Mauritius: Local cosmetics brand takes on the internationals

Dominique Raya holding an eye palette and brush in her make up studio in Rose-Hill, Mauritius.

Dominique Raya holding an eye palette and brush in her make up studio in Rose-Hill, Mauritius.

By Jacques Achilles, bird

African cosmetics are taking on international brands and looking for a big chunk of a growing African market. Dominique Raya is hoping her brand will get an early foothold in what is likely to become a massive market.

The shelves of Dominique Raya’s cosmetics store offer an almost bewildering variety of make-up products, ranging from face powders to lipsticks, eye shadow, compact powders, loose powders and products for eyelids, eye liners and translucent powders, all presented under the brand Raya Cosmétiques – and all based on herbal ingredients. The variety of colours on offer also fit all types of complexion: from fair to darker skin tones.

“I wanted textures and colours that could suit the local demand and specially customers with darker complexion. The products are also specially adapted for our tropical climate and can resist the sun, the humidity of the air and a hotter environment,” Raya explained, speaking in front of an array of products.

While her shop and make-up studio are located in Rose-Hill, in the centre of Mauritius, Raya’s cosmetics idea was born in Paris some 10 years ago, when she worked there in the events and banking sector.

Now 45, Raya would later choose Paris as a destination to study make-up techniques and cosmetics. During that time, she realised that most make-up products were not suitable for her skin and the complexion she inherited from her African and Indian ancestors.

“I didn’t want to have, like, a mask on my face. I wanted something more natural for myself and for the girls who have darker complexion.”

She also had the opportunity to prepare models who worked in different fashion events – and saw an opportunity.

“The products available were not always adapted to African and Islander skins. The results of the make-up did not show the models at their best.”

Her conviction was also that make-up “should not change the nature of someone. It is meant to highlight the characteristics of those using it and make them look naturally better without changing who they are.”

After developing skin problems while using products available in France, she decided to visit one of the manufacturers. Here she learnt even more about cosmetics and decided it was time to design her own brand, according to specifications that would suit the Mauritian and African markets.

“I also chose an ethical product, composed of ingredients which had never been tested on animals and which are natural up to 90%,” she said.

Raya Cosmétiques was the result. When she returned to Mauritius in 2015, Raya had made up her mind to compete with international brands in terms of quality, affordability and value for money.

“Unlike international brands who spent a lot on the packaging and marketing, I had decided to adopt a classy but simple presentation to avoid unnecessary expenses so as to keep the prices low and to give to the customers the opportunity to have access to quality make-up at a reasonable price,” she explained.

Dominique Raya applying make up on a client's face in her make up studio in Rose-Hill, Mauritius.

Dominique Raya applying make up on a client’s face in her make up studio in Rose-Hill, Mauritius.

In 2017 she opened her first shop in the northern, tourist village of Trou aux Biches. Presenting herself as the main ambassador for the brand, she helped Raya Cosmétiques establish itself as an alternative to international brands on the island. She also sponsored different national events to ensure better exposure – and these efforts paid quickly.

Not only has Raya Cosmétiques become popular among Mauritians but many foreigners have also noticed the brand. Tourists from nearby hotels walk to her studio every day, while a large number of Mauritius’ many expatriates have also adopted the brand. Claudio Morris, a South African who has lived in Mauritius for nearly 10 years, is one. She has also become a brand ambassador.

“Other brands of cosmetics which I have used here in Mauritius simply flake off my face and leave my skin oily and with very little coverage in the harsh humidity. Looking flawless is of top priority to me and Raya Cosmetiques never disappoints,” Morris explained.

The brand’s reputation continues to grow and the products are now displayed in more than twenty outlets on the islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues.

While her plans for expansion involve adding to her workforce, Raya also has an eye on mainland Africa. “My wish is to be able to have my products produced on the continent itself,” she said.

The youngest of 1o kids from a humble family in Mauritius, Raya believes that hard work and patience pays off.

“My mother worked as maid for the rich. She grew her kids alone after the death of my father who was a mechanic. That made me understand that hard work always pays back and that it is the only way to move forward in life,” she said.

After college, she worked in the tourism sector where, in five-star hotels, she learnt the concept of taking care of one’s own personal image – and one’s body.

“This is when I developed a real passion for make-up.”

Later, she moved to the banking sector and through contacts got the opportunity to travel and work in different countries. At the same time, she joined the events world and helped to bring international artists like Tiken Jah Fakoly, Wailers, Gentlemen, Morgan Heritage and many others, to Mauritius.

“Finally, I decided to move to something that would even please me more. That’s how I decided to go to Paris to study make-up.”