Sandra Mwiihangele comes from a family that celebrates a long line of entrepreneurs going back generations. Mwiihangele, 29, is the founder of Kiyomisandz Beauty Products, a toiletry and cosmetic manufacturing company based in Windhoek, Namibia.
Kiyomi (pronounced as Kee-yo-mee) means “pure beauty” in Japanese, and the significance of her name is apt considering her chosen industry.
Born in Luanda, Angola, she loved the beauty industry from an early age. At 11, she won the gold medal at the Namibian Expo of Young Scientists competition for developing a top-quality matte lipstick.
Next, she won the bronze medal in South Africa in a continent-wide event. She studied analytical chemistry at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Cape Town, and for her final year she trained at a cosmetic manufacturing company. There, she learned about cosmetic formulations as well as research and product development.
This experience inspired Mwiihangele to start her own cosmetic manufacturing company. She used $1,500 in savings to launch Kiyomisandz.
Today, the company manufactures its own products and offers contract manufacturing services to others wanting to make their own. Since its creation, Kiyomisandz earned the 2015 National Commission on Research, Science & Technology innovation grant and the 2016 Development Bank of Namibia innovation award.
Kiyomisandz has been a lifelong dream for Mwiihangele, who was raised by a single mother who was a training officer for one of the government ministries. And since her mother had to travel a great deal, Mwiihangele often stayed with family and friends.
Mwiihangele had a speech issue growing up. “That experience living with different people each time taught me how to deal and manage people’s different personalities, which is a key trait I try to keep and practice as an adult building an empire which deals with various customers and clients,” says Mwiihangele, who overcame a stuttering problem as a child.
Mwiihangele explains to AFKInsider how she plans to take Kiyomisandz global.
AFKInsider: Why did you start Kiyomisandz?
Sandra Mwiihangele: I started this business because there was no third party or contract cosmetic and toiletry manufacturing company in Namibia that is specialized in this field. I also began this business because I knew that I’ve always preferred to work for myself, because this gives me the freedom to creatively express and create my visions without limitations.
AFKInsider: How did you fund the startup?
Sandra Mwiihangele: In my final year at university studying analytical chemistry at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Cape Town, we had to complete our 12-month, in-service training at an analytical lab. I chose to be strategically different and complete my training at a cosmetic manufacturing company in Cape Town. It was an intense 12-months training because the company consisted of only six employees, including myself, however, this was a blessing in disguise because I was exposed to all areas of the cosmetic product development and manufacturing procedures, from conception of product research to labeling bottles.
I gained full-house experience in research and product development, stability testing, quality control, manufacturing, and packaging. Although my salary was little, I managed to put money aside monthly with the aim of returning back to Namibia to follow my dreams of starting up my own cosmetic manufacturing company. It was a bold move to not further my studies at university but to rather follow my dreams and passions after completing my training as a cosmetic chemist in order to successfully gain technical skills and knowledge to run a cosmetic manufacturing company.
However, as you can see it has paid off well. The money I put aside is what I used to buy a few raw materials and packaging, and some basic kitchen supplies, payment for company logo, website set-up, label printing and design, to create an innovative product at the beginning of 2015. My unique exfoliating scrubs is still my most top-selling product.
AFKInsider: Does Namibia offer a lot of support for small businesses?
Sandra Mwiihangele: There is support from the Government when the economy is good. The Namibian consumers are also ready to support locally manufactured products because they understand that this helps with improving our country’s GDP in the long run and helps us business owners to employ more people, in return increasing job employment, if they continue buying local products.
AFKInsider: What are some of the challenges of having a business in Namibia?
Sandra Mwiihangele: Lack of funding for innovative startup businesses, especially in manufacturing and technology, is a major issue. Another major challenge for manufacturing businesses especially is that we have to import majority of the raw materials in order for us to manufacture a product. Import tax is high and transporting the goods here is costly too. Therefore, we sometimes face having local products that are priced high due to the aforementioned issues.
AFKInsider: What are some of the advantages of having a business in Namibia?
Sandra Mwiihangele: There are a lot of needs that are not being met by potential customers and clients in Namibia, so there is great opportunity for a business offering an innovative service or product to meet these needs, therefore resulting in a profitable and successful business.
AFKInsider: What is your best-selling product?
Sandra Mwiihangele: My exfoliating scrubs, which is soap free and turn into a lotion when massaged onto your wet skin; and my rich body butters, which contains organic shea butter, namibian marula seed oil and cocoa butter. These are the most popular and the best-selling products currently.
AFKInsider: What makes your products different from other beauty products on the African market?
Sandra Mwiihangele: Firstly, this set of products is our first range of skincare products produced in-house and it is called the summer rain collection. My products are proudly Namibian-made and are cruelty-free, meaning we do not test our products on animals. We use certified cosmetic grade ingredients which are safe for our consumers.
The summer rain collection is heavily “rained” with nutritious fruit extracts which are rich in antioxidant properties and the native Namibian marula seed oil. It is designed to entice consumers to want to eat fruits which improve your skin and healthy diet overall, hence why our packaging design reflects on what is inside the product. We currently have the following fruit extracts: apple, kiwi, watermelon, guava, strawberry, lemon, mango, cantaloupe, and blueberry.
AFKInsider: What has been your most important business lesson?
Sandra Mwiihangele: I learned to always keep track of my business finances and to always ask for help or outsource work when needed. Most importantly, I’ve learned that patience and working smart and productively is crucial in progressing towards achieving my business visions and missions.
AFKInsider: What are your long-term goals for the company?
Sandra Mwiihangele: My business is dedicated to helping grow the Namibian and African cosmetic and toiletry manufacturing industry. I wish to see more locally produced products made in Namibia and the rest of Africa on the market and international markets. I want Kiyomisandz to grow into a respected African business and sought after international brand household name like L’Oréal, Revlon, and The Body Shop.
AFKInsider: What has been your most defining moment?
Sandra Mwiihangele: My most defining moment was winning the gold medal from the Namibian Expo of Young Scientist Competition in the year 2000 with my best friend for developing a high-performance matte lipstick at the age of 11. I had so much fun developing the lipsticks, that’s how my passion for cosmetic science was birthed. We then went off to win the bronze medal in Pretoria, South Africa to compete against other African participants that same year.
I don’t think I would’ve discovered my passion if I had not entered that competition. Since winning at that young tender age, I gained some confidence in myself and believed in my ability to start up my own manufacturing business when I grew up. Years later, I did. I became literally obsessed with making cosmetic products for years. I love cosmetic science because it is the ability to be artistic in a scientific field. The art of cosmetic formulation or product development is an exciting process where I always learn and discover something new, and therefore it never gets boring.
AFKInsider: Are you the first entrepreneur in your family?
Sandra Mwiihangele: Well, entrepreneurship pretty much runs in my blood, especially from my father’s side. My late grandmother (father’s mother) was a successful and popular entrepreneur in the northern part of Namibia. My father and all his siblings are each entrepreneurs running successful companies in Angola and Namibia. So I guess, running my own business one day was inevitable. Starting my own cosmetic manufacturing company was also a childhood dream of mine. I’m instilled with a lot of determination and persistence, and I also love being in full control of whatever visions I may have and big dreams that seem impossible to achieve to most people. Having this character makes you a potential entrepreneur, therefore making it better for one to rather own a business instead of working for someone.
I also love the freedom aspect of being an entrepreneur, as this allows me to explore, experiment, fail, pick myself up, grow and learn, and start over