Warpaint Interview: 10 Questions with Maleka Dattu
Entrepreneur. Non-Conformist. Feminist. Visionary. WOC.
Ever wondered what kind of crazy you have to be to create and launch a brand in the highly competitive beauty market? This is not another glossed up story of female entrepreneurial perfection. Read on for Christina Aristodemou’s candid and real account of one woman with a vision – the power behind MERUMAYA® Effective Skincare.
Looking as I did also brought me down in junior high school. Ironically, as much as I loved the games and sports that were part of gym class, I didn’t always feel great during or after them. The worst was when I had to sprint across an open field with a pack of thin and nimble girls. In an effort to avoid the
I caught up with my long-time mentor and friend, Maleka Dattu, whom I met when I was 20. She interviewed me for an entry position into PR (the job that every young girl dreams of getting) and put me through my paces, looking beyond the superficial as she assessed the level of fire in my belly, searching for passion and willing above all else. She embodies passion and energy and her standards are exacting.
Even at a junior level, I was encouraged to have an opinion and given the opportunity to shine. She took her role of coaching and developing the team to the next level, teaching us to have a growth mindset, to be ‘possibilitarians,’ confident, audacious and not to fear failure, long before it was on-trend or part of Ted Talks.
Her words, “If we can get a man on the moon, anything’s possible,’ will forever play in my mind. She’d encourage us to go for it and when faltering would reassure us with, ‘What’s the worst that could happen? If it is wrong, it will not bring this corporation to its knees; it most probably can be undone or modified.’
She always had an entrepreneurial spirit; was always a non-conformist and would always say ‘Why not?’ rather than ‘Why?’ It’s the reason she was able to make Origins UK the most successful market in the world and it has never reached the same heights since she left. If you understand her a little, you will know why trying her products will expose you to some of the best out there and why I’m compelled to tell you about MERUMAYA® Effective Skincare and the woman behind it.
She left school to study Hairdressing & Beauty Therapy without completing her ‘A’ levels, to the ceiling-scraping horror of her parents. She grafted, learned her craft, honed her skills, just like every jobbing make-up artist out there. After four years working for a female entrepreneur, she landed at Clinique and so began a 21-year career at Estee Lauder companies, culminating in Senior Vice President & GM of North America with a tonne of promotions in between. Her work ethic and drive was beyond normal and being a WOC meant she had to be a significantly better performer than her peers to be promoted. It did not daunt her.
What made you leave a successful corporate career and take on the challenge of launching a skincare brand in such a competitive market?
I wanted to have my own brand and getting fired after 21 years of loyal service (long story), gave me the impetus to make more change and to take more risks in life. I had no option but to take that devastating and deeply wounding experience and turn it into an opportunity. I decided to turn all the disingenuous things I’d seen in corporate life that did not jive with my values of integrity on their head and combine with all the great things I’d learned to create the brand, Our Face Values. Specifically, I was putting the customer absolutely central to every decision: inclusivity, diversity and the message that #beautyhasnoage before it was even a thing; kick-ass formulae that perform outstandingly and make you feel more confident; no marketing spin, over claiming, over packaging, fear mongering or messages of perfection/flawless – just honesty and integrity in communications. I was, and still am, on a mission to prove it’s possible to be honest in business and still be successful.
What is the biggest step-change between being in the corporate world and running your own business?
I always worked very long hours; the difference is, as a business owner, I feel like every nerve ending is always switched on and that is janglingly intense. Risking all the money I had in the world and my child’s future is a big deal and the cause of a lot of worry. Not having a PA or a team means getting involved in what feels like minutiae and you have to stop it sapping your energy. It also means no longer turning left or a 5-star expensed life. There is a constant feeling of insecurity and everything stops with you. The upsides are being able to work around my child’s needs and being present for her at key moments. Not being expected to reply, ‘How high?’ when the CEO of the corporate says, ‘Jump’. And of course, if I am successful in my endeavours, the chance to create a legacy that lives beyond my own life.
What was the biggest non-negotiable when launching Merumaya®?
We had to be absolutely true to the purchaser who perhaps worked a whole day, just to buy my serum. That meant doing the right thing consistently in all areas starting with our formulations. Plenty of clinically tested active ingredients, in concentrations that are proven to work and deliver on the promise. It’s been described as being a brand with products made for Skintellectuals a decade before the term was even coined, coupled with communications that lift a woman’s self-confidence. I always said to every person who worked for me, ‘Make that woman feel good about herself and you have her for life, plus you will feel great about yourself for having done that for another person’. MERUMAYA® is my platform, to fulfil my life’s destiny, to help women feel more confident, so they make better life decisions that impact on all other women around them and I hope, one day we get to a place of true equality for all.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you could give someone considering launching a new brand?
I have three!
Know your product/service’s point of difference and be able to say what it is in one sentence. I still struggle with the one sentence thing. I’m at No BS. No Judgement. Just GREAT Skin and the Confidence to be Your True Self!
Underestimate sales, overestimate expenses and plan of being unprofitable for twice the time of your first estimate. It was seven years before I broke even because surprisingly, being honest and pricing fairly, does not cut through the noise of over-promising, glitz and BS.
There is no room for pride. You’ve got to be prepared to ask for help; plead and use puppy eyes, if necessary.
Your signature style and the cornerstone of Merumaya® is a no BS approach and you’ve coined the term “Beauty Full Bullshit.” What’s the biggest load of BS that you’ve seen in your many years in the industry?
I think women having their confidence undermined rather than built up. The communications have manipulated us and affect how we feel about ourselves.
Your tagline is #beautyhasnoage and focus is on youthful ageing rather than anti-ageing. What’s your approach to ageing in a world that is obsessed with filtering?
A teen should not feel excluded because they are not pretty enough, nor be depressed because of acne. At 30 there should not be a sell by date on a woman’s beauty. At 50 we do not have to conform to other’s idea of what’s appropriate for our age and from 70 onward we should not be invisible; our beauty and wisdom should be revered. I see beauty in every person I look at, but that is because I make a point to look for it and so can everyone.
Women need to build the confidence earlier in life to not conform, to say ‘no’, not to worry about what others will think or being laughed at. We need to get comfy with being uniquely perfectly imperfect.
How long did it take to launch your brand?
I researched, planned, surrounded myself with the best cosmetic scientists and professors and made formulae for 2 ½ years before launching. An outpouring of love has gone into this brand. Every bit of it has my DNA in it (not literally) – my experience, my knowledge of skin and skincare, my learnings, my values of integrity, my understanding of what it is to be a woman and my commitment to helping other women overcome issues I’ve faced in my career such as race, gender, age, to feel more confident, my true love for the beauty industry and humankind.
What is your Brand Philosophy?
Minimum number of effective products, in the shortest possible time so you get out there and LIVE!
Make memories. I promise you that on your deathbed, you will not wonder if you’d have had a happier life if you’d rotated 17 serums, made up the face of Julia Roberts or had a Gucci make-up bag. You will wish you’d had more sex, loved more, forgiven more, laughed more and helped more people when you could, etc.
How did you decide on the products to include in your line up?
Inappropriate inflammation is at the core of skin ageing, acne/spots, sensitivities/rosacea. The product line-up was to deal with all of this. Address skin ageing while not making acne worse. Address acne while not causing skin damage, that would show as signs of ageing in years to come. And through it all, load with anti-inflammatories, so that even sensitive skins could benefit from highly active formulations without exacerbating the sensitivity.
E.g. Cleansing Balm is not a category that I invented but I thought about all the ways I could make it better than what was on offer:
- Use sweet almond oil instead of heavy waxes like beeswax and petrolatum.
- Avoid time wasting ‘warming’ hence no clogging waxes. Saves about 45 seconds per cleanse.
- Portable in a tube and less packaging that double walled jars in cartons and then cello wrapped.
- Price is less than half of all leading cleansing balm brands.
- Manufacture in Britain to help save jobs in our country.
- Signature Essence Blend to uplift confidence and feelings of happiness while taking the chore out of cleansing.
- Add anti-inflammatory to calm as you cleanse (often the most aggressive step in a skincare routine).
You enlisted not one but four leading experts and scientists when launching MERUMAYA®, which products in particular are you proudest of?
Iconic Youth Serum is the heartbeat of the brand and if you only buy one product, this should be it. But buy more than one please.
Melting Cleansing Balm is the hook into the brand. The one you try if you are hesitant.
Intensely Youthful Eye Cream yes, you should use an eye cream that is formulated like this. It goes beyond your moisturiser.
Retinol Resurfacing Treatment because it is gentle, slow releases into skin so good for even sensitive skins or retinol scaredy-cats to use daily.
Youth Preservation Moisturiser SPF20 has had so much validation from leading, and what I consider to be true, beauty experts.
Treatment Toner with Vitamin C (AM) & Gentle Exfoliating Toner (PM) use them and see.