- Our own Abby Mason gets up close and personal with HL&S Safe Beauty & Body Partner and Founder of MUN Skin Care: Munemi Imai
Q: When did MUN launch? How has the beauty and skin care industry changed since that time?
- We launched our first version of No.1 Aknari Serum in May 2012. What has changed most significantly since then is the awareness level of consumers. Their priorities have largely shifted and their concerns now include the impact of potentially harmful chemicals on their health and the environment as well as transparency about a brand’s business practices and what’s in their products. More and more people are becoming health and wellness conscious, not just with the food that they eat, but also with the beauty products they apply to their skin.
Q: The name MUN is really beautiful (short for Munemi, correct?). What was behind the decision to use it as the name for your brand? Did you know right away that this was the name for your company?
- Yes, it’s the short version of my name, Munemi. Also one of my nicknames is Moon and MUN is pronounced “moon.” We took some time thinking about different possibilities for the brand name and ultimately felt right about this one.
Q: You are an international makeup artist with a passion for green living. You had a desire to “embark on a journey to unite the worlds of fashion and sustainability.” Can you tell me more about what motivated you to develop “a unique line of organic skincare products as pure as the plants they come from?”
- I had been consulting for a Japanese corporation’s prestigious beauty brand creating seasonal color cosmetics since 2006 and the idea of starting my own skin care line started brewing around 2008-2009. Then I shifted my lifestyle choices in regards to food and cosmetics in the beginning of 2010 and that really defined the direction I wanted the products to go in. When I gave up all the skin care products I had been using and began looking for organic and clean alternatives I couldn’t find products that worked for my concerns (signs of aging, fine lines, and under-eye dark circles). Also, having tested countless products over the years as a makeup artist made me very particular about the texture and user experience of a product. With all of this in mind I wanted to create a product that is organic, raw, has great texture with fast penetration, and delivers real results. At the time, the majority of natural products on the market had that “granola” type of feeling and something was always compromised. The ingredients may have been clean, but they weren’t effective enough to tackle real anti-aging concerns. The texture wasn’t right. The packaging wasn’t stylish. I felt that these things shouldn’t be compromised simply because the product is organic and 100% natural. Also, as a long time makeup artist, I was used to traveling all over the world with a suitcase full of makeup, but the skin care bag had to be compact with products that are gentle enough for most skin types, while being effective and multi-tasking. So when I approached product development for MUN, my goal was to cover all of these things: Gentle, effective and multi-purpose without compromising the strict values of the brand or the high-end user experience on the consumer’s part.
Q: I love MUN’s brand philosophy – can you share it here with our readers?
- Created with both you and the planet in mind, our organic skin care products connect the cycles of beauty, health, and sustainability. Pure and all-natural, our ingredients are derived from native plants that are carefully selected by women-owned, responsibly managed local co-operatives. The organic ingredients in our products are essential both to your beauty and your health—not only do they provide a higher volume of rich nutrients for your skin and your body, but organic farming also protects the soil and the ecosystem of microorganisms within it.Finally, our business model ensures we adhere to the highest standards of fair trade and sustainable development.This is the cycle of nourishing and sustaining our bodies and our planet that we so strongly believe in.
Q: Your products are created with ingredients that are organic, 100% natural, vegan, non-GMO, synthetic fragrance free, gluten free and not tested on animals. If that weren’t enough, your packaging is also eco friendly – can you elaborate on that?
- We use special dark miron glass bottles for a few very good reasons. These bottles are specially made to preserve organic substances by cutting all UV rays so that the products last longer. They’re also recyclable and we print directly on them to avoid unnecessary paper or waste. For our boxes, we work with a printer that has a long history of green practices including using both recyclable and recycled paper options and sourcing renewable energy for their business.
Q: How do you embrace sustainability in your company?
- The biggest thing for us is making sure that the ingredients we use are sustainable. That’s one of the reasons we love our main and signature ingredient, Prickly Pear Seed Oil, on top on its superior skin care benefits. It’s a cactus so it needs very little water to grow. We avoid any crops that are endangered and/or create a negative impact on the environment in which they’re grown.
Q: What makes your brand unique in the arena of green beauty?
- First and foremost, we bring diversity to the green beauty community. My co-founder and I have multicultural backgrounds and experiences that have a huge impact on how we see the world and how much we appreciate diversity. We love the idea of a “Global Village” and we are creating it through our company and our products. I grew up in Hiroshima, Japan. My family ran an art gallery. Then I moved to Tokyo at 17 and jumped into the beauty industry and started doing makeup at 20. I’ve been in beauty for 25 years now. I moved to NYC at 27 to pursue a career as a freelance makeup artist in the fashion industry. I’ve worked with and on faces from all over the world. I think it would be hard to find an industry or a place more diverse than New York’s fashion industry. While I worked as a makeup artist there, different projects flew me to various locations including Europe, Africa, and South America. I always took advantage of these trips and looked for takeaways from the locals and products to bring home. My business partner Anas is originally from Meknes, Morocco. His father was a surgeon and his mother is a politician working for women’s rights there. He moved to the US at 17 to pursue his higher education. After finishing a master’s degree from Columbia University he started working in finance. Moroccans speaks both French and Arabic as official languages, so he is fluent in 3 languages, including English. He is our window to Morocco, where we source some of our main ingredients. We have been working with a local women’s cooperative there and as we grew, they grew; in fact, it doubled in size in just 3 years. Having a business brain like his is a big advantage for a small start up like MUN. We each bring our own unique perspectives and approaches to the products and the business.
Q: Are there any special/funny stories that you would like to share behind your brand?
- I went to Morocco in August of 2010 for a research trip on a quest for interesting ingredients to formulate with. During that trip, I came upon our star ingredient, Prickly Pear Seed Oil, and on my return flight I happened to sit next to Anas, so this is how we met. We talked for the entire trip and exchanged contact info. One thing led to another and it didn’t take long for us to start working together.
Q: What is your favorite healthy ingredient, and why do you love it? What products feature it?
- Prickly Pear. We use the seed oil for No.1 Aknari Brightening Youth Serum and No.7 Ayour Body Toning Serum, and the stem extract for No.11 Anarose Rejuvenating Rose Toner. I love everything about it – from the superior anti-aging and brightening benefits to how sustainable and environmentally friendly of a crop it is.
Q: Can you share with me what its significance and benefits are?
- Some benefits (to name a few): it reduces the appearance of fine lines, helps prevent premature wrinkle formation, brightens dark under-eye circles, calms redness, helps relieve sunburn, and brightens and evens complexion. The Vitamin E found in Prickly Pear Seed Oil is the highest of any plant oil on the market (3 times higher than Argan oil). PPSO is also very high in linoleic acid (Essential Fatty Acid Omega 6), which is proven to lighten sun-induced hyper pigmentation, protect the skin barrier, lower water loss, and increases moisture. Other beneficial components include Vitamin K, which helps even out skin tone and reduce spider veins and broken capillaries, and zinc, which helps reduce redness and inflammation of acne lesions and decrease oil production. It’s also high in Phytosterols, especially Beta Sitosterol, which provides antioxidants, and antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. The combination of Phytosterols and natural essential fatty acids works well for anti-aging concerns and encourages new collagen production.
Q: Are there any charities that your company supports and is passionate about? If so, can you share the reason behind choosing that particular organization?
- We are passionate about the areas of education and female empowerment. We have done special collaborations with Komera Project and Rima Fujita’s Books For Children on Earth in the past. Both are great foundations that focus on educational causes for underprivileged children. As much as we love collaborating with these amazing organizations, we also believe in empowerment through sustainable economic growth, which is why we are so happy to be working so closely with the women’s corporative in Morocco.
Q: How would you describe your ideal customer?
- We love diversity and our products are formulated to work well for different skin types and age groups. We have customers who represent several generations from the same family, for example a mother in her 60’s and a daughter in her 40’s. We have customers ranging from 18 to women who are in their 70’s. We love to see our products used by different generations and different ethnicities because they are formulated that way. All of these customers are our ideal customers.
Q: Do you have any new products or launches that we can expect to see in the near future?
- Yes, we have been working on a cleanser as well as the new Travel Set and Pure Argan Oil. Please stay tuned for updates and news!
Q: What is your favorite product in your line?
- It’s hard to choose even though we have a small line up, but, I would say it would have to be No.1 Aknari Brightening Youth Serum. It’s truly a multi-purpose all in one product to tackle the concerns of anti-aging and brightening while giving the skin a visible glow. This product alone covers eye serum, face serum, and neck serum and can be used day and night so you don’t need separate products. The remnants make for an excellent hand moisturizer and it’s even light enough as a hair oil as well. It’s a perfect primer before makeup, and a lot of my makeup artist colleagues and I love using it on set during photo shoots. It’s also wonderful after sun exposure to calm redness and minor sunburns. Here’s an anecdote involving No.1 Aknari Serum: In 2012, I took a trip to San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala to attend a yoga and meditation retreat for about 10 days. Because it’s quite a remote place and not particularly safe, I packed very lightly. For skin care, I only packed our face serum and travel size body lotion. I forgot to pack shampoo so I ended up getting a travel size shampoo in a nearby town and used it from head to toe. I didn’t have hair conditioner so I used the serum on my hair to smooth it out and it worked really well! This remote experience was quite unique and taught me a lot; certain realizations can only be gleaned once you’re out of your comfort zone.
Q: What is your favorite way to relax?
- Sleep. Green juice. Yoga. Having some alone time to take a moment to reflect on things. I haven’t been able to do it daily, but I have practiced meditation for some time and find that it is quite powerful, not just for relaxing, but also to clear one’s head. It’s inspiring what you can come to feel with a clearer mind.
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