World Intellectual Property Organization

From Africa with Love: Branding and Competitiveness

Background


The Malée Natural Science logo is represented by three circles that originate in Adinkra symbols of the Asante Nation of Ghana (Photo: Malée)

Malée Cosmetics Pty Ltd (also trading as Malée Natural Science) is a manufacturer and retailer of premium bath and body care products established in 2009 in Johannesburg, the Republic of South Africa (South Africa). 

Founded by Zeze Oriaikhi, a Nigerian-born entrepreneur, the small and medium sized enterprise (SME) has quickly developed a reputation for quality natural products including soaps, moisturizers, fragrances, shampoos and conditioners. Malée Natural Science, moreover, has captured the public’s imagination with a growing portfolio of attractive cosmetic creations inspired by the African continent. 

As of 2012, the SME was in a strong position within a niche eco-luxury market of the hospitality industry in South Africa. In addition, the cosmetics maker was looking to grow out of Africa and into the European and North American market.

Research and Development

Malée Natural Science – Malée means “a gracious, learned woman” in the Bini language of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Nigeria) – was created soon after Ms. Oriaikhi moved from London, in the United Kingdom (where she had lived since her early teens), to Johannesburg, in South Africa.


When the entrepreneur first encountered the heat, high altitude and dryness of South Africa (pictured), she noticed that her skin reacted by losing moisture (Photo: Malée)

A recent business school graduate, the entrepreneur soon realized an opportunity to create a cosmetics brand that would cater to people living in the warm environment and climate of the southern African country.

Indeed, when Ms. Oriaikhi first encountered the heat, high altitude and dryness of South Africa, she noticed that her skin (which had been accustomed to a much milder though more humid British weather) reacted by losing moisture.

Eager to find a solution to her skincare concerns, Ms. Oriaikhi – who did not have a network of business partners to rely on at this stage – initially conducted research and development (R&D) through inquiries and investigations into consumer trends and supplier networks.

During this early R&D process, the entrepreneur visited a number of cosmetics retailers in the country and studied their products’ ingredients in order to gauge the cosmetics’ effectiveness in the South African environment.

Because these products did not alleviate her skin problems, nor did many of them have wholly natural ingredients, Ms. Oriaikhi recognized a niche in the market and thereafter seized the opportunity to create her own 100% natural skincare brand.

As the entrepreneur said, “I only got the gumption to go ahead and [create Malée Natural Science] when I moved to South Africa. The main reason behind actually pursuing it was [due to the climate in South Africa, which] was actually very different to England, [where] my skin just wasn’t coping.” To this end, she created the SME.

At the beginning, Ms. Oriaikhi was faced with a number of logistical problems including identifying potential business partners, sourcing the natural ingredients for her yet-to-be-made products and sustainably manufacturing and packaging her potential creations.

As the businesswoman said, “The expertise of creating from the ground up […] everything from packaging to […] sourcing [to] dealing with people in the supply chain – all of that has been the most challenging for me.” Indeed, although South Africa has begun to develop an economically conducive environment for entrepreneurs, many businesses in the country depend on small R&D teams and goods that have been sourced and distributed from abroad.

Not thwarted by challenges early on in her company’s development, Ms. Oriaikhi prepared a sound business plan and took advantage of the burgeoning entrepreneurial spirit in South Africa by collaborating with a team of cosmetic chemists and suppliers.


Ms. Oriaikhi noticed a niche in the market and thereafter seized the opportunity to create her own 100% natural skincare brand (Photo: Malée)

With the creation of an R&D team with complementary skills sets, Malée Natural Science’s founder was finally in a position to move the company forward and to produce its first cosmetics.

In order to develop a wholly African product, moreover, Ms. Oriaikhi felt that it was necessary to source all of its ingredients (such as avocado oil and shea butter) from within the continent. The cosmetic’s packaging, in addition, would be manufactured with materials that were procured and made within South Africa.

As of 2012, Malée Natural Science had a small team of R&D staff at its base in Johannesburg. The company has created a strong reputation for quality skincare goods that have been commercialized in Africa, Europe and North America.

Branding and Commercialization

In order to enter the eco-luxury niche of cosmetics products, Ms. Oriaikhi made the strategic decision to create quality brands that are sourced with natural ingredients and inspired by the landscape of the African continent.

As the entrepreneur said, “[Malée Natural Science is] an African brand operating in Africa as a business. All our ingredients, everything [including product designs] that goes into Malée are sourced from [and inspired by] the continent.”

To this end, the SME has used quality natural ingredients for its products including avocado, coconut, almond, wheat germ, shea butter, aloe vera, mint, grapefruit and tea tree extracts. These wholesome ingredients are imbued with health enhancing properties including vitamins and antioxidants and skin moisturizing agents.

Malée Natural Science, moreover, not only ensures that its cosmetics are made in 100% recyclable materials (including the company’s cotton bags); these products are also presented in attractive, well-made packaging with inscriptions inspired by African mythology and landscapes.

The Malée Natural Science logo, for instance, is represented by a series of three circles (with each smaller than the next, and a larger circle containing a smaller one) that originate in Adinkra myths of the Asante Nation in the Republic of Ghana. To create distinctive and attractive products, the SME has relied on the expert guidance of product branding companies such as Breinstorm Brand Architects – a brand maker based in South Africa.


Malée has consolidated its presence in South Africa via a specialized concept store (pictured) in the prestigious Hyde Park Corner Mall, Johannesburg (Photo: Malée)

The cosmetic maker’s products, furthermore, contain at least three aromas that are evocative of the African landscape and some of its culture including “ochre” – a red-brown rock whose smell, after rainfall, is similar to that of the soils in parts of the continent. Indeed, ochre is an earth-based pigment which is commonly used as a product for hair and skin protection against the sun by Himba people, a semi-nomadic community in the north of the Republic of Namibia.

Parallel to Malée Natural Science’s emphasis on natural ingredients and attractive packaging, the SME has created a wide and growing range of products under the “Natural Science” brand name including products for the skin (such as creams, body scrubs and perfumes); products for bathing (including moisturizers, cleansers, soaps, shampoos and conditioners); and products that include lip balms and cuticle balms.

The SME has extended its brand portfolio to include Scented Soy Candles (the melted wax can be used as oil for body massages); Solid Perfume (which is a portable block of perfume that can applied to the skin); and, Anti-ageing hand crème (a moisturizing agent that is especially effective against dry skin caused by the dry winters in South Africa). In 2012 the company had over 40 products under the Natural Science brand.

Despite positioning the company as a luxury product, Malée Natural Science’s founder made the decision to keep overheads low with a view to keeping prices down and attracting a wide client base. As Ms. Oriaikhi said, “I’m an African brand and I would like the average African to be able to purchase Malée and keep purchasing it and be happy with the quality and the product that they get.”

In addition, the company has ensured that its cosmetics are available to as many customers as possible by avoiding the use of animal products and ensuring that its goods are suitable for all skin-types – including for customers with sensitive skins or for conscientious clients such as vegetarians and vegans.  

In order to commercialize its many products globally, the company has engaged in international industry fairs and events. The SME has promoted its products via a specialized stand at Top Drawer London, an event in the UK’s capital that show-cases the latest international retail products and designs, and the FoodWineDesign Fair (2010, 2011 and 2012), one of the premiere lifestyle goods trade shows held at Hyde Park Corner Shopping Center in Johannesburg. 

The cosmetic company’s founder, moreover, has enhanced her company’s good name via presentations in high profile industry events such as the Wealth Summit (2012) – a gathering of private investors and luxury goods makers convened by the Southern Africa Luxury Association (SALA).

SALA’s respected event brings together investors and luxury goods creators of the region and facilitates state of the art exchanges among participants with a view to stimulate innovation, investment and commercialization in the industry.


The SME has licensing agreements to supply amenities to several clients in South Africa including Singita Game Reserves, located in the Kruger National Park (pictured), and Majeka House (Photo: Malée)

In addition to enhancing the company’s reputation among business partners, Ms. Oriaikhi has ensured that the SME’s Internet presence and interaction with a global clientele is maintained via an easy-to-use E-commerce shop. Malée Natural Science’s online shop features all of the company’s products accompanied with colorful photographs and well-illustrated explanations of ingredients and directions for best use.

The cosmetics maker, moreover, has promoted its products and engaged its customers through extensive use of social networking sites (including Facebook and Twitter) and via up-to-date commentary and news feeds via the entrepreneur’s personal blog.

Via the blog, Ms. Oriaikhi has been able to communicate directly with the SME’s customers and to share information and tips – through in depth advice on which cosmetics are best suited to a particular season – on how to use the company’s products.

Not only has the company commercialized its goods via the Internet; Malée Natural Science has reached a growing client base through licensing agreements with 5 star hotels that have retailed and provided the SME’s products as amenities in their rooms – including goods that have been sold as gift sets.

As of 2012, the cosmetics maker had consolidated its presence in South Africa via a specialized concept store (with an Africa themed interior design) in the prestigious Hyde Park Corner Mall, Johannesburg. At the same time, the SME had set its sights on expanding into Canada, the European Union and the United States of America.

Trademarks and Domain Names

Having established a well-crafted branding and commercialization strategy, Malée Natural Science has relied on the intellectual property (IP) system in order to secure its IP rights (IPRs) and keep its avenues for future expansion open.

To this end, the company registered a trademark for Malee Cosmetics (2009) via the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission – South Africa’s IP office.

In part because the company relies on the Internet to commercialize and promote its goods, Malée Natural Science has registered a domain name: maleeonline.com. With its IPRs protected via the IP system, the SME has established a sound base from which to expand its brand presence, compete with established rivals and enhance its international corporate profile.

Indeed, the company has been able to leverage its growing corporate reputation in order to enter licensing agreements (to supply amenities within guest rooms) in the hospitality and game reserves industry. The SME’s licensing clients in South African include Singita Game Reserves, located in the Kruger National Park; Le Quartier Francais, a high-end boutique in the Franschhoek Valley; and  Majeka House, a hotel in the Western Cape province of the country.


Malée has captured the public's imagination with a growing portfolio of attractive cosmetics creations inspired by the African landscape (Photo: Malée)

Business Results

Since its foundation, Malée Natural Science has been a star rising high above the African horizon. The SME has created a strong portfolio of goods and brands that have been making headlines in the eco-luxury sector of the skincare and hospitality industry.

In 2011, three of the company’s products (the Hydrating Body Scrub; the Hydrating Body Cream; and, the Anti-Bacterial Hand Wash) were finalists in the “Best of Beauty” category awards by Fairlady – one of the leading magazines for women’s products based in Cape Town, South Africa.

Malée Natural Science’s cosmetics, moreover, have been featured in world famous magazines (including Cosmopolitan, Glamour and Marie Claire) and in the international media (including Cable News Network and the Atlanta Post).

The company’s products, meanwhile, have been commercialized via hotels in sub-Saharan Africa and, increasingly, internationally.

Cream of the crop

Ms. Oriaikhi recognized a niche in the eco-luxury market in South Africa and quickly set her mind to filling it with quality skincare products. Collaborating with a small team of experts, the entrepreneur created a number of naturally sourced products and developed a brand with a reputation for excellence.

Relying on the IP system to protect her company’s good name, Ms. Oriaikhi’s company established a strong Internet presence and set its sights on the international market. Malée Natural Science is an example of how an SME with quality brands and a secure IP portfolio can compete successfully against established rivals in a global industry.

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