The Inside Story

MUKTI — THE EPITOME OF AUSTRALIAN NATURAL BEAUTY

The beauty industry is pervasive. The quest to be beautiful has been part of our culture from early civilisations. Cleopatra is known to have bathed in milk and used a combination of honey and castor oil to repair her damaged hair. 

Today both women and men are obsessed with eternal youth and beauty. And will spend handsomely on products to help them feel more beautiful. Even if the world economy dips, the beauty business is more likely, than other discretionary categories, to hold its own. Although the type of beauty products and their role in people’s lives does shift with time, history has shown that consumers will continue to indulge in quality beauty — little luxuries that bring an emotional lift.  

But this doesn’t mean it is a happy story for every beauty brand out there. With barriers to entry now low for launching beauty brands, many entrepreneurs are trying their hand at creating the next big thing in the world of beauty.

There are many unhappy stories out there of brands struggling to make their mark or having to shut shop. So what does it take to make it in this highly salubrious, competitive landscape? 

FROM LIVING ROOM TO GLOBAL BEAUTY BRAND

MEET MUKTI

She is the epitome of natural beauty. Golden hair purposefully falling on her shoulders, glowing skin, an aura of confidence. She defies age. Mukti is the enigmatic founder and determined entrepreneur behind the extraordinarily successful Australian vegan skincare brand – Mukti. A brand that launched natural and organic twenty years ago when the world was not nearly ready for the natural conversation. Mukti had a vision, self funded all the way (even if it meant she couldn’t always pay herself) and is now the brand on everyone’s lips (literally!). What a privilege to spend some time getting to know the woman (and now daughter also) behind this great Australian success story.

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN

Mukti has a background in natural medicine, so the natural conversation has always been a part of her fabric. But over twenty years ago, as a mum to young daughter Kiyana, Mukti made a tough decision to leave her husband and create a good life for her daughter. She moved to the Sunshine Coast, opting out of city life, committing to a permaculture organic community which was built on the principles of growing your own food and living sustainably. She was determined to find a way to create a future for herself and her daughter. 

Mukti began working for AirBnB and on Mondays and Tuesdays when things were quieter they ran retreat packages for teachers and nurses. Ten to twelve women would come up for a day of pampering. Mukti would indulge these women with facials and they would always ask her what products she was using for skincare. At the time she was using a combination of products, but she thought to herself ‘with my background in natural medicine and a particular love of botanical medicine, plants, herbs and aromatherapy maybe I can just create my own range of products.’ And that’s pretty much how it all started.

The first product Mukti ever made was a lip balm. She spent all her money on ingredients and made an incredibly beautiful product. She would still have it to this day, except it wasn’t vegan. Honey was one of the key ingredients. Mukti has since transitioned the brand to become a vegan skincare brand. 

“I remember it was so delicious full of honey and macadamia. I used to receive calls from customers saying their children were eating it ‘Is that ok?!’ Mukti pretty much coined the phrase… ‘if it’s good enough to eat, it’s good enough to put on your skin.” 

The next product was a rose blossom mist spray. From there she introduced a cleanser, toner and moisturiser. Mukti qualified for the new employment incentive scheme, and began selling at the markets. She was just able to live off the earnings. 

This was all on the brink of ecommerce. Mukti had the foresight of collecting email addresses off everyone that she was selling products to at the markets. She had her little clipboard and when they bought a product she would capture their email, if they even had an email address. She then laboured over a newsletter which would go out to her database. Everything took time, but this made her resourceful and resilient.

She was making all the products under the house she was renting, doing everything herself. Until she began to get some huge orders from overseas.

OVERSEAS COMES KNOCKING

Mukti reached out to the Australian government and qualified for the export market development grant. There were key people wanting to expand Australian businesses into overseas markets, and Mukti was supported as she entered the US and Hong Kong markets. She signed on with an excellent distributor that took the brand into Singapore and Malaysia. They were doing big orders of 60,000 plus products. Somehow she had to get these big orders packed and out. By now she had five people working for her. Mukti was doing a bit of everything. She would be on the phone pretending to be a sales person, then she would do some invoicing before jumping back into making products.

Mukti has always made her own products, taking over the front half of a factory near where she lived, when orders became big enough. Eventually she took over the whole building. It’s always been important to Mukti to maintain the control over the formulas and products. She has heard too many negative stories of formulation swapping and theft.

“It was fun. I was excited and I was passionate, otherwise I think I would have just gone gosh it’s all too hard and given up. I just bootstrapped all the way, there’s never been any investment,” she shares.

“I actually don’t think I am employable by anyone else. I think most entrepreneurs are unemployable, hence why they go their own way. I don’t like to be answerable to anyone.”

WHEN THE BABY BECOMES THE BOSS

Mukti’s eldest daughter Kiyana, grew up in the business. Literally. There’s photos of her as a tiny little thing sitting amongst the boxes.

In 2005 she entered the business after finishing school, as an employee labelling and packing boxes. She graduated to answering the phone, before moving to customer care, following up emails and eventually to invoicing. She learnt every part of the business. She then started to post on Instagram and Facebook and built herself a role as social media manager and creative director. 

“I love that I created the Instagram channel for the business and that I push the business into new directions depending on what the trends are. I did Pinterest a couple of years ago and I helped with the rebrand as well. I basically pushed Mum to do a rebrand. I help keep the brand current and modern,” explains Kiyana.

Kiyana is a mini-me of Mukti, extraordinarily beautiful, with a fresh natural look that appears effortless. She is the epitome of Australian natural beauty. 

“I just boss Mum around,” she smiles. “We’ve got a brand manager that I work closely with and Mum calls her ‘big bossy and I’m a little bossy’.

“But I love working with Mum, we do get on very well most of the time. It’s a privilege working with family because you can show up in a more real way, say what you want to say without feeling like you have to walk on eggshells. It makes for some good honest conversations. We talk about the business all the time. At dinner, on car trips, on a plane. My younger sister gets pretty annoyed about it, she is always saying ‘stop talking about work!’”

And what does Mukti think about working with her daughter?

“I trust Kiyana’s direction. She is always very clear about the aesthetic of the brand. Listening to her has helped me stay current, particularly with the younger demographic. I probably would have just turned into a daggy grandma brand without Kiyana’s influence,” says Mukti.

“Kiyana doesn’t take her role for granted. I think it’s probably because she saw me working so hard on the business from a very early age. She has watched my work ethic. She could be precocious, but she’s not. She is a beautiful hard-working girl. We really are like best friends, we are very close.”

Both ladies agree that they are equally as bossy as the other. If they ever argue they’re over it before the day’s out. They will send each other a text message apologising saying the other is right. They can’t stand being upset with each other. It’s too painful. They sort things out quickly.

THE SECRET BEHIND THE SUCCESS

“When I launched the business 20 plus years ago I thought I would be super successful in the first year,” Mukti laughs.

She did a business plan with numbers that saw her hitting $1.6 million in the first year. Back then that was an impossible goal. No one wanted to know about organic and natural. Ingredients that weren’t going to be detrimental to humans or the environment weren’t really heard of. Mukti has always had a vision of a sustainable and ethical brand and she never gave up on the vision. 

“There were times when there was just no money in the bank to pay anyone and that was always pretty scary, but I have always pushed through and gotten resourceful. You have to take some risks in business and I have always had an underlying trust that I could do this.”

Mukti believes that believing in yourself and your vision, and staying true to that, never compromising is the secret to success. Words that Mukti always comes back to are ‘tenacity and resilience’.

The next phase for the Mukti brand involves moving everything from the Sunshine Coast to Byron Bay, including the manufacturing. It’s a big project but well under way. The new headquarters will be a place where people can come to and have an immersive experience with the brand. 

And there are many other projects in the pipeline. Kiyana is currently consumed with creating packaging from recycled non-virgin plastic for the body and hair care products, those products that can’t have glass because it’s too heavy and dangerous for the shower. 

GIVING BACK

The Mukti brand gives back to the community and the environment in many ways. From the ethical materials and processes within the brand… to incentivising consumers to send back their empty bottles for upcycling. Allowing consumers to choose whether or not they want to have the carton included in the packaging or not is an important part of their sustainable model. 53% of customers choose not to include the carton, which is a choice that saves natural resources and helps prevent more landfill. They also support the Save the Bees foundation and give to children recovering from domestic abuse with $1 from every purchase.

Mukti is a brand that was set up to care. It is a brand that has ridden the ups and downs to come out on top, purely through the determination, passion and vision of one very inspiring woman – Mukti.

MUKTI’S PIVOTAL MOMENTS

– In 2006 getting certified organic
– Becoming a GMP approved facility – Good Manufacturing Process. This means third party auditing and compliance, which is important in a very unregulated industry
– One of the first, if not the first brand in Australia to start using native extracts. They were one of the first skincare companies to be offered cellular extraction technology which took the formulas to another level

MUKTI’S RECOMMENDED BEAUTY REGIME FOR A 40 SOMETHING WOMAN

Mukti generously shares with me her recommendation of the regime that would be great for my age and skin type. So for all of you fabulous over 40 woman:

Hydrating cleansing lotion
Age Defiance Eye Serum
Antioxidant Facial Oil Omega 3-6-9
Vitamin Booster Vital C Elixir
Age Defiance Day Serum and Night Serum

Learn more about Mukti.

Words: Emma Scott
Photography: Nat McComas

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