A Co Antrim mum is set to take the beauty business by storm after a range of products she created in her kitchen have been featured in fashion bible Vogue.
Ava Brown, who is originally from Jamaica, began the soothing process of hand-making natural body butter as a balm for her soul.
The already successful author and life coach had no intentions of becoming an entrepreneur but is now running a beauty company with an ever-expanding range of products and a rapidly growing international customer base.
What's even more incredible is that she has achieved it all within a year and mostly with the challenges of lockdown restrictions.
Seeing her products featured in Vogue's current issue (August 2020) has now really put her new company, The Mango Girl, on the map and opened doors which were previously closed to what was a very new and unheard of brand just a few months ago.
"Companies that had turned us down before are now approaching me wanting to stock our body butters," she says. "The impact of being featured in Vogue has been amazing."
Ava (44), who has two children, Chardonae Elizabeth (22) and Mikhel Kai (8), enjoyed a successful career as an international life coach and had been living in England before deciding to relocate to Northern Ireland two years ago.
During a varied career she also worked as a teacher of textiles and design.
However, she decided to move to Northern Ireland where she had been a regular visitor to extended family who live here.
She felt the quieter pace of life here would help her following a difficult change in her personal life and it was in the kitchen of her new home in Antrim that her life magically transformed.
"I decided to come to Northern Ireland to try and restore myself," she explains.
"I had worked for years as a life coach and trainer helping to empower people and motivate them and I spoke all over the world from Poland to Washington and Barbados, sometimes to crowds of up to 15,000 people.
"I realised I was teaching people how to be the best they could but I needed to challenge myself.
"I had put on weight, had high blood pressure and anxiety.
"I had been living on autopilot and I'd put a mask on, it felt a bit like imposter syndrome. I was dying inside but putting a brave face on.
"I realised I had to save myself and find a way to heal."
Giving herself time out from her work in her new home in Northern Ireland, she decided to experiment in her kitchen with making her own natural body butters.
She was surprised to find just how much the process soothed her spirit and was soon spending hours every day melting coconut oils to make mango butters.
She made more than she could use and was soon giving them to friends and family.
As she perfected her beautiful scents and recipes, more and more people were asking to try them and before long what started as a therapy for herself became the beginnings of an unexpected journey into the beauty business.
"This incredible transformation just happened in my kitchen," she says.
"As I watched this big brick of butter melt from an ugly hard rock, I viewed it as myself when I was in my previous state of mind and then it became a nice oil and that motion of churning that oil created a metamorphosis in me.
"As I saw the soft creamy gentleness that the oil became, it felt almost like it was my journey and that I had to be gentle on myself and allow myself to feel again. It almost renewed me.
"Black people use a lot of shea butter and coconut and mango oils on their skin. I felt that what was available was a bit harsh and I wanted to try and make it smoother.
"At first I was putting it in old jam jars and giving it to friends and family who loved it.
"Then I realised that there was a business opportunity for a butter that would have healing properties and would also be a good anti-inflammatory as well. "
It was at a business event last year that she heard about a new Ulster Bank crowdfunding initiative for starter businesses called Back Her Business. The scheme was launched by the bank to help close the gender gap in business and encourage more start-up firms led by women.
Ava became the very first woman in Northern Ireland to take advantage of the new initiative and raised £3,000 in just four weeks through her crowdfunding appeal, with Ulster Bank contributing £1,500.
It was enough to get her body butters into production.
In keeping with her own experience, she decided to give her new company a mission to empower women to live their best lives by donating 10p from every product sold to community projects here in Northern Ireland and in her native Jamaica.
The Mango Girl range is entirely handmade, organic and cruelty-free using all natural and ethical ingredients.
While initially her products were designed for women with black skin, she soon realised that they would benefit people of all skin types and colour.
"As a black woman I found it hard to get products to suit my skin so initially I was targeting ethnic minorities," she admits. "But I realised I was pigeonholing myself and I quickly pivoted and changed my branding and wording to it just being a brand for everyone.
"It was just before the pandemic that we started to produce a range of five body butters and since then we have increased our range to include a serum, toner, cleanser and face masks and we are now also developing a hair care range.
"They are all handmade and natural, naked butters which are beautifully fragranced and from the start I was adamant that everything had to be EU tested and compliant."
This attention to detail earned her a major accolade in February when she picked up a prestigious LUX-Life 2020 Health, Beauty and Wellness Award.
Ava won the award for the Best Handmade Hair and Skincare Products in Northern Ireland.
This internationally recognised competition brought her to the attention of Vogue's beauty editor in London who contacted Ava by email to ask for more information and samples of her products.
"After we won the LUX award in February it brought us to the attention of some people who didn't know us, including Vogue who have featured us in their beauty section in their August issue," she smiles.
"When I got the email from their beauty editor I thought it was a hoax.
"It was during the lockdown and I was very sceptical. When the issue hit the shops this month, the social media following for The Mango Girl went up by 2,000 followers in just one week.
"I didn't realise the impact as I am a very rustic, scruffy girl - not the glamorous Vogue type.
"When I first started to try and promote the products people weren't taking me seriously but things have gone crazy since Vogue. I really didn't appreciate the magnitude of having my products endorsed by the magazine.
"Platforms I had applied for last November to have my products sold online and who turned me down have been in touch and are now accepting us. It has opened so many doors.
"It is hard to believe that I have gone from experimenting in my kitchen to help myself heal to now being featured in Vogue!"
As well as her own website - www.themangogirl.com - Ava's range of products are available widely online.
She also has launched a very successful subscription box.
As her business starts to take off in ways beyond her dreams, she is looking for a local investor to help take it to the next level.
She adds: "Being a single mother in a foreign country and being able to set up my own business has really empowered me.
"We are now selling on platforms around the world and as far away as Italy, Russia and North America and I am delighted to say our sales in Barbados and Jamaica have also taken off.
"After a wobbly start our sales have doubled recently and there has been a massive amount of interest.
"I have now employed a marketing strategist consultant and our products are also being distributed as far away as the Middle East and I am in talks with a high street chain.
"It is amazing for a one-year-old business. I'm proud of what I'm building and I have had to get my products manufactured in England because I couldn't find anywhere to do it in Northern Ireland.
"I would love to be manufacturing them here and I would love a Northern Ireland investor to come on board as there is so much growth and great potential to continue to expand. "
You can find Ava's full range of products at www.themangogirl.com