Q + A with
Munemi Imai Co-founder Of MUN
The story behind our final Hero product selection of 2016 actually began at the beginning of this year. I was visiting the MUN Offices in January when Anas, co-founder of MUN, asked if I wanted to feel a sample of a new product that was underway. He returned to our meeting room with what we now know as the Akwi Cleanser. As I felt the milky cleansing balm melt onto my hand, I was excited. The soft scent of crisp Yuzu made me happy, as I have always loved the fresh, clean aroma of Japanese citrus. While the formula was not quite finished, I left that meeting hoping I would have the opportunity to deliver this all-in-one cleansing emulsion so you too could experience its awakening effect.
Meanwhile, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about MUN and its minimalist approach to luxury skincare. I recently met with Munemi Imai, a famed makeup artist, MUN co-founder and product formulator at Grand Central Station in New York. I asked her about the beginnings of MUN, how she formulates and all the details behind the reveal of their newly launched, complete skincare line. During our conversation, she made it clear that it was her mission to create pure, innovative and effective products that she, and hopefully you, will never want to live without. I hope that as 2016 comes to a close, December’s Discovery will boost your radiance and give you the signature MUN glow to ring in the New Year.
What are your origins in creating MUN?
The idea of launching my own skin care line started brewing while I was consulting for Japanese corporation Kao on their prestigious line est. cosmetics back in 2008. There were some trial and errors along the way, but I learned and gained a lot through the process. By the beginning of 2010, I knew I wanted to create an effective natural skin care line that incorporates aromatherapy (which I was studying at the time). 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 serendipitously 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 the Aknari Brightening Youth Face Serum in May of 2012.
How did you learn the art of formulating?
I became really interested in the world of aromatherapy so I took a course to study it under a British aromatherapist. During the course, I learned about the therapeutic properties of essential oils and about their complex chemistry as well as the benefits of carrier oils (plant oils) and how to formulate raw material products. For certain products, we also work with chemists. I do a lot of reading, research and ingredient testing prior to creating a product concept and selecting ingredients with the chemist. I enjoy this collaborative process and I never stop learning.
How often do you make a new product? How long does that process take? Do you begin with an ingredient or an objective? Please tell all!
For the first 2 years, we only had one product, the Aknari Brightening Youth Serum. Then we launched the Anarose Hydrating Rose Toner (formally Rejuvenating Rose Toner) about two and a half years later. The following year we experienced a delay in sourcing ingredients and the Ayour Body Toning Serum launched in January of 2016. The process of making skin care products can take up to several years considering the time from the research and concept phase to the actual formulation, to testing with different skin types and concerns.
Whether I start with an ingredient or an objective really depends on the specific product. Our Aknari Brightening Youth Serum, for instance, came about when I discovered Prickly Pear Seed Oil, which was nothing like anything I’d ever used or tested before. As a freelance makeup artist in NYC, I’d tested so many products from all over the world, but this ingredient blew my mind and I knew I had to create a product with it.
The Anarose Hydrating Rose Toner was developed, at least in part, because I grew up in Japan, which has a big toner culture. When I moved to NYC in 2001 I didn’t see anyone using toners, not even makeup artists. I looked around and what I found were toners that were formulated incorrectly. They were loaded with harsh drying alcohols and were prone to irritating the skin. I wanted to introduce the correct kind of toner – one that hydrates and balances the skin’s natural ph. On top of the basics, I also wanted it to have anti-aging benefits and act as a mild exfoliator when used with a cotton pad. It cleanses the skin and pores beautifully, while also hydrating the skin and balancing its ph. Its pH is in the 4.5-5 range.
The Ayour Body Toning Serum started with an objective. I love the concept of body oil/serum, but pretty much everything I’d tried was too greasy to take with me to photo sets. So I wanted to create an oil formula body serum that is moisturizing, yet has a silky dry finish. It’s like lotion and light enough to handle easily, but the formula is 100% oil and loaded with vitamins and antioxidants so that people can enjoy the full benefits of body oil without having to deal with greasiness.
Our latest addition, the Akwi Purifying Cleanser, came about because switching to an oil-based cleanser transformed my skin. Up until that point, I used a couple of eye makeup removers on the eyes followed by the gentlest kind of foaming cleansers, but my skin was feeling dry and tight after every cleanse. Naturally, I thought I had dry skin, however, soon after I switched to the oil cleansing method my skin wasn’t dry anymore.
The double warm washcloth method required of oil cleansing is quite a bit of work, but because it balanced my skin from its previous dry condition, I continued experimenting with different oils. In total, I spent 5 years on this, so by the time I went to work with a chemist I had a very solid idea of which oils I wanted to use. The reason I worked with a chemist was that I wanted the formula to be rinsable with water using gentle surfactants; the process needed to be effortless enough for the cleanser to be used regularly. Developing this product was the most challenging one for my chemist and I, there was a lot of trial and error, but the end result far exceeded our expectations.
It is extremely rare for such a gentle formula to so effectively deep cleanse clogged pores and remove even the most stubborn waterproof makeup. More than 80% of this formula is plant oils and the resulting consistency is similar to a thick cream type of cleanser, but it cleanses the skin and pores like nothing else, yet leaves the skin nourished and moisturized. It’s also a pH-balanced cleanser with a pH ranging from 4.7-5.7.
Do you have a favorite ingredient? What do you love about it?
Prickly Pear Seed Oil. I love everything about it – from the superior anti-aging and brightening benefits to how sustainable and environmentally friendly of a crop it is.
Some benefits (to name a few): it reduces the appearance of fine lines, helps prevent premature wrinkle formation, brightens dark under-eye circles, calms redness, helps relieve sunburn, and brightens and evens complexion.
The 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), which is proven to lighten sun-induced hyperpigmentation, protect the skin barrier, lower water loss and retain moisture. Other beneficial components include Vitamin K, which helps reduce spider veins and broken capillaries, 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.
Can you share some of the details on how you source your ingredients sustainably?
At MUN we are deeply aware of the fact that the health and well-being of humanity is linked to the earth, our most abundant resource, and that it is crucial to ensure that as we nourish and sustain ourselves, we also nourish and sustain our planet.
I will share one particular example of how we source our ingredients sustainably:
Prickly Pear Seed Oil, the signature ingredient that is at the core of MUN’s product line , is one of the most precious plant oils in the world. It is extracted through a time-consuming, hands-on process; as a result, 1,500 lbs. of Prickly Pear fruit is needed to produce 1 liter of the rare oil. Working with the women’s coop that we source it from, we ensure that all the byproduct of the oil production process is not wasted and is instead used to feed livestock. In fact, the Prickly Pear is packed with nutrients that are highly beneficial to cattle. It is also worth noting that the cactus plant itself is a true wonder of nature as it needs close to no water to grow in the driest parts of the south of Morocco while being an incredibly moisturizing plant. It’s a plant that takes very little and gives back a lot to the earth.
What’s your workspace like and a little bit about your team?
For a long time, it was only Anas (my co-founder) and I along with several freelance team members, so it’s really exciting that we’ve recently added two full-time team members. In NYC, we have Anne-Claire, our Director of Marketing and Kat who is our Director of Communications and oversees our social media, blog, newsletters, and so on. Kat has worked with us as a freelancer for a while, so we know each other very well, and Anne-Claire was able to integrate very quickly so it feels like our little family is growing organically. We’re so happy to have created a mini global village: I am Japanese, Anas is a Moroccan, Anne-Claire is French and Kat is Russian. We are all at least bilingual.
What’s next for MUN, can you share some of what we can expect in 2017?
We just re-launched with a new look and a couple of new products in mid-November. With 2 new products, Akwi Purifying Cleanser and Organic Pure Argan Oil that launch this time, it completes the line. We now offer Akwi Purifying Cleanser, Anarose Hydrating Toner, Aknari Brightening Youth Serum, Ayour Body Toning Serum and Pure Argan Oil.
We’re excited to evolve and be better and smarter about everything we do for our customers. It’s the biggest moment in our company history and we have worked very hard leading up to it and continue to work hard for this new chapter.
In 2017 we’ll be launching at least one new product; I’m developing 2 products now. We’ve also started producing more blog content and will be publishing more articles with helpful information and tips about health and beauty in general as well as content about our products and ingredients. We’ll also be profiling inspiring people. Needless to say, there are a lot of fun things in the works!
Do you collect anything?
Besides essential oils and other raw materials, I like to find local beauty products when I am traveling. I also pick up pretty stones, rocks, shells and sand to take home with me as I feel that these are truly special from each destination.
How do you relax?
In NYC, I like a nice organic red wine in the evening. I also make sure to secure a good chunk of sleep hours whenever I can. And, time with my cats!
In Honolulu, before I start working, I take a quiet moment to take some deep breath. Then walking our dog at the end of the day is peaceful. Also wherever I am, green juice and Yoga works for me.
What quote are you loving these days?
Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change – Stephen Hawking