Emily Cunnigham, co-founder and COO of True Moringa, has had a multi-faceted career. Before starting the skincare line, she worked in a number of fields, from advocacy to fundraising, to microfinance. “I have always been interested in poverty alleviation and international development,” she says. Working and traveling in rural India and Ghana helped her to understand the tremendous potential of agriculture and to build an appreciation for the incredible natural remedies the tropics have to offer.
Pair that with the background of Kwami Williams, Emily’s co-founder and the CEO of True Moringa. He was born in Ghana and moved to the United States at the age of eight, before he attended MIT and studied aerospace engineering. He then worked for NASA for a stint before deciding (after a volunteer trip to Ghana) to completely change the trajectory of his career.
Kwami and Emily met through MIT’s D-Lab, where they worked on affordable technologies for developing countries and traveled together to Ghana to help implement community-centered development projects. It was there the duo learned about the Moringa tree, and the rest is history! Read on to find out more about this up and coming brand.
W.E.L.L. Summit: Tell us the story of how True Moringa started.
Emily: In January of 2012, my co-founder Kwami Williams and I found ourselves in the middle of rural Ghana, puzzled by a paradox. There are 1.5 billion acres of fertile uncultivated land in Africa and 120 million smallholder farmers living on that land earning less than $2 per day. It just didn’t make sense. Here we were, in a tropical climate conducive to growing some of the world’s most beautiful, medicinal and valuable botanical plants and we were surrounded by poverty.
The farmers in the village came to us with an idea. The locally abundant Moringa tree had been used for centuries in traditional medicine, known for its ability to heal and restore. They wondered if we could work together to introduce the tree to the global market. We returned to the United States for some research and experimentation. Turns out, it was with good reason the village elders looked to Moringa for its healing power. The leaves contain, per gram, more vitamin A than carrots, more calcium than milk, more protein than eggs and more iron than spinach. The shells could be used for organic fertilizer, animal feed and flocculant to purify water. Most exciting to us, the seeds, rich in antioxidants and moisturizing agents like behenic and linoleic acid, produce one of nature’s finest nourishing treatments for hair and skin care. Over the past three years we’ve made the transition from village project to international business working with 700 smallholder farmers, with Kwami as CEO overseeing supply side operations and myself as COO overseeing global distribution and branding. How did you become interested in ethical, sustainable products? I’ve worked on organic farms in the United States and abroad and learned simultaneously about the underinvestment in sustainable agriculture and the incredible remedies nature has to offer. We’ve seen vast farms and forests burned to clear land and small farmers suffering from the consequences of climate change. There is so much potential for developing global supply chains the right way and so much to be lost from doing it irresponsibly. When you think about the vision for your line, what gets you excited? There are so many incredible underutilized and undiscovered natural botanical plants thriving throughout the tropics. As we expand our line, we want to bring these amazing products to conscious consumers worldwide in a responsible way—creating new jobs for organic smallholder farmers throughout West Africa and beyond. At our core is the idea of beauty through truth and simplicity. We want to inspire women to look and feel their best in their own skin and convince them that they can achieve this simply by providing their hair and skin with the nutrients they need naturally. What makes True Moringa unique? How do you stand out in a sea of products? Not all natural oils are created equal! True Moringa is made with 100 percent pure Moringa oleifera oil and no chemical additives. It’s cold-pressed using our proprietary extraction system in a heat-controlled environment to preserve the oil’s color, nutritional quality and crucial fatty acids and protein structures. Moringa oil isn’t widely used in cosmetics in the United States yet, but it has incredible benefits—as a moisturizer, makeup base,and antiaging solution for facial care, conditioning detangler and scalp oil for hair, and cuticle oil and cure for dry skin, scarring, and stretch marks. There isn’t much Moringa can’t do. We take great pride in being intimately involved with every step of the production process, both to ensure that we are producing the highest quality product and the most holistic ethical supply chain. We spent nearly two years developing our one-of-a-kind miniaturized processing system and our handbook of best agricultural practices, and both are evolving all the time. Through our intimate understanding of the communities and the farming families with whom we work, we are able to create the highest quality natural oil on the market. Our brand aims to sort fact from fiction for conscious consumers and highlight brands that are doing incredible work in the field and creating amazing products through our curated boxes. What’s one simple way people can switch to more sustainable, ethical products and living? Stick to products with simple, natural ingredients! I love to tell the story of my younger sister who was a total makeup and product junkie before falling in love with True Moringa. Antioxidant rich natural oils are the most basic way to restore moisture and essential fatty acids and fight free radicals, so you truly can have an all in one product. You can cover up all you want with expensive synthetics, but naturally healthy hair and skin give you the best glow and the most confidence. What changes and trends have you seen in the healthy beauty movement over the last few years? Mainstream consumers are starting to become conscious of how their products are made and sourced, and we see natural beauty brands moving into the mainstream. We’re seeing a shift toward simple, natural ingredients. Europe, Asia and Africa are still way ahead of the curve in terms of adopting oils as hair and skin care treatments, but slowly U.S. consumers are starting to understand the benefits of moisturizing and protecting with oils. What does living a life of wellness mean to you? Empowering yourself and others to lead a happy and meaningful life, full of truth and beauty and free of excess. If you could share one piece of advice for holistic living, what would it be? Take time to breathe—before you start your day, before you make decisions and before you sleep. It’s amazing how much being calm and centered can alter your perspective and lead you to make healthier, more productive, smarter choices. What’s been the most important beauty switch for you? Switching from harsh chemical facial cleansers to natural cleansers and moisturizers. It seems counterintuitive that oily skin craves natural oils, but it does! Now all I need is Burt’s Bees cleanser and True Moringa Lavender Facial Oil. How can we be more conscious consumers to affect change in the beauty industry? Take time to understand the brand and look beyond labels and buzzwords. Choosing organic or fair trade is a great start, but there are a number of small brands that go above and beyond what it takes to get organic and fair-trade certified. There is a lot of misinformation in the natural beauty world and a tendency to simplify messaging for consumers.