Born in London, I could probably hear Bow bells. But my parents came from Zanzibar. They showed great courage, moving to London 56 years ago when neither email, credit cards nor iPhones existed; when there was only one flight every two weeks and no money to buy a ticket. They made their way, doing their best for us, contributing to their community and country and encouraging me to follow my dreams. I feel blessed and inspired by my rich heritage and the influence of strong women in my life, including my two grandmothers whose wisdom belied their lack of a formal education.
I left school without completing my A Levels and went off to study hairdressing and beauty therapy. Anyone who knows Asian families can imagine the ceiling-scraping horror of my father, who had meant for his girl to go to university and be a doctor, dentist or pharmacist.
My tiger father and mother instilled in us that nothing is too difficult (not even maths). That we had to apply ourselves with discipline and never settle for being mediocre. That we should compete by working harder and being more productive than others. We had a toilet roll holder that said;
It was one of the influences in starting my own business. So when after three years of beauty therapy college I decided I did not want to work in a salon after all and instead asked for (and got!) a job in the showroom of skincare brand Sothys, my father’s disappointed response was ‘now you are just a sales girl’. He was upset that while so many girls around the world cannot have an education, I would ‘waste’ an opportunity we take for granted in developed countries. I understood how he felt, but I was going to be the best sales girl, and rise in my chosen industry. would prove that I could live up to his expectations my own way.
I grafted my way up through field sales, training, marketing, communications, new product development and all the way to executive management. I was part of the team that made Clinique the number one beauty brand in the UK. I established and developed Origins and became its general manager for the UK and ROI before becoming senior vice president and general manager at Estee Lauder Companies in the US. I helped revitalise the Lancôme brand and was widely credited for their most successful UK skincare launch ever: Génifique.
Yes - I made my dad proud after all.
But after 27 years in corporate life, I found I could no longer conform to decisions that did not make sense to me or, in some cases, did not align with my values. Something had shifted. The time had come to pursue my dream.
It took two and a half years of research and creation before I launched MERUMAYA® on 15th October 2012. Over those years, I also did consultancy projects for retailers, brands and educational institutes, moved house, met and married Mike, and was blessed with a baby girl named Yasmin (a natural pregnancy at the age of 48 that followed five miscarriages – another story!).
So to all of you pursuing your happily ever after, don’t give up; keep believing and constantly visualising. Work your socks off but create a positive environment to facilitate your dream - your miracle.
My driving force for the brand is for women find their (beauty) confidence, learn to value themselves and strive for equality. #beautyhasnoage and #kisstoself are our hashtags: as women, we need to lead by example if we are going to raise our daughters to take their place as equals and feel confident, beautiful, capable, and courageous. And of course, we must raise our sons to love and admire their female equals.
I believe that supporting women (and men) in achieving their entrepreneurial dreams is crucial, so I endeavour to do just that by mentoring and speaking at industry conferences, universities and other events.
MERUMAYA® is a name made up from the first two letters of the names of my father, mother, myself and my sister (now daughter too). I really don't mind how you pronounce it; just say it to as many people as possible, because our message needs to be heard and our products will change the way you feel about skincare. MERUMAYA® is what my father would have called his own business if he’d had the courage to pursue it. He chose instead to protect our future by remaining in his secure job at the control tower at Heathrow Airport, but launching MERUMAYA® allowed me to realise my vision as well as his. It’s an achievement that fills me with pride and gratitude.