Muna Magan is the founder & CEO of Riyan Organic. She speaks to The Somalia Investor Magazine on entrepreneurship, family, and the struggles of running a business in two different continents.
Ayan Abdi Diiriye
Who is Muna Magan and tell us your initial business journey in brief?
I was born in Hargeisa to a family that lived a comfortable upper-middle-class life. My father was a doctor- neurologist and my mother was a midwife.
My father owned a clinic where he and my mother worked side by side (downstairs). The family lived upstairs. However, our world crashed when the civil war broke out and we left with nothing. We ended up in Sweden as refugees.
My father passed away a few years later in Sweden. The death of my dad shattered my world. He was my foundation. After high school, I moved to London where I earned my degree in Human Nutrition and Biomedical Science. While studying I worked at Heathrow Airport in one of the beauty products shop outlets.
Employment didn’t come right away and after months of agonizing search, I finally secured employment at Citi Bank as a financial advisor.
My entry into entrepreneurship was through a friend whose family ran a real estate company. The real estate market in London was a lucrative business. This friend helped me buy my first property in London through their company. After this, I worked for them, earning commissions on the sales I made; bought my first car, fully paid for my MBA in Securities, Investments, and Wealth Management.
My life changed. After one year, I set up my own real estate company. Business was good and I ran a team of four. My mother, she stepped in, she became my financial advisor and with her advice, I bought more properties in the UK and invested in land back home.
I got married around the time that the real estate market crashed in 2009. Within the same year, I became expectant with my first child, a daughter- Riyan. I moved back to Sweden to be close to my brother and his family. Got my son Yasin soon after and ended up a full-time stay at home mum for the next three years, a period I enjoyed immensely.
In 2014, I took my first trip back home with my children and husband. That’s when I saw the level of poverty and lack of opportunities for women at home. I came back to Europe and decided that I should build a social enterprise that empowers women and girls through employment. This how Riyan Organic came to be: A company that specializes in producing ethical, sustainable health and beauty products for women across the globe.
Skin bleaching products contain chemicals that are proven neurotoxins and have been linked to birth defects if used by women during the prenatal period. Inorganic mercury exposure is associated with rashes, skin discoloration, scarring, secondary bacterial and fungal infections, and even renal impairment and damage to the nervous system.Muna Magan, Founder & CEO of Riyan Organic
Let’s talk about Riyan Organic. Who are your customers, and what do you create for them?
We are a young and independent beauty label. We produce 100% natural and ethical beauty products. Our products are inspired by ancient Somali recipes. Our customers are mainly millennials who are keen on beauty and are at the same time concerned about the environment and would like to make an impact. Another segment we sell to are those who are above 35 years old and are very much interested in health and healthy living; this group is interested in natural products.
The beauty and skincare industry in Africa is crowded and it has been so for the past several years. What are the unique beauty and skincare needs in Africa?
The market may be crowded but there is a very limited range of products for women interested in Somali beauty products. We are here to fill this gap globally. Somali women are known for their beautiful skin but no one knows exactly how come they have such lovely skins since our beauty regimens have mostly been kept secret. We are revealing that secret to the world… this is what makes us unique.
And, when you look at the business since 2014; would you say that you are meeting this need?
I would say yes, definitely. We currently distribute and sell internationally. In the past two years, we have built a very strong brand that is recognized across the world. We have won an award or two too. I can say that we are doing well.
You hold a bachelor’s degree in Human Nutrition and Bio-Medical Science from the University of Westminster. With this, you develop skincare products and natural health products. Explain, in simple terms, why the food we eat and what we drink are just as important as what people put on their skin…
Naturally, beautiful skin starts with the diet. What you eat. The food you eat and portions allow your body to build healthy skin. Fruits and vegetables are good. Some foods contain nutrients needed to strengthen the skin, like sardines and walnuts… Others like oranges and guava and papaya are anti-oxidants that promote glowing skin. You also need to hydrate adequately by drinking lots of water.
Most African ladies (Somalis included) are drawn to Western or Middle Eastern skin and hair care products that have been known to have adverse effects on their skin and health… Just how big is this problem?
The ideology of beauty is associated with western standards that are absolutely bizarre and audacious. Somali women have the most beautiful skin and come in different shades. Some Somali women may compare themselves to what they see on media but those ones must be educated about the risks associated with skin bleaching products. Some of those issues are:
Skin bleaching products contain chemicals that are proven neurotoxins and have been linked to birth defects if used by women during the prenatal period. Inorganic mercury exposure is associated with rashes, skin discoloration, scarring, secondary bacterial and fungal infections, and even renal impairment and damage to the nervous system.
What is your distribution network like?
We use all the available tools at our disposal; we sell online, where customers can buy directly from our website’s online shop. At the same time, we have physical shops in various African capitals. We also work with a number of social media influencers… they buy in large quantities and sell at a commission.
Your business works with a lot with local women in Hargeisa, and, in your past interviews, you have talked of how your company empowers these women… for people interacting with your work for the first time, explain how your company benefits and empowers local women; in a way that is different from the regular CSR from most corporations…
I started out as a social enterprise. We were impact-driven and fully committed to social change… This has not changed even though we are a fill enterprise now. We believe in equality. We give more consideration to women when it comes to decision making spaces. We give women space to be innovative and forward-thinking. The women that work for us in Hargeisa work directly with our employees in Sweden.
You have mentioned in the past that your mother encouraged you, and supported you, and urged you to give up a stable job and start a new venture. When you look back at the journey, and the strides you have made… What are the achievements as a result of this move that you are most proud of?
This has been hard work. We have created a strong Somali brand that is almost fully known internationally. We have changed the narrative. We have shown that Somali women are strong women who can compete on a global stage and do just as well as men.
What is your end goal for Riyan Organic? What do you hope it will have accomplished, say in 20-30 years’ time?
In 30 years… I would have liked to have built a globally respected brand of Somali origin. I would like Riyan Organic to be among the world’s leading natural skincare brands. I would love to see our products in London, Nigeria, Paris, etc.