Shwanesh Maniov went from hi-tech to high fashion.

shwanesh maniov 248.88 (photo credit: Azri Samin)
shwanesh maniov 248.88
(photo credit: Azri Samin)
When Shwanesh Maniov looks at her older sister's wedding pictures, she cringes. Her beautiful, dark-skinned sister was made-over at a beauty salon with makeup for lighter-skinned women. And according to Maniov "she looked atrocious."
This picture, and others like them from her friends and relatives in the Ethiopian-Israeli community, stayed in the back of Maniov's mind. So when the hi-tech start-up company Maniov was working for looked like it was going to close in 2006, and she was contemplating what to do, she decided that she would import makeup for dark-skinned women.
"I knew nothing about makeup, I didn't even wear any," laughs Maniov, 29. "And I knew even less about starting my own business. But I did know that there was a problem in Israel that almost half the female population is dark-skinned, and almost all of the makeup products are for light-skinned women."
Going with her motto that has accompanied her all of her life (which took root during the treacherous journey from Ethiopia in 1991) "that if you want something badly enough, you can find a way to do it," Maniov set out to start her own imported makeup company. What she found out from advisers at the MATI Business Development Center in Netanya was that it would cost close to $1 million.
So Maniov, who holds a bachelor's degree in Middle Eastern and African studies from the Hebrew University, changed her business plan. She decided that she would produce her own makeup line, and market her products. And in 2007, with a $15,000 loan from the UJA-Federation of New York through the Jewish Agency's loan fund, Maniov launched S'AVA, which she says is the first Israeli makeup line for dark-skinned women. S'AVA means Queen of Sheba in Amharic.
"I scourged the Internet for information on skin pigments, coloring and makeup basics. I looked for other similar products, but found that most major makeup companies create makeup for blonde, blue-eyed women. It was incredible."
Maniov's Tel Aviv hairdresser introduced her to someone who told her about a cosmetics laboratory that could manufacture her products according to her specifications, and after doing countless experiments on her wide circle of extended family and friends, Maniov was ready to launch her products.
"The secret to makeup for dark-skinned women is to recognize that you need to enhance the beauty of dark skin rather than trying to make it whiter," she explains.
Maniov strove for quality products that were affordable. She started with foundation, face powder and lipstick. She gave her products free to makeup artists, and then a percentage of whatever they sold. She then marketed to hairdressers and cosmetic stores, especially in areas with a majority of dark-skinned women.
"S'AVA cosmetics are fitting for Ethiopian, Yemenite, Moroccan, Iranian, Indian and Asian women," says Maniov, holding up one of her most popular foundations. "Makeup artists are even using them to give their customers a tan look."
In the summer of 2008, Maniov got her big break when Channel 2 News did a seven-minute segment on her and her company. Suddenly orders started coming in and women started inviting her to give demonstrations at their homes. "Sometimes dark-skinned women don't understand that they have different makeup needs," explains Maniov. "I went to a festival for Indian women and they asked me what I was doing there."
Today, S'AVA has a product line of nine shades of liquid and crème foundation, five shades of loose and pressed facial powder, 16 shades of eye shadow, four shades of lipstick and an array of different blushes. All of the products have received Health Ministry approval. Now Maniov is looking to expand and export to countries in Africa.
In addition to selling her products, Maniov also volunteers to give demonstrations at high schools with teenage girls and their mothers who are dealing with their darker beauty.
"I wasn't always so comfortable in my own skin," recalls Maniov. "I came to Israel when I was seven, and grew up very Israeli. It was only when I went to New York for two years and lived in Crown Heights, on the border of the Jewish and black neighborhoods, that I began to embrace my Ethiopian heritage as well as my Israeli one. All of a sudden the Jewish people were not accepting of me, and the black community embraced me, and it opened my eyes to a whole new part of my identity."
Since starting her company, a few of the major cosmetics lines have introduced some products for dark skin here, but Maniov feels that her understanding of the market and of her target audience gives her a real edge. She works constantly, freely admitting that her company, at this point, is her life.
"I want to break into the mainstream stores and succeed, there is no doubt about that," she says. "But I also want dark-skinned women to be proud of their beauty, to do whatever they can to enhance it, and at the same time strengthen their own sense of identity."