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Flaviana Matata: Tanzanian model polishes up her business skills

Flaviana Matata

Flaviana Matata

Tanzanian beauty queen and fashion model Flaviana Matata broke into the limelight in 2007 after winning the country’s first edition of the Miss Universe pageant. She has since built an international modelling career.

Earlier this year, Flaviana launched her own nail polish company, called Lavy Products. She began working on the brand two-and-a-half years ago, after noticing a gap in Tanzania’s nail polish market.

The products retail at salons and cosmetic shops in several cities in Tanzania and Uganda.

“Consumers have been very supportive. Our first shipment was sold out in two weeks. I was surprised because I thought the inventory would last up to six months. So we had no stock for a while because we had to wait for a new order to be made,” she says, adding people are gradually becoming more supportive of local brands.

Flaviana wants to follow in the footsteps of other renowned international models who have transitioned into business moguls.

“I admire the likes of Iman, who founded her own cosmetics company and left the industry at the peak of her career to build her business. Look also at Tyra Banks and Kimora Lee. These are people I look up to.

“The exposure I’ve had in the beauty industry as a model has helped a lot. But you can’t do modelling forever because eventually you hit an age where it becomes hard to get jobs.

“You have to find something else you enjoy doing, and the earlier the better. I don’t want to become frustrated if things change instantly.”

Operating across time zones

But juggling a full-time career, an early-stage business, and her non-profit (Flaviana Matata Foundation) is challenging.

“You really need commitment. I often share my successes but not my struggles – so people tend to think, ‘Flaviana has it easy.’ The truth is it is not easy and sometimes I have sleepless nights trying to manage things across different time zones.

“I live in the US, so sometimes I work through the day then have to stay up late into the night to wait for my team in East Africa to wake up in order to catch up on how the business is going.”

She says the product development process has also been demanding.

“Sometimes manufacturers want to trick you – so if you don’t have enough knowledge you could end up shipping something totally different from what you envisioned. For me there were five chemicals I did not want in my product, but every time the manufacturer sent me samples and I took it to the lab, I’d find some of those chemicals still present,” says Flaviana.

“Our system [in Tanzania] is also not straightforward. It takes a long time to get all the regulatory approvals. We also need to control other imported products. Authorities are hard on us about quality, which is not a problem, but there are other importers bringing in fake products at very low prices. We need more transparency to support local entrepreneurs and also protect our consumers.”

One of the key lessons she has learnt in entrepreneurship is building a team that buys into the company’s vision and mission.

“My team knows we are in this together. If Lavy does well, we all do well. It is not about salaries. As an entrepreneur you should make sure your team feels equity in what you’re doing.

“And if you see someone is being lazy – don’t be afraid to fire them.”

More products planned

Flaviana wants to expand her company’s portfolio beyond just nail polish, becoming a one-stop shop for nail-care products, with items such as nail files, cuticle oils, lotions and nail-polish removers.

“Lavy is going to be all about hands and feet,” she says.

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