Meet the Arabic-inspired food and beauty brand using centuries old traditions

Business Leader recently interviewed Dana Elemara, CEO of Arganic about her experience as an Iraqi-British entrepreneur and how she is using centuries-old techniques to change the industry.

Can you give me an overview of Arganic?

Launched in 2012, Arganic is an award-winning supplier of high quality, Arabic organic ingredients to the food and cosmetic industries. At our core is a focus on sustainability, integrity, and ethical farming practices.  We sell through various channels to include leading ingredient distributors, restaurants, and stores such as Whole Foods and Harrods. At the moment we are creating sustainable/eco amenities for luxury hotels.

What was the inspiration behind setting up the business?

I’m a Londoner born to Iraqi immigrant parents and it was always important for me to stay connected to my roots. I wanted to bring together the best of East and West and through this do good, after all owning a brand gives you a voice. I grew up with a real appreciation for natural products, through learning about the specific health benefits of different ingredients to using foods for beauty over expensive branded products. I really reaped the rewards and this holistic and ‘less is more’ approach to wellness is something I wanted to share. It’s not easy to source from the regions Arganic is targeting but I have a strong network in these areas and it’s worth the effort as the soil is very nutrient rich.

Can you tell me about your business history prior to Arganic? Did it help prepare you for this business?

I had no formal business experience but my childhood set me up well for entrepreneurship. From a young age I took on a lot of responsibilities and had to figure many things out independently, this nurtured my intuition. Prior to Arganic, I worked at Goldman Sachs, and was on a graduate scheme with an extensive training programme. They taught me the power of networking, making a good first impression and covering all bases for a sturdy business model. I believe that you either possess the raw materials required to be an entrepreneur or not, and that studying business or business experience alone is not enough.

What products do you offer?

At the moment we specialise in argan oil, a rare and indigenous ingredient that has been used for centuries by the Berber people in Morocco. It has exceptional health and beauty benefits which has led to a lot of money being invested into attempts to grow the tree in other countries. We sell a lightly toasted culinary version and a raw cosmetic version. We have been carefully working on sourcing some equally special products, from Syria, Sudan, Tunisia and more to be launched over the next two years.

Why are they different from the rest of the market?

Before Arganic was launched I set out to supply the best argan oil in the world. I spent 2 years researching my product including living with local people, this wasn’t just so that I knew what I was selling, this was also so that I had earned the right to represent the people who this ingredient belongs to. These days people seem to rush into launching businesses especially in the beauty industry, they often don’t scrape the surface when it comes to true responsible sourcing. It’s not easy either when you are working with language and cultural barriers, which can be intimidating. I mean the people we employ travel to work via donkey and don’t even speak the local Moroccan dialect. Arganic goes the extra mile and offers authenticity. Because of these barriers and greed, it’s almost impossible to find pure undiluted argan oil, which is why people come to us.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector?

With so many ‘clean’ beauty brands being launched, it’s hard to find real substance over style and heavy marketing. Vague terms such as ‘cruelty- free’ are being used liberally, and certification bodies who rarely visit the source of ingredient production and are incentivised to work with more brands can mean that compromised products reach the mainstream under the umbrella of ‘ethical’. This is a real problem for farms such as Sidi Yassine who we work with who were doing things the right way 15 years ago, before it was trendy. You would think things would only be easier for them now but sadly this is not the case, all this ‘greenwashing’ means it’s harder for end users to appreciate a fair price for commodities such as argan oil.

What does the future hold for the business?

We are currently about to go for our first fundraise which will see us evolving from an argan oil brand to an Arabic ingredients brand. We have a selection of really special products in the pipeline which will form a range of beauty items and store cupboard culinary ingredients created with thought and purpose. These have been designed to empower people and improve lives for both the consumer and producer. We are taking things one step at a time with a real focus on our vision and long term goals. When the new products launch, the pieces will really start to come together and we’ll get more vocal around the areas of popular debate such as the way we eat, farm, stay sustainable, and ultimately conduct business.