Nefertari: The Inside Beauty of Egyptian Handmade Body Care Products

When she heard her daughter screaming from the bathroom,
rushing to her already red and swollen face, neck, and forehead, it didn’t take Mona Elerian, the at the time Middle Eastern director of one of the pharmaceutical com­panies, much time to realize her daughter is having an allergic re­action. To her surprise, she found some dangerous chemical, can­ cerous compounds in the prod­uct she easily gave her daughter. Since then, the determined Mona decided to make it her duty to educate people about the vital­ity of natural products. Starting off from making olive soaps from her own kitchen, sharing her products with her small circle, to launching the impressive skin brand that we all -including their market in Japan- admire today: Nefertari. We’ve talked to the ambitious lady about her brand, her employees, and how she pre­served its identity, and more.

You initially launched Nefer­tari in 1998. Can you tell us more about its business journey, and the bumps you faced on the road?

At first, I wasn’t experienced in accounting and taxes. It was rocket science to me. I actually

How is the market differ­ent from when you start­ed in 1998 to today?

In fairness, the market has changed: it is enlightened, yet ignorant. A woman comes in and asks for shampoo without sul­phate, without really knowing what that is. The market nowa­ days is full of myths and fables. For that, I have a YouTube chan­nel that provides people with in­ formation about such questions: essential oils, preservation ways, and so on.

With the current increase in awareness of the benefits of natural products, have you noticed a jump in the demand for Nefertari’s products late­ly?

Of course. We sell more, especial­ly for a young category of aware people, of the ages eighteen and twenty, who read and research. I thought that I would sell to an older category. A very good sign is that the girls at these young ages are getting used to more healthy products when it comes to body care. It is really encouraging.

As a single mom who started a business from scratch, how did you manage the work-life balance?

It was very difficult, to be honest. I had my daughter. I had a job. I had to quit to start this business which was difficult, as I was a pharmacist and an expert in my field. I had to start from scratch from my own kitchen. I was new to this; it was very hard, but I had the determination to convey this new idea to our society.

Maintaining and expand­ ing on a growing business is indeed challenging. What’s your key to maintaining the com­pany’s performance consis­tency?

Like Martin Luther King used to say, I have a dream. I want Nefer­tari to become a very strong, Egyptian company. I depend on three pillars: handmade, 100% Egyptian, and 100% natural. I am always keen on sticking to the packaging material made in Egypt when I can easily import cheaper and higher quality from elsewhere, but I would trust only Egyptian hands on Nefertari. I am the first one in Egypt to write: “Proudly made in Egypt.”

In one of your previous in­terviews, you said that “you are committed to buying your employees’ entire produc­tion, regardless of market de­ mand.” Why is that? And how do you compensate if the de­mand was less than the prod­ucts you bought?

We put our products in baskets made by women working from home. Because I am a single mother, it makes me relate to them. This is their bread and butter; they need the income for their children’s education and not to end up on the streets. For me, these ladies are my back­-bone. During the revolution, we weren’t selling. Our shops were broken into and stolen. I almost started from scratch. So I started to buy all what they were making. I couldn’t tell them not to. But thank God, everything is going okay now. We have around 360 working ladies and on the prem­ises, we have 167 employees.

As an entrepreneur, why do you think it’s important to maintain a healthy, non-exploitative relationship with your employees? And how do you think this makes a difference in the overall perfor­mance of the company?

It’s very important. My current employees stood beside me dur­ing thick and thin and the revolu­tion -a long period. They bore de­creasing their salaries. They never bailed out on me. They could have left for another company, finding a new job. I have had employees for more than twenty years now. Most of them stayed. Employees are the company I owe them a lot.

How do you feel about your daughter joining your com­pany now, especially that she was your inspiration to launch Nefertari in the first place?

To be honest, I am thrilled. Going through the experience herself, watching her while she speaks about it and how enthusiastic she is, makes her more convinc­ing than I am. After coming all this way here, finally, I can see my daughter speaking and arguing with me.

Mona hopes to make Nefer­tari 100% natural and 100% organic body care products in the next five years.

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