Helaz Beauty - Ethiopia’s First Native Makeup Brand
Vegan and cruelty-free Ethiopian makeup brand that provides affordable and high-quality lipsticks, and other beauty products, for the mass public of Ethiopia.
This would not be the first time most of us have heard of Helaz Beauty. You do not need to be a makeup enthusiast to have heard of the Ethiopian makeup brand that has inspired many others in the industry. The first of its kind, Helaz was founded in 2017 to create affordable and high-quality lipsticks, and other beauty products, for the mass public of Ethiopia.
Helen Hadush, Helaz Beauty’s founder, is a computer science graduate who moved abroad to study for her master’s. Upon receiving her master’s, she worked as a consultant for software companies for about ten years. Her natural problem-solving tendencies aided her immensely in her work as a consultant.
During her numerous travels back home, Helen recalls all the requests she received to bring back beauty products. “There was a huge demand in Ethiopia for quality products, and the market just was not providing that. It was full of counterfeit products labeled with Western brand names.”, she remarks. The health and environmental hazard that these products caused pushed Helen to dream up Helaz Beauty. As a natural problem solver, she saw this as an opportunity to close the apparent gap between need and access to quality products.
Considering Helen’s success, the effort put into building up the brand may well be incomprehensible for an outsider. “I was the first makeup line in Ethiopia, so I found it difficult to find individuals with whom to share experiences and learn from. The only people that could have helped me within the industry were well-established makeup artists. The problem is we, as a country, do not have the culture of collaboration.”
Helen did not let her unfamiliarity with the industry stop her from pursuing her dream. “I had to learn everything from scratch.”, she comments. As a software engineer by trade, it proved challenging for her to enter the beauty industry after close to ten years of working within the software industry. In fact, this helped her. “I was looking at things from different perspectives, from an engineer’s problem-solving perspective. All my products have thus been designed with this in mind; they’re not just makeup products.”
As for the present, a continuing challenge Helaz faces is the distorted attitude that consumers have towards local brands. “Although there is high demand and our intentions are good, we do not always receive the feedback we want. We, as Ethiopians, tend to prioritize Western brands; we deem them more worthy than their local counterparts.” While this trend is changing, Ethiopians still have a long way to go in believing and investing in our local innovators and producers.
“Most people know Helaz as a company that helps struggling schoolgirls. We are socially responsible and work closely with the community.” When asked about how the public received Helaz Beauty, Helen answers, “We push social values, not just products.” These ideals have tremendously helped Helaz’s acceptance. What's more, Helen believes in partnership. “Collaboration is the new competition, right?” Helen says light-heartedly, stressing her keenness in teamwork. “We want to work with everyone in the industry.”
The vegan and the cruelty-free brand has close to 25 employees, including freelancers, part-timers, and consultants. With shops throughout Addis, Helaz is looking to expand its market to metropolitan cities around Ethiopia and across its boundaries. In the following two years or so, Helaz plans to start producing beauty products in Ethiopia.
Helen believes in leading by example and tries to incorporate that in her workplace. She sets up meetings with her employees at frequent intervals to talk with and motivate them. She aspires to build a good relationship with them.
When asked to elaborate on her work in empowering local girls, Helen responded, “We offer school supplies to schoolgirls through the Berchi program. We also partner up with other programs to supply sanitary products for girls to ensure they stay in school. In addition, whenever university students(girls) face any financial burden, we’re always there to help.
All Helaz Beauty products have been named Amharic names with fierce meanings like ‘Berchi’ and ‘Defar.’ These have positive and affirmative connotations. Helen sticks with this attitude in hiring her team of models as well. “Even when turning them down, we try to make them understand that trying is never wrong. I know the impact rejection has; it could make you think of giving up. I am confident that, because of this approach, we have influenced at least one person. I want women and girls to know they can innovate and are capable.”
“To anyone who wants to start a business such as Helaz, I say go ahead. It is a multi-billion-dollar industry. It is vast. You might come up with products that can revolutionize the market. I encourage creativity; you should have your own ‘why.’ The reason you want to do it should be specific and your own. Do not be afraid to fail; it’s part of the process.”
“In the next five years, I want Helaz to be one of the top beauty brands in Africa, the number one brand in Ethiopia for sure.”, Helen states. “We would have factories in Ethiopia and be able to produce products within the country. We want our products to be renowned worldwide. Helaz will also hire a lot of women employees.”
Helaz’s success is a testament to Helen’s perseverance and eagerness to learn. She overcame obstacles that came her way with grace. We could all learn a thing or two from her. Starting a business is never easy; venturing into a new industry is harder still. There is indeed no formula for success. But through unwavering tenacity, patience and conscientiousness, we too can reach our potential and achieve our goals.