Mulumebet Iori Gebreselassie: Bringing Beauty Closer to Home

Byogenic Beauty Spot is a recognized brand for a spa service in Ethiopia.  This brand was founded 27 years ago in a time when spa service was known as a business only by a few Ethiopians. Even among those few, it’s Mulumebet Iori Gebreselassie who dared to launch a spa business. She started not only a business but also a training center to produce skilled beauty care professionals. After 27 years of quality service, Mulumebet is grateful for turning her passion into a business–being a pioneer in the self-care industry and developing many professionals.

Since childhood Mulumebet has been drawn towards beauty.  Yet, it took her few years before turning her passion into a business. She was born in Wenji, Shewa, where she lost her parents at a young age. She moved to Addis Ababa with her adoptive Dutch family at the age of eight and attended Sebeta Boarding School. Mulumebet joined the Addis Ababa School of Commerce and graduated in Secretarial Science and Accounting. Her first job was at the Rehabilitation Agency for the Disabled as a secretary and accountant. Later, she moved to the marketing department that oversaw the exporting of carpets made by persons with disability supported by the NGO. There she met her life partner who came to the store to buy a carpet. She got married at twenty-seven.

While staying at home with her first born, Mulumebet contemplated how to translate her interest in beauty into an income-generating activity. Unfortunately, twenty-eight years ago the only thinkable business related with beauty was a hair salon.  Although she did not have a local reference to think of beauty care beyond running the traditional hair salon, Mulumebet was convinced that there is more to it. But it took her another year to start her own business. When she had her second child, conditions at her office became harder to manage. This became the impetus for what she has been waiting for. Mulumebet realized that to be a success, she needed to know the industry well and joined Christine Valmy School of Esthetics and Skin Care in the U.S. Her decision was not swayed by the fact that she was a young mother with two toddlers.   However, she didn’t find moving to a foreign culture with two toddlers and going to school easy. Yet, she says, purpose carried her through.

After graduation, to the chagrin of friends and family, Mulumebet returned to Ethiopia; they all advised to stay in the U.S. Mulumebet soon realized that investment in beauty care and Spa was not only as lucrative business as in the U.S. and Europe but was not even recognized as an investment to warrant a business code under the law. She still recalls the challenges she faced to get a license.

The officers at the licensing office suggested that she must register for a beauty salon, if she wants to start a business. This was not acceptable for Mulumebet who fully understood the difference between a spa service and a hair salon. Later on, an old acquaintance she ran into at the licensing office convinced her to work under the current law and start her business instead of fighting a losing battle. After a year of bureaucratic procedures, Byogenic Beauty Spot opened in November 1993 as a pioneer spa service provider.

The business started with three employees: Mulumebet, an assistant and a receptionist. In addition to running the business and being the primary aesthetician, she assumed the role of a salesperson. She joined women associations and knocked on the doors of organizations to demonstrate for free skin care techniques. Mulumebet remembers the support and encouragement she received from the late president of the Ethiopian Women Exporters Association, who she describes as a strong, driven woman behind the brand Yeshi Buna. With her tenacity in promoting her new business and the testimonials from people who used her service, Byogenic became popular and expansion warranted. But Mulumebet faced the unthinkable…the lack of skilled labor. Before tackling this challenge though, she went to the Netherlands for six months to upgrade her skills in electrolysis and permanent makeup crafting.

Upon returning, she decided to start a training center to develop the required human capital for the industry. She also thought cleverly that incorporating aesthetics as part of the National Vocational Training curriculum may afford her the support of the government and international donors.  But her idea was not welcomed by family and friends who were skeptical and afraid she may face an unintended competition.  The Ministry of Education and donor organizations were not readily receptive either to the idea but with persistence and time, she stuck to her plan. At any rate, she voiced her belief in healthy competition and that she considers it as a gain if her trainees beat her in the market. Also, she was sure that she herself won’t grow the business unless she trained others.  She put her budding business on hold for a year and started the training center.

Byogenic Beauty Spot Training Center started with forty-three trainees and over the years trained more than five thousand professionals. Today, the ubiquitous beauty salons are because of these trainees that Mulumebet determined to develop for the health of the industry. Some work for Biogenic and with her direct supervision and coaching, she has made many of them as beauty care business owners. Mulumebet is known for economically empowering women. Mulumebet’s motto is, “the more you give the more you gain.” The school is flourishing and creating many more graduates that earned Addis the reputation as the beauty spa capital of Africa. Mulumebet is also the owner of Rain Forest, a spa, at Radisson Blu Hotel. The staff grew from three to 75 today.  Training competent professionals helped her expand the business and venture into other sector like textile manufacturing and export business. She is one of the four partners of GMM that created employment for four hundred women and a few men. GMM started by manufacturing and exporting home décor textiles to Germany. Currently GMM makes polo shirts and hospital uniforms for U.S. market.

Mulumebet is an active member of a number of networking associations and served on the board of a few of them.  She is the Board President of Sara Cannizzaro Child Minder Association that provides day care and educational support for children of destitute families.

Mulumebet is grateful for her full life, her family and friends and the opportunity afforded to her to help others less fortunate. She gives credit to her supportive husband who stands beside her in her personal and professional journey.

For the young generation, Mulumebet advises not to give up when facing a challenge. From her own experience she recalls that there were times she thought of quitting but sustained because she was determined and committed. Mulumebet believes self-care is a manifestation of self-respect.  While being an ardent advocate of self-care through skin and body care, she believes self-care is not only going to the spa but is about time we give ourselves.

Mulumebet believes that the potential of the beauty care industry is not yet tapped. Outside of Ethiopia, including in neighboring countries like Kenya, it is a big sector that contributes to the national economy. All beauty products are imported while it is possible to produce locally. Although she witnessed change over the years, she is of the opinion that the government still gives low consideration for the industry as an investment sector. She asserts that the primary responsibility to regulate the sector and set standards rests on the government.  And for those who are interested in the sector, she encourages not to be intimidated by the challenges because the professional service and ethical standards they would follow will be their ultimate brand makers.

AWiB thanks Mulumebet for her story; we marvel her journey!

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