This article was authored by Andrés Varona and Taylor Nelson of Partners of the Americas and originally posted here.
Based in the city of Cali, Colombia, the small natural skincare company Zen Naturals develops beauty products from naturally-active ingredients sourced from the nearby Department of Cauca, one of the regions most affected by Colombia’s prolonged armed conflict. Through ethical manufacturing and fair trade practices, Zen Naturals has re-invested in the Paez indigenous communities that grow the quinoa used in their products. By providing more effective tools and training to harvest organic quinoa, local Paez farmers are now able to generate a sustainable income and provide food for their families without having to leave behind their ancestral lands.
Currently, Zen Naturals supports more than 120 Paez farmers in the remote community of Jambaló, Cauca. Meanwhile, in their processing plant in Cali, the firm exclusively hires and trains single mothers from La Floresta, the underserved neighborhood where the plant is based. Zen Naturals not only advances the wellbeing of those who grow and harvest organic quinoa, but also strengthens the knowledge and technical skills of the local women who ultimately transform it into value-added extracts.
Zen Naturals is the entrepreneurial venture of two Colombian brothers, Gabriel and Felipe Maya, who co-founded the company in 2013. Shortly thereafter, Gabriel was selected to participate in Partners of the Americas’ Bavaria Entrepreneurship Exchange program where he met with investment and small business development experts in Washington, DC. Gabriel also spoke with specialists from the cosmetics industry to gain insight into how Zen Naturals could break into the U.S. consumer market. Following his exchange to the U.S., Partners continued to offer Zen Naturals expert volunteer support through our Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program.
"Our company started as a dream of social entrepreneurs to integrate beauty with social causes…the Farmer-to-Farmer program has played an instrumental part in making this dream a reality. " – Gabriel Maya, Co-owner of Zen Naturals
Since 2015, we have connected Zen Naturals to volunteer experts in our F2F program, who have supported various aspects of the company’s skincare value chain. These F2F volunteers have ranged from researching and developing new gluten-free, quinoa-based products to producing a comprehensive digital branding and marketing design strategy aimed at the U.S market.
"The greatest thing about having a F2F volunteer is that it’s a completely new world of knowledge that comes to your company, things that you might never have had the opportunity to achieve before. You have people who have completely different backgrounds giving you new ideas and new tips for your business." – Nathaly Millan, Co-founder of Zen Naturals
In addition, Partners has played an instrumental role in forging a partnership between Zen Naturals and Whole Foods, one of the leading supermarket chains in the United States. Through technical support and strategic engagements, Zen Naturals has been able to properly research, develop, and launch Zue Beauty, a new line of quinoa-based, natural beauty and skin care products exclusively for U.S. consumers.
And now as of July, Zen Naturals’ new natural skincare product line is available in all Whole Foods Markets across the Mid-Atlantic (Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia). The Zue Beauty line currently offers five different products including an exfoliating facial scrub, a purifying facial cleanser, a soothing facial toner, a daily facial moisturizer, and a restoring night cream.
In addition to hiring vulnerable populations and strengthening rural value chains in former conflict hotspots, Zen Naturals’ products also support various social and environmental causes across Colombia. Through the “Give Back” portal in the Zue Beauty website, customers who purchase Zue products have access to a special code that they can use to donate a portion of the sales of that product towards a particular initiative. Currently, Zue Beauty is working on a crowdfunding campaign to provide children in Jambaló with the school supplies and teaching tools necessary to access a more impactful education. In this way, Zen Natural continues to support and give back to the very communities that make their products possible.