure. Women can be afraid of making bold choices, depending on the challenges they face. This is why mentoring is key. It’s for this reason I’ll be joining the Sephora Accelerate program in San Francisco this year, to help tackle business challenges and growth through one-on-one mentoring from beauty-industry and Sephora leaders. 

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

To take my time. As an African woman, I’m never alone. As I walk, all my ancestors walk with me, so there’s no need to worry about the future. Levelling up takes extreme focus. Do what you’ve got to do and trust the process. 

Mawena’s organic cosmetics are luxurious, effective and just as good as conventional skincare products.

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