Can you tell us about your background and how you started MUN?
I am originally from Hiroshima, Japan. I grew up in a family that ran an art gallery and moved to Tokyo when I enrolled in beauty school. While at school, I started working at an esthetic salon whose philosophy was based on Eastern medicine and we had a company trip to Hong Kong and Guangzhou, China (this was in the early 90s).
Although my mother was all about eating organic, locally sourced and seasonal food and had a strong belief in food as medicine, I learned a lot about Eastern philosophy as it relates to diet, local, and seasonal eating and how certain foods affect the body while I worked there. In Eastern medicine, the body is seen as whole and everything within it is seen as connected, and they had this special way of dry brushing based on pressure points for blood circulation. That was my very first beauty job in Tokyo. I also worked in a hair salon to get my hair license in Japan, but I didn’t feel like it was for me, so I left. Shortly after, my previous boss called me and asked me if I wanted to assist a hair and makeup artist and I said yes without knowing anything about “set life.” I fell in love immediately and then assisted the artist full time for 6 months to learn makeup and basic hair styling for shoots. Then I found an agency and started going to jobs.
Meanwhile, I met a photographer who wanted to do edgier fashion shoots to build our portfolio because all of our jobs were very commercial. We did this for a year until I moved to NYC in April 2001 to pursue a career as a makeup artist. After assisting a creative leader in the field, Belgian makeup artist Peter Philips, on shoots and shows worldwide, in 2004, I signed with an agency and went off on my own to shoot for ad campaigns and top magazines around the world.
In 2006, I was appointed by Kao, the Japanese corporation, to be their “Color Creator” for their prestige brand est cosmetics. It was a dream come true for me to be able to create seasonal color collections with their team and especially to be able to go back to my home country for work.
The idea of launching my own skincare line started brewing while I was consulting for Kao, it was probably around 2008. There was some trial and error along the way, but I always learned and gained something through the process. By the beginning of 2010, I knew I wanted to create an effective organic skin care line that incorporates aromatherapy. That summer I took a research trip to Morocco looking for interesting ingredients to formulate with. During that first trip, I came upon Prickly Pear Seed Oil. I also met my (eventual) business partner Anas on the return flight from Casablanca to JFK. We were assigned seats next to each other and talked throughout the flight and exchanged contact info. One thing led to another and it didn’t take too long before he joined the venture. We launched the original version of No.1 Aknari serum in 2012.
You get some of the ingredients for your products from Morocco. What was the process of sourcing your ingredients, and what are their benefits?
After I initially discovered Prickly Pear Seed Oil, we sourced from so many different suppliers and producers to compare and test. It took us over a year and a half to find the best oil that works well with the formula I was developing.
This supplier also happened to be working with a women’s co-op so it was a dream come true. My co-founder Anas is Moroccan, so naturally he became the point of contact and we have been developing a great partnership with the co-op. We’ve been sourcing our Prickly Pear Seed Oil, Argan Oil and Olive Oil from the same supplier for the past 5 years, so as we grow they grow, and they’ve added 23 new jobs and we helped launch their Olive Oil business.
There are so many great skin and hair benefits from these 3 oils, but I would like to focus specifically on Prickly Pear Seed Oil, which I like to call liquid platinum. I had never seen anything that delivers such astonishing results in such a short time. It’s also a makeup artist’s dream to have a product that softens the skin and gives it an instant glow. Naturally, this oil has been our star ingredient and you can find it in our Aknari Brightening Youth Serum and Ayour Body Toning Serum.
I love everything about it. From the superior anti-aging and brightening benefits to how sustainable and environmentally friendly of a crop it is (it’s a cactus so it requires very little water.). Some benefits (to name a few): it reduces the appearance of fine lines, helps prevent premature wrinkle formation, brightens dark under-eye circles, minimizes the appearance of pores, and brightens and evens out the complexion.
The amount of Vitamin E found in Prickly Pear Seed Oil is the highest of any plant oil on the market (3 times higher than Argan oil). It is also very high in Linoleic Acid (Essential Fatty Acid Omega 6), which is proven to lighten sun-induced hyperpigmentation, it also protects the skin barrier, lowers water loss and retains moisture. Other beneficial components include Vitamin K, which brightens dark undereye circles, and Zinc, which helps reduce redness and inflammation from acne lesions and decreases oil production. It’s also high in Phytosterols, especially Beta Sitosterol, which provides antioxidants and antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. The combination of Phytosterols and natural essential fatty acids works well for anti-aging concerns and encourages new collagen production.
What is the philosophy behind your approach to beauty?
Quality over quantity. Although my makeup artist beauty closet is full of makeup, when it comes to my own beauty routine, I am a minimalist. I like to keep it simple with essentials that truly matter on a daily basis and that are gentle, effective and multi-purpose.
Being a long time freelance makeup artist and traveling for work really shaped my vision. Having worked on faces from all over the world, I’ve learned that the definition of beauty depends on where you are, but there is always universal beauty and that is a healthy and beautiful complexion.
Why is it important to you to use natural ingredients?
I think it goes beyond just having something that is natural. It is important to think about where the ingredients come from, how they are grown and treated, whether or not they are sustainable, whether there is any environmental burden and what their impact is on us humans and the planet as a whole. When the answers to all of these questions make sense, it’s a very good choice. Using potent botanical ingredients that are clean, rich in vitamins and antioxidants to nourish and protect your skin, while being responsible to our planet and others makes you feel good about using them. You have to have both, feel good and look good.
What does a typical day look like for you?
My life has developed into something even more complicated than bi-coastal last year as I split my time between NYC and Honolulu.
In NYC: Because my time is limited, my days are filled up with a lot of meetings, and doing special things like events and shoots. I set my alarm depending on my morning schedule, some days are a lot earlier than others. But even though I have 6 hour jet lag, I am a morning person. I have a light breakfast with coffee, check emails and do some reading (both online and books), do some stretches, get myself ready, and go to the office or a meeting with a green juice (my favorite is Juice Press). My days are often in and out of the office running around in the city and Brooklyn for appointments. It often feels non-stop. These days, I try to schedule everything during the day and early evening to limit going out at night. It’s important for me to preserve my energy and sleep. My team and I could be working 7 or 8 straight days with no days off while I am there. At the end of the day, I either go to a grocery store or grab healthy take out before going back to the apartment. And emails and texts could keep coming in, and the phone might ring. I think we New Yorkers don’t like to stop working, but you get a lot done fast here, so that’s the beauty of it. I try to read a book a bit before going to bed and that also helps me sleep.
In Honolulu: It’s been a year and a half since I moved here with my partner who is a Mohs surgeon/dermatologist. It has taken a while to get used to this new life, but we have been making a home here. We’ve planted 3 fruit trees and have a volunteer tomato plant, which we enjoy picking and eating daily. It’s such a different life compared to NYC. I have a home office/studio where I keep all my books, research documents, samples of raw materials, ingredients and test formula archives. We are in an area called Manoa Valley which is a residential area in a valley surrounded by steep mountains.
I get up around 5:30am, make breakfast and lunch for my partner and take care of the pets. After everyone is fed and good, I make myself breakfast, and am normally at my computer by 7:00am to catch up with the NYC office, which is 5-6 hours ahead depending on the time of year. I work on various projects. When you have a company, there are so many things going on. Because of the time difference with the East Coast, I spend my mornings more for communications, then in the afternoons I tend to spend my time on things that I can work on by myself from research and product development to blog posts. By 4-5pm, work is pretty much done most days. I like to do my yoga almost daily and breathing and then I normally take the dog out for a walk. Then I start cooking dinner and feed the pets. My partner gets back by 7pm and we have dinner at home. Then I like to read or watch things. My bedtime is pretty early as I love my beauty sleep so much.
What motivates and inspires you?
For work, responsibility comes first. I love to create so product ideas and developments inspire me and image creation inspires me. I have been working in the beauty industry since I was 17 years old so it’s been 26 years, I must be obsessed with beauty and the different aspects of it! I think beauty does a lot of good for people and I’ve experienced and witnessed this both as a makeup artist and through MUN.
What are your beauty and self-care routines?
AM: I take a shower and just rinse my face with water. For body, I use a local natural soap that I get from Whole Foods, I also like Dr. Bronners’s soap. For hair, I have been using both shampoo and conditioner from de-luxe for my very sensitive scalp. After the shower, I dry my skin with a towel, then apply MŪN’s Ayour Body Toning Serum targeting areas of concern, in my case hips, knees, shoulders, and elbows, to smooth them out. On my face, I apply Anarose Hydrating Rose Toner with an organic cotton pad with wiping motion, followed by Aknari Brightening Youth Serum on my whole face and neck area. I then use a small amount of our new face moisturizer test formulas.
When I lived in NYC full time, I didn’t apply sunscreen during the Fall and Winter since I wear foundation with SPF 20 and many shoots happened at indoor photo studios, but in Honolulu, the UV index is very high. Compared to mid-summer in NYC where the highest UV index would be 9, Honolulu could be in the 11–13 range, which is extremely high, and that’s the case all year round. So naturally I started wearing sunscreen every day no matter what month, which I would advise to myself in my 20s if I could go back in time (in your 40s everything becomes more visible so quickly). Also my sun hat is getting bigger and bigger! I try to avoid direct sun between 10am and 4pm. I have been trying different sunscreens between SPF 30 and 50, and still layer with a foundation with SPF 20. In NYC, I wear light eye makeup with eye shadow, black liner and mascara, then fill in my eyebrows. In Honolulu, sunscreen and foundation with SPF is as far as it goes on a daily basis. It’s also important to remember to put sunscreen on the chest too!
Evening: I wash my face with Akwi Purifying Cleanser. It’s an oil based gentle cleanser with a creamy consistency that also removes waterproof makeup. It unclogs pores well without stripping the skin and leaves the skin feeling moisturized. Then I apply Anarose Hydrating Rose Toner the same way I do in the morning, followed by Aknari Brightening Youth Serum. Then smooth our face moisturizer test formulas to wake up with more supple skin.
Every 1-2 weeks I do a DIY clay mask for deep cleansing and rejuvenation. My favorites are French green clay and Rhassoul clay. I also include an essential oil blend with it, then mix with water. Adding some honey would be a good idea when you want a more moisturizing effect.
Do you have any rituals or practices you do to stay healthy and balanced?
There is a quote in the book The ONE Thing that says “balance is a lie.” To some extent, I agree with this. It’s hard to keep balance in everything all the time, but there are certain things that help me stay healthy and sane: regular green juice and being conscious about ingredients and eating healthy. When I am in Honolulu, I cook pretty much every single meal. Yoga. A little meditation. I also do a short breathing method for relaxing every morning.
What is coming up next for MŪN?
We are coming out with a face moisturizer later this year. It’s formulated with Niacinamide (Vitamin D3), which has been used topically to prevent photodamage, reduce acne, and treat rosacea. It provides a variety of skin benefits such as barrier enhancement, moisture, and improving the appearance of aging skin by lightening sun spots and softening wrinkles. The formula is also packed with potent desert harvested ingredients such as Prickly Pear Seed Oil, Kalahari Melon Seed Oil, Black Cumin Seed Oil and extracts from 3 Australian desert plants. In tandem they nourish, boost hydration, and protect the skin from pollution. Please stay tuned!
What does beauty is wellness and wellness is beauty mean to you?
Beauty is health. Without health, we don’t feel well, we don’t look well, we can’t do much and our thoughts become more negative. When we are healthy, we feel energy and positivity, move more, and our bodies are more active. When we have good energy, a positive mind, and take care of ourselves, we feel good, and as a result we look good too. It goes both ways, you have to be healthy to be beautiful, in other words you have a glow from inside.
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