By ELISE HONNINGDALSNES
High prices for popular cosmetic products in Hungary urged Enkhbayar Erdenesuvd, who goes by Sudvaa, into creating her very own cosmetic products. Today she’s got a small start-up business called La Perla Mongolia in Ulaanbaatar that she runs with her boyfriend. The two students are both currently studying in Hungary at two different universities. They also just celebrated their 1,000th day together.
Please tell us, what’s all the fuss about solid products and why should we use them?
So basically, solid shampoos are the same as other shampoos, but with all the unnecessary water removed. In general, the ingredients in solid shampoo are of greater variety and of greater benefit to the user. They are better for the environment as there is less waste produced in terms of plastic bottles. The products are also “solid”, meaning they are easier and lighter to carry around, so you can also bring them onto airplanes in your carry-on baggage. There is also no possibility of your product leaking in your bag, which is great. The products will also last you longer if you store them the right way. In the long run, you may also be able to wash your hair less often and many people even stop using conditioner! There are basically only benefits with these products.
So what is it that “normal” hair products contain that solid products don’t?
So basically all commercial soaps and shampoos contain sodium laurel sulfate and/or sodium laureth sulfate. These products can over-dry and irritate the scalp, dry out your hair and they sometimes actually contribute to hair loss if you wash your hair often. The use of these products actually contribute to stripping of natural scalp oils and you therefore feel the need to use a conditioner, which isn’t actually always necessary. Both your hair and your scalp will feel and look better if you stop using these products. Solid products usually don’t contain these two products, but some products from big chains such as Lush sometimes do, so you should always read the table of contents or talk to the people working in the shop. My products do not contain any of these chemicals.
How did you decide to start up your own business?
To begin with, I was using Lush and Body Shop’s solid shampoos. They are easy to carry around with you and they are environmentally friendly because they’re not in plastic bottles and it therefore has less impact on our environment.
But as a student, I couldn’t really afford these products, because both these brands are known to be quite expensive. So that was why I decided to do my own research so that I could make my own products. About a year-and-a-half ago, I bought all the raw materials I would need and started experimenting in my dormitory kitchen.
So how did you go from the dormitory to starting up a small business?
The first few months felt more like a dream and I didn’t really expect to make any fitting products. But then one day I managed to make a shampoo bar and started using my own products instead of using the rather expensive ones. I used these products for about a year, and after that I gave some to my family and friends as well. They all loved my products and that gave me inspiration. That’s when I got the idea to produce more and contribute to the Mongolian cosmetic market by selling my own products here.
Were you ever afraid you would end up losing money by starting this business?
Of course, there is always a risk for this when you decide to start your own business. When we first decided to start selling our products, we made about 300 shampoos. Of course, we did put some money into it, but I only saw two positive outcomes. If we fail, we learn from the experience, and if we succeed, well, we have our own business and we also learn from the experience. I am not rich, but through my scholarship I managed to save some money that I could put into my business.
Are you doing everything yourself or do you have people helping you expand the business?
My boyfriend Bayarsaikhan Mandakh has been very supportive when it comes to both my research and my business. He supports and helps me with everything. He also studies international business, so that may come in handy one day. Both our families also help us, and all our friends are supportive of our business.
Can you tell us about your products?
I have made several products by mixing raw materials from Hungary and Mongolia and I am very pleased to say that these products are the first of its type on the Mongolian market. The products are quite special as they do not contain any water or additional substances which means that you can store them long-term and they are mainly made up of nutrition and vitamins. As of today, we have four different shampoos which contain coffee, nettle, blueberry and sea buckthorn. They are all very rich on vitamins. The products are also eco-friendly and good for the environment.
Which products do you have available at the moment?
So our main product is our shampoo and conditioner, which we sell in a combined package for 15,000 MNT. In my opinion this is rather cheap, as the products will last you quite a long time. The products are also way cheaper than those from The Body Shop and Lush. I also just started working on a lip balm, and we also stock solid body butter and creams.
Where can one buy your products?
We sell all our products online on our Facebook page, La Perla Mongolia, and we deliver to your door! The Facebook-page has more than 4,000 likes on its page. We can reply in both Mongolian and English, depending on your need.
What made you go to Hungary to study?
I am from the Gobi region, but I moved to Ulaanbaatar right before high school. I finished high school here, and after that I enrolled at the National University of Mongolia, at the School of Chemistry. There I got the chance to study in Hungary through a scholarship. In the first year, I attended a Hungarian language school in Hungary. Now I’m starting my fourth year study to become a pharmacist at the University of Szeged. I also study in Hungarian.
How did you and your boyfriend/ business partner meet?
We both study in Hungary, but we study at two different universities, situated in two different corners of the country. We were both in Hungary at the same time, and we met there. We have been together for about three years now and we celebrated our 1,000th day together last week. We go back to university in Hungary this week. It is a little bit hard living in two different parts of the country, especially because the study load is quite hard, but we have found a way around it and we visit each other about every two weeks.
What’s the plan for the future, in terms of the business?
The goal is to become corporate, but that will take some time. Through our time at the university we have made many friends in other ex-Soviet countries, so we are hoping to expand soon. We are aiming to sell our products in those regions in two to three years’ time. We were also thinking of selling our products in Europe, but the market is too hard for us. There is not much room for a small foreign-owned start-up business over there. As the products are new to Mongolian consumers, this is the perfect place for us right now.
How do you run your business here in Mongolia when you are in Hungary?
My family runs the business here in Mongolia when I am in Hungary. I have thought them everything and they will run it smoothly. They make the products and deliver to the buyers’ homes. And I will continue to make more products while I’m in Hungary.
Are you planning to move back to Mongolia after your studies?
Yes, of course! Mongolia is, and will always be, my home.