From a simple, fragrance-free soap bar to a full range of body care and facial coconut-based products, the Salanoa family has come a long way since native Samoan Kitiona and his Swiss-born wife Sylvie, decided to settle in the country in the 2000s and start a business that would help the local economy and the community.
Tailani Salanoa-Chung is one of the three daughters of Mailelani’s founders and the General Manager of the company. She did not choose the family path at first but after a gap year spent with her maternal grandparents in Switzerland, she realized the merits of her family’s project and goals, and in 2013, she joined Mailelani.
A family business involves multitasking; Tailani deals with the general administration of the company, the online and overseas sales, and since last November, joined the production of the new facial line. Her two sisters, Kezia and Shana also pitch in, Kezia from Haiwaii, where she works in the film industry and runs Mailelani’s social networks, and Shana who just started her degree in psychology manages the shop during her free time.
Helping the Community as a Life Path
When Kitiona and Sylvie decided to settle in Samoa, they wanted to find ways to help the community and considered several options, including exporting local handicrafts, until they found out that making soap out of coconut oil would be a market winner. It took two years of research and recipe tweaking for Kitiona to come up with a perfect product. The company was officially established in 2006 with soap, body oil, and body lotion declined in two fragrances.
The company does not produce coconut oil. It buys it from local producers, faithful to its initial goal of helping the community.
The beginnings were humble. The young company did not have much resource and relied on end-of-stock bottles to market its products. The label was black and white because it was cheaper to print. Years later, Mailelani carries seven fragrances in colorful customized packaging, as well as balms, sugar scrubs, solid shampoo, and insect repellent.
In 2021, the company worked with a chemist in New Zealand to create a whole range of facial products with slick packaging that Tailani says can compete on the international market. “It was a big proud moment for us,” she said smiling. Mailelani is now focused on extending its men-specific range of products, including a shaving cream that can double as a cleanser, and a two-in-one hair and beard oil.
There is little else in Mailelani natural skincare products than coconut oil. In the body range, everything ties Samoa and its culture back to products, Tailani said. For example, she said, the company uses coconut oil, cacao bean paste, fresh papaya juice, honey and noni juice. Other Samoan ingredients such as moringa and teuila will be included in new products.
The new facial range includes tamanu oil, a nut that grows along the coast and “is one of those magic local ingredients with growing popularity in the skincare world,” Tailani said.
All natural skincare products are manufactured in Samoa. Kitiona, who created the body care products, supervises the production, while Tailani is responsible for the facial range.
In the national market, Mailelani’s coconut body oil and turmeric balm are best-sellers. Customers can find the company’s products in most pharmacies, gift shops, and supermarkets. Some hotels and spas use Mailelani’s products for their massages and treatments. The products are also sold at the airport’s duty-free shop, and at the company’s premises, where clients can refill their body oil bottles. The coconut body oil keeps the skin moisturized without leaving a thick layer, which is essential in hot and humid climates, Tailani explained.
Mailelani uses a logistics company in Auckland that stocks and dispatches its products for online orders, while a few retailers in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch carry its products in shops and sell online.
The next step, Tailani said, is to find ways to reach overseas markets. The main issue is shipping costs that hike prices well beyond the products’. With the Covid-19 crisis effects still lingering, the company’s staff, seven people including Tailani, Kitiona, and Sylvie, is spread thin.
A strong local market and the New Zealand logistics company allowed Mailelani to weather the Covid-19 storm, even if hotels, supermarkets, and gift shops were affected.
However, the company needs to find a consistent global market to expand. “The amount that we would need to export to have an optimum functioning, hire as many people as we need, and increase our purchases from local farmers is really not that much,” Tailani noted.
Mailelani means “from heaven” in Samoan. “The whole idea was a miracle,” Tailani said, adding “the coconut is the tree of life because you can build shelter from it, you can eat from it and drink from it.” “The name is tied to our story,” she said. The company’s logo also reflects Samoa’s environment and culture. It represents a flower, waves, a shell for beaches, and the moon.
With the help of the Samoan branding bureau, under the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour (MCIL), and in collaboration with WIPO, the company registered its name and logo in black and white and in color.
The next step for Mailelani is to register its trademark internationally, particularly in New Zealand and Australia where the company wants to expand first, and work on promoting its brand globally. The Mailelani story attracts many customers, they really like it, Tailani remarked, and “then they stay with the company because they do like our products.”