How ambitious Irene turned a disaster into an opportunity

Irene Simion, founder and CEO of Mrembo Natural Company. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Around 2019, Irene and a few friends developed a hair movement called “Natural Hair Movement” that focused on educating Tanzanian women on using natural hair products

Dar es Salaam. Certain experiences can change an individual’s life and, at the same time, open doors for unexpected opportunities. However, it takes a keen leadership mind to notice these opportunities and grab them when the chance presents itself.

For Irene Simon, it took getting brain scars that were a result of the intensive use of hair relaxers to establish a hair business that is now making and selling hair products locally and internationally.

She is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of a hair company called “Mrembo Naturals.”

When she was about 1 year old, her mother began to use different kinds of hair relaxers on her hair with the intent to smoothen them, and over time, this did not only ruin her hair growth; it also gave her wounds that were not detected at the time.

“I was 10 years old when the migraines began. They stopped for a few minutes and began again. It was a lot to experience at such a young age. When my parents took me to the hospital, it took a while for the doctors to detect chemicals that were a result of the relaxers. My mother did not know that they could have such effects in the long run. We then began this new journey of getting acquainted with natural products on both my skin and hair since I believed the two were connected,” she recalls.

The two began to blend different natural hair oils and butter as well as spices and flavors to use on their hair. The migraines stopped over time, and Irene felt relieved.

Around 2019, Irene and a few friends developed a hair movement called “Natural Hair Movement” that focused on educating Tanzanian women on the importance of using natural hair products.

“This was after I joined a company called Oriflame, which makes different hair and skin products that are sold globally. I led a team of about 2000 distributors across the country. Later on, I wanted to build my own products based on my experience. In this movement that I led with my two other friends, we gave lessons that emphasized the reasons women should embrace their natural hair without all the relaxing products that leave them with effects in the long run,” she narrates.

The movement lasted three years, and Irene’s dreams of owning a business that would sell and export natural hair products began to develop.

“I started to learn from the internet how to make organic hair products, such as shampoo and conditioner, from scratch. The results were awful. It was after the trial that I knew I needed one-on-one teaching. I connected with a teacher in Kenya who was willing to teach me everything. However, when I traveled there, the ingredients were not as organic as I wanted. I decided to quit and retreat back home,” she says.

She then connected with a teacher based in South Africa who offered her extensive three-week physical training.

“After the class ended, I came back to Tanzania and began to make sample products, which I sent her way for approval and corrections. It was after my third sample of hair conditioner and shampoo that she told me that I was ready,” Irene details.

With the help of agencies, Mrembo Naturals exports to countries like the United States of America, Germany, Egypt, and Burundi.

“It took my passion to get me where I currently am. There were a lot of times when I wavered and felt like I was not on the right career path, but it took motivation to not quit. One good example was when I did not make any profit for the first year of the business. My parents did not understand me at all, and my husband advised me to seek employment until my business could stand on its own; however, I chose to give it another chance, and it worked,” Irene explains.

Another challenge that Irene faced when her business was picking up was when she lost all of her employees in a single day. Every responsibility fell on Irene’s shoulders, and she had no one to depend on.

“It was very sudden, and I had to play every role of every person who had resigned. I was the producer, I managed the finances, and I still had to wear my CEO hat. With the help of the team that was working part-time, I managed to get past that. I am also thankful for mentorship because, with the help of experienced people in this industry like Hellen Dausen, I got through that challenge and learned a lot from it,” she says.

She has also taken part in over 100 formal trainings for business founders like herself who envision their products taking over Tanzania and the international market.

“Mentorship has played a part in my success because it gives me a chance to see my own path through someone else’s experience. It could be mistakes I am likely to make, opportunities I am not grabbing, and other lessons,” she explains.

Irene further says, “If was given a chance to press a restart button with all that I know now, I would have not rushed into the business; I would have definitely done more research to understand this scope of work before getting into it.”