For all those people looking to have a gentler footprint on the earth and interested in using all natural body and skincare products that will not harm the environment, a new champion has emerged. South African entrepreneur, Marlese Wallis, founder of Mies Body Products, is taking a greener approach to creating a great eco-brand that is good for your skin and the environment.
LoA chatted to Marlese Willis at the Lioness Lean In Breakfast event in Cape Town this month and found out more….
What does your company do?
My company, MIES Body Products, manufactures body products made with natural ingredients from the kitchen and mother earth. We use no harsh chemicals, no artificial scents or flavors, just 100% natural ingredients like brown sugar, extra virgin olive oil, seeded oils, essential oils, flowers and beeswax. All of our products are made by hand, by local women from the community in Cape Town.
"After some real determination, tears, sweat, frustration and exhilaration - all at once sometimes - I found myself in business."
What inspired you to start your company?
I do have quite a story to tell, but my first product was inspired and made due to the fact that I could not find a body scrub that worked properly! Either it did not exfoliate, or it left my skin dry, or it had plastic balls in it. I did not study in this field, but in my head it made sense to use something coarse like sugar and oil that would moisturize during and afterwards. Of course it was a hobby at first, but soon I found myself at weekend markets in Stellenbosch in the Western Cape, and after some real determination, tears, sweat, frustration and exhilaration - all at once sometimes - I found myself in business.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
Because of the nature of our products and the quality of our ingredients, it is truly good food for your skin, blood flow, mood etc. It is also eco-friendly and good for the environment. Our products are not tested on animals and are so natural you can taste them! We also support the local women of our community by teaching them skills and giving them work.
"Because of the nature of our products and the quality of our ingredients, it is truly good food for your skin, blood flow, mood etc. It is also eco-friendly and good for the environment."
Tell us a little about your team
Our business is small, our team even smaller! I run most of the business by myself and definitely could use an extra set of hands and brains sometimes, but I am also truly blessed to have Primrose Maigurira as my golden star! She came to me at only age 17 (I did not know this at the time), she could hardly speak english, was terribly shy and after a couple of months and many mistakes and wrong orders, I had to let her go. I thought she did not understand properly, but about 7months later, she came back...with sheer determination. She spoke and understood so much better and only told me then, that she could not read. It's been a struggle to find someone who can teach her how to read, as many of the institutions need at least 10 adults for a class, so.... I made a plan. We shortened product names so that she can read it, make products, pack orders and even write out waybills! She is now 20 years old and an awesome mom! When we make larger quantities of products, we need more hands and get in a couple of ladies who are all young mothers. Faith is one of them and has a very steady hand for labels and was also the model for our product shoot for our website. She helps out a couple of days a month, and really brings joy and grace to our working days.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
I studied drama and was in a very successful Afrikaans girl band for 7 years, called Shine4. We were asked to be chefs on a breakfast show on Kyknet called Ontbytsake in 2003. We decided to make healthy meals and I wanted to make food for your skin. Google did not really feature in those days, so I sat on the floor of a pharmacy and went through the list of essential oils to see what will work for circulation, as I wanted to make a body scrub. It turned out wonderfully, and everyone received one for their birthdays. Later that year, someone ordered 40 units for Christmas and I thought.... what if somebody died because of my body scrub? Essential oils are like medicine! So I had it tested and after three months my products came back with flying colors, a shelf life of one year and seen as "products with a purpose". Years later, we decided to hang up our dancing shoes and pack away the microphones and I moved down to Cape Town and married my love! I have always worked for myself and the one time I worked for somebody else, it had me in tears and in trouble financially. After putting all my energy into the products I had then, maybe two or three different ones at that stage, I really started to see a shift in myself as well as my finances and after doing one big trade show, I could pay off my debt and start over fresh. Now I can breathe. I am in charge of where I am going, but it is also very hard for me, because I am a creator, I am artistic, I am not necessarily a business person. It still really comes hard for me to deal with admin and budgets and working out costs, but I do it! I am 100% part of my products and business. So much so, my nickname is on everyone of them! I AM Mies! For me having my own business really means to be part of it wholeheartedly. I make every product first, perfect it, before it goes into manufacturing. I design the labels, I go to markets and trade shows and sell my own products. Yes, it is tiring, but I also get to know my customers and see what sells and how to sell MIES. Sometimes I wish another company could manufacture for me so that I can focus on new products, but I know our success lies in the fact that we make it ourselves, we put our energy and love and creativity and prayers into every pot and every bottle and every jar of MIES.
"I am 100% part of my products and business. So much so, my nickname is on everyone of them! I AM Mies!"
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
I am so looking forward to assigning a distribution company for MIES. This will free my hands a bit and they will be able to take care of orders, deliveries and even servicing the clients and the shops! We get many enquiries from overseas and it will be awesome to get MIES there! As we grow, so do my dreams for MIES. I see many women working for MIES, guys are welcome too of course! I have so many ideas for so many different products, it makes me excited and hopeful and I pray that we will be able to accomplish all of this in the right time.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
Nothing can be more satisfying when a new client tries out a product for the first time and her eyes go from dull to "WOW"! And then it also such a pleasure to have clients that know my products well, that keep coming back for more. It is not just a type of satisfaction for me, but a satisfaction for my workers. THEY also make this...it is their heart and souls also poured into every container. I am so proud of them, and remind them time and again how special they are and what beautiful products they make. And that old and young, male and female love the products that we make. I have taken my workers to stockists of MIES so that they can see where the products go to. For ladies coming from the townships, seeing their handiwork in shops in Stellenbosch and all over the country, is a big pat on the back!
"I know our success lies in the fact that we make our products ourselves, we put our energy and love and creativity and prayers into every pot and every bottle and every jar of MIES."
What’s the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
When it comes to the business side of things (admin, finances, bank accounts, accountants, social media, marketing), try to get all of that in place from the beginning because it is truly the spine of your business. When it comes to creativity.... there are no boundaries! Don't hesitate, don't imitate, just create!
Contact or follow MIES Body Products
Why LoA loves it….
Women entrepreneurs who create businesses, products and brands that are inspired by their personal passions are the ones that resonate most with us as consumers. Passion for what they do drives them and reflects in everything, from the brand story, to the product development and through to the packaging. Marlese Wallis, founder of Mies Body Products in South Africa, embodies what it means to be passionate about the whole process of brand building and creating an eco-friendly product range that is both kind to the environment and to the consumers who buy them. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and editor-in-chief of Lionesses of Africa