ceo AND fOUNDER - NATURAL GLOW
Novilhelha Moleni is 20, and first-born to Jayne and Misiya Moleni. She grew up in Kasungu with her parents and relocated to Lilongwe in 2012 where they live in Area 49, Gulliver. Novi has a younger sister, Paina, aged 14, and currently in Form 2 at Mary Mount Girls secondary school in Mzuzu.
In June 2018, Novi founded Natural Glow, a beauty brand. They currently have three products on the market: 100% Coconut Oil, Herbal Scalp Treatment and Shea Moisturizer.
Natural Glow processes herbs and natural organic oils to make hair food. It uses herbs such Rosemary, Moringa, Black Seeds, which are locally found in Malawi. The shea butter is imported. So is the coconut oil. The processing of the oils is hand-done. As of now the company buys its packaging bottles from Arkay Plastics in Malawi.
In her late teens, Novi’s mum was advised by her doctor to cut her hair because the relaxers she was using were affecting her, constantly causing headaches. The doctor’s explanation noted that her relaxers contained toxic chemicals such as sodium hydroxide, calcium hydroxide, guanidine carbonate, guanidine hydroxide, thioglycolic acid, lithium hydroxide. Novi soon began to realize that there were more women and girls telling a similar story. One lady started losing her hair and only survived on wigs. Several women were losing, and continue, to lose their hairline.
Meanwhile, Novi was keeping natural hair. However, all the ‘healthy’ products she craved to use for her hair could only be imported and were thus very expensive. She needed to find a way to help her society – as much as herself – by introducing a product that could eliminate the use of chemicals in favor of organic products to help with the health and growth of hair. Pricing would be the key to solving this challenge for most women in Malawi, many who already knew about the harms of chemical relaxers yet continue to use them due to the scarcity and expense associated with natural hair products.
So, she read and researched. She talked to people. She was astonished to realize how the use of relaxers traces back to slave trade and colonization eras. Initially, the tales go, when female African slaves were taken on board, their hair would be cut as a means to destroy their identity. So, in the 20th century, relaxers were introduced in order to straighten kinky, curly hair. Women and men alike used these relaxers to suit the beauty standards that were set for them by their captors.
A century later, this would remain a major player in the discrimination of women and girls who wore their natural curly hair. In 2013, the BBC reported about a young lady who was told that, if she were to keep her job, she would have to straighten her natural hair, which the boss deemed unprofessional. As such, society has long had a negative impression on natural hair. So, Novi’s products are meant to empower people with the assurance that they can maintain healthy hair without using relaxers and they do not need to keep their hair straight to make it look great. They can have it the way nature intended for it and look wonderful at the same time. So, she started innovating products that can help maintain hair moisture, in turn healing the scalp, strengthening hair and improving its growth.
Novi reckons that the business has so much potential, both in the short- and long-terms. Their customers have been great in consistently using the products and given reviews. Their short-term goal is to increase our production and get Malawi Bureau of Standards certification as soon as they can so that they are able to sell in shops and across borders. Their long-term goal is to grow the brand into producing several other products such as shampoos, conditioners, body lotions and makeup using natural products and organic oils. The main aspiration is to add value to the economy of Malawi and incorporate youth in the business’ research and development efforts.
Since Natural Glow is a startup, finances have been their greatest barrier to support high-quality packaging. Solving this challenge would lead them to using eco-friendlier high-quality bottles. Currently, the only way to have these bottles is to import them. Since they are not yet certified, it is hard to convince certain customers. So, their goal of certification will hopefully be launching Natural Glow into breaking market boundaries.
Novilhelha went to Kamuzu Academy Primary School in Kasungu after which she attended Kalibu Academy. At Kalibu, she took up several leadership positions and was the first junior to be awarded the Outstanding Girl Award. She graduated from Kalibu in 2015.
She was awarded a full scholarship to study the International Baccalaureate Diploma at UWC Red Cross Nordic in Norway in 2016. During the 2 years she was in Norway (2016- 2018), Novi was part of the Student Council which represented the affairs of the students in the Education Management Team. In her first year of UWC, she was awarded the Save the Future Generation funding, which helped her construct a new girl’s toilet at Ntenjela Primary School in Lunzu, Blantyre. In her second year, she was awarded the Go Make a Difference funding, which came in handy in supporting Ntenjela again to renovate classrooms. She graduated with an International Baccalaureate diploma in 2018 and was awarded the Davis Honors Scholarship to study Management and Business at Skidmore College in New York.
Novilhelha’s dream is to pursue an excellent career in business, particularly in international trade, and work with the World Trade Organization. Besides work, she would like to explore her passion in social entrepreneurship and continue making an impact in various communities in Malawi.