Cartier Women's Initiative Award names Mouna Abbassy the MENA Laureate

Cartier Women's Initiative Award names Mouna Abbassy the MENA Laureate

Moroccan beauty entrepreneur one of seven winners worldwide

Text: Buro 24/7

Moroccan argan oil has been her source of inspiration and now the secret ingredient in the ambition to win Cartier's prestigious international award

In Deauville, France today the Moroccan beauty entreprenuer, Mouna Abbassy was announced the Cartier Women's Initiative Award MENA Laureate. The 32-year-old owner and founder of Izil Beauty was recognised for her contribution to the beauty industry, not only for her success in creating a company but one that uses sustainably produced Aragan oil in parallel boosting the local economy of her country by employing women in Morocco to create the products. Buro 24/7 Middle East spoke to Mouna during the awards ceremony to find out about her journey...

Izil Beauty is a start-up that sells products in the UAE. What inspired you to start?
Actually, both my husband and myself quit our multinational jobs to start our own business, for multiple reasons: our experience in multinationals taught us many things, and I would advise any entrepreneur to get such experience to understand how it works before opening their own business. Also, I always had that entrepreneurship trait in me, I've always wanted to make a change. When I was 10, I got a rare disease and was almost paralyzed for almost a year. When you breathe, move your fingers, walk normally, you take this for granted. It changed me completely.

Indeed many people say they want to change the world, but few actually do. You are one of these few. Is it because of what happened to you then?
Definitely. I remember I badly wanted to go back to school and my parents were against that because I was in a wheelchair and couldn't study properly. I did go, because I could do it. We have everything we need in us to do everything. It's all about the learning. I had no knowledge of skincare or chemistry, but I have been studying for the past two years. If you really want it, everything can be done.

You've set up Izil with your husband. Was it important for you?
No it was by chance! We complement one another. I'm quick and he's in depth. I couldn't have done it without him, whether for the business or for the personal support.

In the two to three years you have been in this business, how has it changed you?
I'm still the same person, but it changed me a lot in terms of learning; we did everything, from cleaning the office to delivering the products — it was amazing, people were giving us tips not knowing we were the owners! You learn about every single thing, and that changes you. 
Does it make you a better person?
Absolutely. You realise the value of every single thing. When you have to sell your house to finance your company, and you go through cash flow issues and you count every single cent, it changes everything.

Is it also the hardest part?
Yes, it's a tough life. If you don't have the passion that drives you, you'll quit after a year. For two years, we have been working seven days a week, 18 hours a day. I have this constant guilt to not be available enough for my son.

You know you're doing it for a reason. Only passion takes you through that.

Have you ever thought of giving up?
Never. No. Some people give up because they're after money, but it's the passion that drives you. I believe in what I do. If money comes, great, but it's not about that.

How did you get involved with the Cartier Initiative?
It was by chance. I was initially with the Hadafi program in Dubai. I knew about Cartier there. I looked it up and the application form encouraged me; it showed they knew what they're doing. Just by filling the application I learnt a lot! They are asking questions you never think of or some you tried to avoid. It forces you to face a lot, to look at what you're doing and it takes you out of your comfort zone. And it's the journey.

Has this experience changed you as a woman?
It did a lot, first as a Moroccan woman. In the GCC, Moroccan women have a bad reputation, and I feel I'm giving them back some dignity. I'm told by Moroccans: "You are making us proud" and in this context, it matters a lot. Moroccan people have had enough of this image, and I'm breaking this image. And as a woman in general, I hope I'm giving to women who are passionate about something some inspiration, showing them it can be done. You can be an entrepreneur and have a woman's life, get married, have kids. It takes more effort, yes, but it's doable.