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Over the years, my preferences for scented candles and soaps have gone from the sweet-smelling dessert-like range to milder floral scents such as lavender and citruses. I find that the latter carries more of a calming effect which helps with winding down for the day.

Dato’ Kathleen Chew’s idea behind creating personal care products for her social enterprise, Mangosteen comes from a similar place, with the addition of promoting fragrances of Southeast Asia’s fruits and flowers. 

“The idea behind the products was that there isn’t really a personal care range that uses the fragrances of the fruits and flowers of SEA. Think of the smell of pomelo or limau kasturi (kaffir lime) that are both so wonderful and yet little known outside this region,” she told Vulcan Post.

“Mangosteen, in particular, is little known even though it has immense antioxidant qualities and is absolutely delicious.” Hence, the brand’s name and use of the fruit extract in its products to repair skin tissue from free radicals and provide calming benefits.

That’s Mangosteen on the surface. But peel back the layers of this brand and you’ll learn of its philanthropic mission: to help fund organisations that do important work in sustaining or kickstarting their charitable projects. 

Hence, 100% of profits from Mangosteen’s products go to empowering women and children in SEA.

For the children

Dato’ Kathleen has been involved in providing education to children via various charitable foundations. One of them includes Dignity For Children which sets up community learning centres for underprivileged and urban poor kids. 

Dignity For Children addresses the needs of children from pre-school to IGCSE levels and vocational skills / Image Credit: Mangosteen

As a Group Legal Counsel and part of the senior management team at YTL Group, she also holds the title of Programme Director of the YTL Foundation, which was established in 1997 by the group to provide scholarships to deserving students.

Overall, Dato’ Kathleen has been involved in contributing towards improving education in the country. “I believe that every child should have equitable access to good health and education. Equally, ensuring that women are empowered generally leads to better outcomes for their children,” she shared.

“The idea behind Mangosteen was to create a business that could fund charities that support women and children in a sustainable way, and eventually provide employment for women most in need.”

Employing their beneficiaries

Founded in 2013, Mangosteen began as a supplier of hotel amenities to some well-known resorts in Malaysia, including those under YTL Hotels. 

It was only in 2019 that the brand started looking into the B2C market as its team of 4 saw it as a way to expand their reach and social impact. 

But due to the lockdowns, what was meant to launch in April 2020 was deferred to the end of 2020 instead. 

In the meantime, Mangosteen pivoted to producing hand sanitisers, engaging Orang Asli mothers through The Asli Co. to help with the production. 

Orang Asli mothers from The Asli Co. were tasked to help produce hand sanitisers for Mangosteen / Image Credit: Mangosteen

Mangosteen also began producing face masks, working with an organisation that trained refugee women to sew the products. “We were able to provide for the livelihoods of these women during the pandemic last Christmas and we made donations to several children’s homes,” Dato’ Kathleen shared the results of their pivot.

Making sense of scents

The MCO also delayed the release of Mangosteen’s recent product range, From Skin To Soul. Now back in full swing, however, you’ll find that products under this line are 100% vegan, cruelty-free, and free from parabens, phthalates (used to make plastics more durable), and mineral oils, to name a few.

Despite the competitive market in brands producing vegan skincare products and scented candles, Dato’ Kathleen isn’t too concerned. She believes that different brands are recognised by their scent profiles. 

So, it can be said that Mangosteen has found its ways of standing out in this area. Personally, I noted that the brand has some interesting scents like its Lychee and Black Tea Candle (RM69), Cucumber + Mint Shampoo (RM59), or Pink Guava and Camellia Body Wash (RM89).

The brand’s hand sanitiser and home fragrances / Image Credit: Mangosteen

Brainstorming for these fragrances is typically driven by the individual taste and preferences of the people who develop the products. In Mangosteen’s case, the team prefers fresher notes instead of heavier, spicy ones. 

But it’s also one of their biggest challenges as lighter, fresher notes tend to change during the formulation process.

In our interview, Dato’ Kathleen recalled a time of excitement when she received samples of pure natural extracts of watermelon, cucumber, and banana that smelled true to the natural fruit. 

To her disappointment, some of these natural fragrances changed once mixed with the rest of the product ingredients, and the team couldn’t use those scents. 

Thus, their main challenge is the time taken to develop a new product, as fragrances react differently to the different ingredients in each product, so stability testing is required. 

Finding supportive customers

Other than standing out through scent profiles, Dato’ Kathleen is confident that Mangosteen’s social mission is a trait that consumers are increasingly concerned about. 

In line with this expectation, socially concerned customers all around Malaysia who also appreciate good quality locally made products comprise most of Mangostten’s buyers. 

“I think we generally appeal to young working women but surprisingly, have seen quite a few purchases from men too,” Dato’ Kathleen noted, adding that hand sanitisers have universal appeal and are one of Mangosteen’s best sellers. 

To date, Mangosteen has donated more than RM130,000 to the Dignity For Children and has sponsored women leadership events such as Lean In 2018.

Setting up educational facilities for children / Image Credit: Mangosteen

This year, Mangosteen is working with the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) to raise funds for the shelter housing women survivors of abuse and their children.

Dato’ Kathleen’s future plans for Mangosteen is to give customers more choice by expanding its range of scents and products. “I would like to develop a baby care range as well but that will take time as it is important to get the product right for babies and young children,” she added.

In terms of geographical expansion, she has no plans for it since Mangosteen is already able to deliver its products nationwide. Instead, her marker of success is in the impact the brand can create for its beneficiaries.

Our real achievement will be when we can support even more charities and see the impact on the lives of the women and children we support. In the case of Dignity for Children Foundation, we sponsored a group of children for 5 years through school and to see them continue in education and grow gave us purpose.

Dato’ Kathleen Chew, founder of Mangosteen
  • Learn more about Mangosteen here.
  • Read about other Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Dato’ Kathleen Chew, founder of Mangosteen

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)