Maryam Moma is the owner and founder of Yamerra, a natural, eco-friendly skin and hair care line. The half Nigerian-half Tanzanian beauty has a background in Architecture, and started her company back in 2009. It all started as a hobby for Maryam. She always thought she would follow her mother’s footsteps and become a successful architect. She went to school in Philadelphia and got her degree from a 5-year architecture program; however, she was always immersed in the beauty and fashion world. She started making and giving her shea butter concoctions and natural body soaps to friends and family for Christmas and other events. They all loved them so much that she decided to pursue her dreams of bringing her natural hair and skin care line to life. She collaborates with a cosmetologist with a PhD in Pharmaceuticals to ensure safety and the highest quality for her products. She also works with a (hand-facilitated) factory in Philadelphia for very large orders.
” I take safety seriously and part of that is having someone on my team who is trained to ensure quality and safety of my products. While I may dream up the blends, and do my research about what essential oils to mix to produce a certain product- my trained team really comes together with me to make it real.” – Maryam
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit and chat with Maryam. We sat across each other in a coffee shop just north of Central Park as I learned about her natural skin care line and inspirations. I met the young entrepreneur briefly two years ago during New York Fashion Week. I snapped a photo of her because I thought she was gorgeous and admired her sense of style. We ran to each other again at a mutual friend’s birthday party, but I didn’t realize who she was until days later. I decided to connect with her, and she sent me some products from her line to try. Both my hair and skin have fallen in love. The butters and oil blends from the Yamerra line are 2-in-1 where they can be used on both skin and hair. They are made for the environmentally conscious girl on a budget who supports natural products. I traveled to California recently, and it felt good to pack a small jar that catered to both my hair and skin! The short period of time I spent with the well-spoken, educated, and charming entrepreneur was time well spent! Maryam shares her favorite beauty secrets, a few words about her style, and what it takes to own a business. Not only will you get to read about a strong and talented young business owner, but you will get a chance to win some of her products! Just keep on reading…
FP: Tell us about yourself and your move to New York City.
MM: I was born in Nigeria to a Nigerian father and Tanzanian mother. I moved to New York City in 2006. I lived in Philadelphia before that, but I feel I’ve lived in New York even longer because I went to school in Philly, studying architecture in a five-year program, and while I was in school I was modeling. A lot of the time, it would require me to be in New York for 2-3 weeks at a time where I would stay with my girl friends. I feel like although I didn’t have an apartment then, I’ve been here for much longer. I moved to New York to do more modeling, but also in Philadelphia, I felt a little stifled. I didn’t feel the freedom that I needed. I’m a very open and free-spirited person. A lot of what I do needs inspiration. I didn’t really feel that in Philly, and I needed a change. Yamerra is my main project, and everything I do is centered around it.
FP: What does Yamerra mean?
MM: Yamerra is a derivative my name (Maryam). My name in Arabic means determined, driven, glorious, successful, and just to really push forward with positive energy. That’s pretty much the type of energy I carry in my business.
FP: How is Yamerra going?
MM: It has been progressing and growing. People have been reaching out on social media and by email to tell me how much they love the products. The people who use Yamerra know that it is a luxury product. It doesn’t need to be packaged in frills and boxes- all of the things that people think about when it comes to luxury items. I put all of the hard-work in the product itself. Overall, I’ve received great response. My products are currently being sold in Nigeria, Mexico City, Japan, New York, Nebraska, and Philadelphia. So it’s good.
FP: Did you have a big following when you decided to start Yamerra?
MM: I wouldn’t say I had a big following, but I had a loyal one. Even in small numbers, I had people who were really determined to just use my line. They were really interested in how they can use my product. They love my products, they know me, and they wanted to keep encouraging me.
FP: How do you see the skin care industry as a young new business owner?
MM: It is very competitive. There are so many brands and skin care products out there. But I feel that Yamerra is unique because of the things that I offer. It is a product that can be used by the whole family. It’s all natural and toxic-free. There are a lot of things that set it apart from what you get out there. I mean you can go to Whole Foods and find something similar to what I’ve described. For example, Carol’s Daughter used to be done by hand, but now it’s all mass-produced. I do want to get to the level of a bigger status company, but I would want to hold it so it is still hand produced, and assure quality in that way. I’m not looking to be the next L’Oreal. I want my products to stay unique, to be hand-crafted and made with love. I recycle the jars. I offer customers a 10% discount on their next purchase when they return their jars. Also, the product that was mailed to you was made on the same day.
FP: Where do you get your ingredients from? For example, your shea butter.
MM: I fairly trade with Ghana. I work with an all women owned business for my shea butter. They collect the shea and clean it.
FP: Shea butter is hard right? How do you get yours so smooth?
MM: Shea on its own is very hard. That’s one of the reasons I started mixing herbs, and things like olive and jojoba oils. Before I started adding the ingredients to my shea butter, using it on its own wasn’t pleasant. It doesn’t smell great. I love to smell great, and I don’t like perfume, so I had to find the middle ground. To find herbs that not only smell great, but work to enhance beauty- clear a scar, reduce stretch marks, or protect the skin from getting sunburn, it was easy for me to add some jojoba oil, and it made a huge difference. People who use regular shea butter, when they use my products, they never go back. I know there are so many shea butter products out there, but I have yet to find one that feels like mine.
Is your line specifically for black/afro women or can everyone use it?
Yamerra is designed for all. What it comes down to is application, and that’s where the how-to videos come in because it’s a natural product. Everybody should be able to use it. Currently, my clientele base is largely caucasian. Surprising but true. I do come across black women who love and swear by my products, but it takes a lot to convince them to pay a certain amount for shea butter when they could get it in Harlem for $5. But the thing with Yamerra is that it’s not just shea butter, that’s just the primary ingredient. In the way it smells, feels, and applies to your skin, you can just tell that a lot more love and care have been put into it. My half-ounce jar of the hair and body butter is $12, and my direct competitor sells a similar product of the same quantity for $65. It’s not $12 because it’s cheap. I’m charging what I know to be the fair and true price for the product. It’s calculated honestly, and I put myself in the shoes of the customer.
FP: Beside your very own products are there any other skin care products that you really like?
MM: Yea! I love Tata Harper. It’s another natural skin care line. They have a resurfacing mask with all active ingredients. Every jar is also made by hand, which is great. I use one of Clarins’ product. It’s also an all natural. It’s called the “Vital Light Day”, it’s a day time moisturizer that I use in conjunction with my natural facial serum. For my hair, I use a leave-in conditioner, but my go to leave-in is coconut oil. It’s just the organic coconut oil you will find at your local Whole Foods store. I use my lemon grass butter because I have dander in my scalp. I do hot oil treatments with the rejuvenating green tea oil. Georgia NY has a really good rosehip oil for my face. It’s just a liquid serum. I try to rotate my products so my face doesn’t get used to one product so it doesn’t stop radiating. I like to use serums because they’re really light, and they give you a nice dewy look.
FP: You are one stylish lady! Tell us about your style.
MM: My style is really centered around comfort, color, and texture. I’m very much into the way things feel. Color comes after comfort. I love material that feel luxurious on the skin. I want to wear things that are free-flowing and vibrant. Vibrant in texture and color, and overall uplifting. I love fashion. I always try to dress outside of the trend. I don’t want to be trendy, I want to be unique, fashionable, and outspoken - very individualized. I don’t ever want to fit in the box of “Oh! It’s trendy! And I’ve got to get this for 2013.” I must say though, have I been in a pair of stilettos that I have been dying to kick off? Yes, I have, but it is not my go-to when it comes to fashion. I always want something… You see? Like you, I see you across the street, and I can already tell that’s you. You’re not trying to copy something from Harper’s Bazaar or Cosmo. That’s your vibe, and when I dress up I want people to notice that about me.
About Maryams outfit-
Shoes: Lucky 7 Brand; Purse: Hermes; Jeans: Levi’s; Shirt: Topshop; Yamerra Kanga Headwrap; Sunglasses: Karen Walker
FP: How do you think your friends would describe you?
MM: It depends on the person. For someone who knows me very well, they would say that I’m warm, kind, very driven. Very straightforward. When I focus on something, I will work on it until it’s achieved. Some people, depending on where on the fence you’re standing in the way of my focus, might call it selfish, or might call it driven or aggressive. But mostly, at least for the people who know me for who I am – definitely warm. My mother is Tanzanian and statistically speaking, we are on the list of the nicest people in the world.
FP: Would you like to add anything about you or Yamerra.
MM: Work really hard. Play just as hard. Travel, see the world. Educate yourself. Try to hone your skills - whatever it is that you’re great at, make yourself even better at it because that’s your currency. That’s your power, that’s your knowledge. No one can take that away from you. Your skills are your skills. And just live with a care for the environment.
FP: Have you always been environmentally friendly even before your line?
MM: Yes. Only because my mother has a lot to do with this. Living in a Tanzanian household, everything is centered around the natural – the things you can find in the garden, the easy things. There wasn’t so much fuss about going out to buy various things, including fast food. Deodorant from when I was about 11-15 was washing my skin and underarms with fresh limes. It cuts body odors. It’s a disinfectant. It keeps the skin exfoliated and soft, it’s a natural antiseptic. So growing up in such an environment makes you more aware.
FP: Are you working on any new products for Yamerra?
Seasonal soap for the summer and fall. Currently Yamerra has a range of 7 soaps, lavender, lemongrass, Jasmine and sage, mango, honey, tangerine and grapefruit, peach and peppermint. I’ve been asking on social media for some ideas because I’d like to do a soap inspired by a customer or somebody who loves the product.
FP: What advice do you have for people who are trying to start their own businesses. Is it easy for you?
MM: (laughter) It is very difficult. It’s not like waking up to a 9 to 5. With a regular job, there is a control on the responsibilities that you have. You wake up, your boss tells you there’s a list of things that you have to do, you finish it, and you go home feeling satisfied. With owning a business you feel like your work is never done. As a creator, you’re always thinking of ways to change or better your business. Your mind keeps working with new ideas and concepts. It takes a lot of discipline, responsibility, and focus. If you’re happy, that’s really the bottom line. It doesn’t come easy. If you don’t do what you’re supposed to do for the day, the money doesn’t come in. It’s not to be taken lightly. It’s a big risk and a big reward. If it’s something that you love, and you’re willing to do the work, then I say go for it.
Yamerra is working on its secondary line, “Yamerra’s Treasures”. This line will be filled with products that Maryam loves that fall in the same vision that Yamerra stands for. The products will be eco-sustainable and multi functional. Each piece will be beautiful and vibrant, and they all promote sustainability, quality, and comfort. “The Kanga is one of those products, and I’m wearing one on my head right now. It is 100% organic fabric. It’s dyed by hand in vegetable dye, and it is primarily Tanzanian. It can be worn as a dress, top, head wrap, or scarf. You can hang it on your wall, or you can use it as a table-cloth. It just lands itself to a variety of uses around the house, which for me ultimately, it saves energy and resources. And that’s what Yamerra’s treasures is all about.”
Maryam has decided to donate some her delightful products for an exclusive giveaway with Finding Paola. Two winners will be selected on July 12th. For more information on how to win, click HERE.