Somali-born entrepreneur and Perth resident Haweya Ismail made waves in 2016 when she won $20,000 in a pitching competition for her business idea Mud & Musk. The business offers DIY skin care to socially conscious consumers, the ingredients are organic and sourced from Hargeisa, Somaliland.

mud and mask                                                                 Image credit: Mud & Musk

Mud & Musk uses Qasil as a key ingredient in its products. Qasil is a shrub that grows in Somalia used as a cleanser in its powder form. Through Mud & Musk, Haweya plans to create demand and employment in the area where qasil grows to give back to the community and her birth country.

I talked to Haweya about Mud & Musk and her experiences as a start-up founder.

How did you start Mud & Musk without any prior business experience?

I just had an idea that I wanted to source the ingredients and support the industry in Somalia. But I didn’t know how to start the business so I looked for resources to help me. I completed an accelerator program at Curtin University to help develop the business idea. It was helpful as I was still a university student then. That’s where I learned more about how to start a business and what makes a good business idea. My idea then changed and developed over the next couple of years. I currently run Mud & Musk on my own but have people to help with the design and marketing.

What do your parents think about your business?

My mum is very proud and excited about it. My dad passed away about 3 years ago but I know that he was happy about what I was doing because it’s linked to helping people back home.

What do you think was the biggest challenge you faced in all the time you have been in the business?

The problem with just starting out and not having enough money to hire other people is you have to put on many different caps and learn quickly. For example, when I wanted to design my website, I had to learn about e-commerce platforms. The people I hired to build my website asked me for a list of specs – I had no idea how to deal with it or even what specs were!

Now that I’m just over the launch phase and getting orders in, it’s still difficult without a full team as I’ve had to pack and send orders myself. But, the business has finally grown to a point where I don’t need to wear all the hats.

Did you go back to Somalia often when you were growing up?

No. The first time I went back was to Hargeisa when I was sourcing my ingredients, where the largest qasil farms are.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

I’ve always wanted to work in something meaningful after I finished university. Through Mud & Musk, I know that my work activities are having a positive impact and that’s definitely helped me during the difficult stage of the start-up – to get it up and running.

I remind myself that if I get it to the stage where I want it to be, then I’ll be in a position to earn an income but also have a positive impact on communities and the environment.

Whom does the business focus on helping?

In general, the community back in Somalia. The main thing is to create employment. Approximately, 10 per cent of qasil trees are being utilised right now supporting domestic and international demand – so there’s room to create more demand. Higher demand means more employment for the communities.

Can you tell me what you like most about Australia?

The weather (laughs). I guess one of the main things is having so many opportunities. When I first thought about starting a business, I found so much support including free support, to help me understand how to start and run a business.

I haven’t finished my degree yet and was in my last year of study in environmental science when Mud & Musk took off. In July, when I had the Today tonight interview, the orders just went crazy, I couldn’t do any side work or studies, and so I took leave from university to focus on the business.

I would like to complete my degree at some point but at the moment I want to see how my business goes.

Follow Mud & Musk on Facebook and Instagram.

Watch Haweya’s interview on Today Tonight.

Featured image credit: B-School.