Michelle Doan came to North America with her parents as a boat refugee from war-torn Vietnam. Growing up, she suffered from serious acné. When she couldn’t find the right formulations for her sensitive skin, she finally started her own make-up brand Emani, which is 100% vegan and uses natural ingrediënts. When she was in the Netherlands I spoke with this remarkable woman about what really drives her and what beauty means to her.
“It is not the quiet time that defines beauty”
Beauty is not about what people see but about what you see. It is more important what we see within ourselves. How do you feel when you look in the mirror? We live in a very judgmental society and I try to practice non judgment every possible day. The way I look at beauty and how we integrate this in our company is how do we make a woman feel beautiful when she looks inside herself. It is not the quiet time that defines beauty. Especially those moments when she takes her make-up at night and look at every single line and wrinkle on her face. We want to make products that make women feel beautiful in those quiet moments. I want her to be the best version of herself, not the best version of a magazine.
When I was around 15 I started to have serious acne skin and this lasted till I was 27. I spent a lot of time at the dermatologist and was recommended many brands and solutions but nothing helped. It only resulted in my skin being swollen after all the harsh treatments. I felt so bad, especially after I enrolled into fashion school where looks are so important. You can have great hair and great clothes, but if you don’t have great skin it really compromises the way you feel about yourself. I never felt pretty and saw myself as the ugly duckling. The acne really undermined my confidence.
The start of Emani
In the end I went to see someone who prescribed me a treatment which worked. She also questioned what I put on my face and she gave me a list of ingredients which I should not use. With this list I tried to buy my products, but back in ’96 this was impossible. I started to call companies and ended up talking to chemists. One gave me advise what I could use and he send me some raw materials. My only option was to make my own products and this is how Emani was born.
The word ‘Emani’ stands for inner strength and outer beauty. ‘MAN’ in Emani, defines our inner strength – I believe all women are as strong as men inside and soft and pretty on the outside. I created the company as an homage to women because I know how hard it is to manage through life when you have a job, be a mum. I was a single mum myself, just had a divorce when I started. It was a difficult time. But I believed in this concept, it felt like my DNA. I invested my life, my time, my blood and my tears in this company. I sacrificed everything. They say that if you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work. That is true for 90%. But the other 10% are absolutely exhausting!
Every little thing
I never considered myself to be a fashionable person. When I grew up I was a tomboy. But I always felt connected to nature. We humans are the most destructive specie on earth. We create more waste, more pollution than anything else. I try to do my part. The products are all vegan, we use recycled paper and plastics, soy-based ink. We are not perfect but I think every little thing helps and everyone in their own journey can do something. Like my sister, who recycles sandwich bags. If she sees people throwing away a plastic bag, she gets upset and I love that about her. Some people think she acts weird, but she doesn’t care. If we don’t do your part – even on a small scale – we are in trouble.
“I grew up as a Buddhist with a huge respect for nature.”
Best of both worlds
I came to Canada as an immigrant when I was 9 years old. I was born in Vietnam. But I remember my grandfather in Vietnam who was very much into Chinese medicines and I was lucky to spend time with him. As a young child he took me into the forest and the countryside and we used to pick up herbs which we would dry for the temple. I grew up as a Buddhist with a huge respect for nature. The home remedies, Chinese herbs and acupuncture were very normal for me. But here in the Western world I acquired an appreciation for science and modern medicine and I try to incorporate these two worlds.
“If you can appreciate the beauty of nature, you just want to do your part.”
Beauty of nature
I always felt a connection to the environment. If you go to a park or a beach and look around you, there are no words to describe the beauty you see. If you can appreciate the beauty of nature, you just want to do your part. There are so many beautiful things around us that we take for granted. Nature, relationships, friendships. We should value those more.
“The small niche brands are built on passion and think differently.”
It is very challenging to be the owner of a small niche brand. How do you communicate the passion in what you do? How do you compete with companies that have so much more money than you do? But we’re built on passion and we think differently. That’s why these small companies are going to make the difference in this world and be the inspiration for corporate brands to follow.