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Mascara to fund eye operations

Monday 23 February 2015 | Published in Regional


AUCKLAND – A young New Zealand entrepreneur is hoping to fund cataract operations in the Pacific by selling organic mascara.

Eighteen-year-old Bonnie Howland makes her own eye make-up using coconut oil sourced from Samoa.

The 18-year-old AUT student is the brains behind Mascara for Sight – a project that aims to restore vision using the one-for-one charity model.

Now she is aiming to channel all the profits from her Indigo brand through the Fred Hollows Foundation, which in turn will use the money to pay for sight-restoring surgery in Pacific countries.

Howland told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat programme she was driven to make a difference after seeing the amount of curable cases of blindness in the Pacific.

“It came about when I travelled to Vanuatu and I learnt the story of a solo mother who had become blind due to cataracts,” she said.

“Because of that her young daughter had to drop out of primary school to help take care for her.”

Upon returning home, and to her job in the beauty industry, Howland began wondering if there was anyway the multi-billion dollar industry could play a part in helping those in need.

Bonnie had been working part-time in the beauty industry, in a salon and assisting at Fashion Week, and wondered if there was a way to tap in to the fashion sector’s huge revenue to help people who needed it the most.

The global make-up industry generated over US$38 billion in 2013. That figure is expected to increase by $10 billion over five years.

Bonnie has been in talks with the Fred Hollows Foundation, a non-profit aid organisation that works to treat and prevent blindness across the world.

“They’re the ideal organisation I’d want to work with. Nothing is confirmed yet, but they do love the idea,” she says.

Bonnie’s biggest challenge is figuring out a way to make the mascara economically viable. Retailers have a high mark-up on beauty products and trying to include the cost of eye surgery, as well as manufacturing, is tricky.

“The mascara isn’t being sold in retail outlets or online yet, but I’m hoping we’ll be launched in the next six months,” Howland said.

She wears her mascara out every day andreckons it’s really good. “I’ve got a great formula figured out,” she says.

“I’ve been playing around with it for so long, just at home in the kitchen, and I recently met someone with experience in pharmaceuticals who has helped me nail the scientific aspect of it.”

She plans to package the product in environmentally-friendly materials and get it in stores later this year.

Mascara for Sight was one of 18 projects accepted into the Live the Dream programme – a venture setup to grow New Zealand’s next generation of social entrepreneurs.

“Hopefully we can have a big impact in the Pacific Islands.”

“When somebody becomes blind in a developing country, they don’t just lose their sight, they lose all of their independence. If they’re the main breadwinner that affects their whole family and their community.”