Kevin Cottie Tan was never pleased with the hair gel and pomade options in the market. Back in 2012 as a 22-year-old, he just couldn’t find anything suitable enough for his hair to withstand Malaysia’s humid, tropical climate.
After finding a pomade recipe on an online forum, he gathered ingredients to whip up a product in his home kitchen. The result was an oil and wax-based pomade which had a medium to strong hold with partial shine. When Kevin became a barber in 2015, he finally launched his pomade to market under the brand Mentega, which is the Malay word for “butter”.
What makes a good pomade for modern men
The barber didn’t have a whole lot of options for pomades back then; there were only a couple of popular brands like Suavecito and Shiner Gold that were staples in the market. However, they mainly offered gel or water-based pomades.
“Those worked well but having options like traditional oil-based pomades would’ve been great. I was curious about traditional pomade and wanted to achieve 2 goals from making my own. The first was [its] hold and durability under the hot and humid tropical climate, and the second was big product quantities,” he shared.
Mentega’s products are made with nourishing ingredients like cocoa butter and essential oils. Different wax blends are also mixed in to achieve a good hold and withstand the heat.
Bottled in 6oz (170g) jars that cost RM69 each, Mentega’s products also have slightly more in volume compared to those on the market which were often too small, at 4oz (113g). For Kevin, who liked to keep his hair neatly slicked back, he’d empty the small jars in 3 weeks.
Mentega offers a few different types of pomades, clay, paste, cream, and water-based ones. The difference between each of them is the hold and finish (matte or shiny).
“For people who prefer more natural and matte looking finishes, we recommend the Creamy Clay and Swim Salt Spray. For something with more shine, the Whippy Hair Cream and Analogue Paste. If something very versatile that can somewhat do everything in between, the Lagoon Water-Based Pomade,” explained the barber.
“A useful tip is to use enough product and always distribute the product evenly in your hair. We usually find that people struggle with styling because they use too little product.”
From brewing in a home kitchen to shipping globally
Despite selling his pomades through stockists around 7 countries, Kevin told Vulcan Post that all of Mentega’s products are still handmade by himself and 1 other team member. This is all done in the back kitchen of his barbershop, The Oven Cuttery in PJ.
“Having to juggle between working as a barber during the day and making sure the batches were made on time and jars [were] labelled at night made it feel like I was working two full time jobs,” shared Kevin. He clarified that this doesn’t happen every day, but takes up at least half of his week. “I was definitely sleep deprived. I think I still am,” he joked.
Mentega’s growth came at a very slow yet organic pace. Having spent more time on the products’ R&D, Kevin didn’t have the capacity to put much effort into marketing.
Luckily for him, he was working as a barber and had the chance to use his pomades on his own clients. “Styling for clients with the pomade itself was the perfect way to educate them about the products. For greasers (oil-based pomade lovers), it was one additional option to the slim choices that were available in the Malaysian market at the time,” Kevin told Vulcan Post.
The brand gained more attention after a couple of years when production for it was moved out of Kevin’s home kitchen to The Oven Cuttery. “I was making about 10% to 20% year-on-year growth the first few years, and it’s been steadily growing since,” he added.
Most of Mentega’s customers are male young adults and millennials aged around 20 to 40. It’s also no surprise that many of them comprise those who already use pomade and are curious to learn about grooming while getting their hair styled at the barbershop.
To date, Mentega ships their styling products to salons around the country and overseas, including the US, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Kevin shared that the latter SEA countries consist of a large portion of Mentega’s sales. He told us that Mentega’s monthly revenue is approximately RM10,000 on average.
Making an impact on customers
Since Kevin’s experience in 2012 with limited hair products in the market, he noted that pomade options have now evolved. Malaysians today can easily find different product categories from around the world catering to various types of lifestyles, hair types, and preferences.
Innovation and creativity are getting better each day. At the core of it all, Mentega focuses on the needs of our clients. The primary challenge isn’t to create something to meet those needs, but rather to discover and explore what the unnoticed needs are in the first place. If we can create something that solves a problem the customer never saw before, then we’ve crafted a perfect product.Kevin Cottie Tan, co-founder of Mentega.
Kevin’s not stopping there either. He plans to keep making goods that go beyond hair products and will be focusing on more lifestyle-based products centred around grooming.
The barber ideally wants to make Mentega a staple brand in the local market for hair products.
Featured Image Credit: Kevin Cottie Tan, co-founder of Mentega.