Kevin Cottie Tan has never been happy with the hair gel and pomade options on the market. In 2012, when he was 22, he just couldn’t find anything suitable enough for his hair to withstand Malaysia’s humid tropical climate.
After finding an ointment recipe on an online forum, he gathered ingredients to make a product in his kitchen at home. The result was an oil and wax based pomade that had medium to strong hold with partial shine. When Kevin became a barber in 2015, he finally launched his pomade on the market under the Mentega brand, which is the Malaysian word for “butter”.
What makes a good ointment for modern men
The hairdresser didn’t have a lot of options for pomades at the time; there were only a few popular brands like Suavecito and Shiner Gold that were staples in the market. However, they mainly offered gel or water based ointments.
“These have worked well, but having options like traditional oil-based ointments would have been great. I was curious about the traditional ointment and wanted to achieve 2 goals by making mine. The first was [its] resistance and durability in the hot and humid tropical climate, and the second was large quantities of products, ”he explained.
Mentega products are made with nourishing ingredients like cocoa butter and essential oils. Different wax blends are also mixed to obtain good hold and to resist heat.
Bottled in 6 oz (170 g) jars that cost RM 69 each, Mentega’s products also have a slightly larger volume than those on the market which were often too small, at 4 oz (113 g). For Kevin, who liked to keep his hair slicked back, he would empty the jars in 3 weeks.
Mentega offers different types of ointments, clay, paste, cream and water-based. The difference between each of them is the hold and the finish (matte or shiny).
“For people who prefer more natural and matte finishes, we recommend Spray Salt Creamy Clay and Swim. For something with more shine, Whippy hair cream and the like paste. If something very versatile that can do everything in between, the Lagoon water-based pomade, ”explained the hairstylist.
“A helpful tip is to use enough product and always distribute it evenly through your hair. We generally find that people have trouble styling their hair because they are using too little product. ”
From brewing in a home kitchen to shipping around the world
Despite selling his ointments through resellers in 7 countries, Kevin told Vulcan Post that all of Mentega’s products are still handcrafted by himself and 1 other team member. All of this is done in the back kitchen of his hair salon, The Oven Cuttery in PJ.
“Having to juggle working as a barber during the day and making sure the lots were made on time and in jars [were] tagged at night made me feel like I was working two full-time jobs, ”Kevin said. He clarified that this doesn’t happen every day, but takes at least half of his week. “I was definitely sleep deprived. I think I still am, ”he joked.
Mentega’s growth has taken place at a very slow but organic pace. Having spent more time on product R&D, Kevin never really bothered to put a lot of effort into marketing.
Lucky for him, he worked as a barber and was fortunate enough to use his ointments on his own clients. “Styling for customers with the ointment itself was the perfect way to educate them about the products. For greasers (lovers of oil-based ointments) this was an additional option to the thin choices that were available in the Malaysian market at the time, ”Kevin told Vulcan Post.
The brand gained more attention after a few years when its production shifted from Kevin’s Kitchen to The Oven Cuttery. “I had an annual growth of around 10% to 20% the first few years, and it has been growing steadily since,” he added.
Most of Mentega’s clients are young adult men and millennials between the ages of 20 and 40. It’s also not surprising that many of them include people who already use pomade and are curious to learn more about grooming while doing their hair at the barbershop.
To date, Mentega ships its styling products to salons nationwide and internationally, including the United States, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Kevin shared that these latter SEA countries account for a large portion of Mentega’s sales. He also told us that Mentega’s monthly income is around RM 10,000 on average.
Have an impact on customers
Since Kevin’s experience in 2012 with limited hair products on the market, he has noted that the ointment options have now evolved. Malaysians today can easily find different categories of products from all over the world for different types of lifestyles, hair types and preferences.
Innovation and creativity improve every day. At the heart of it all, Mentega focuses on the needs of our customers. The main challenge is not to create something to meet those needs, but rather to discover and explore what needs are unnoticed in the first place. If we can create something that solves a problem the customer has never seen before, then we’ve designed a perfect product.
Kevin Cottie Tan, co-founder of Mentega.
Kevin doesn’t stop there either. He plans to continue making products that go beyond hair products and will focus on products that are more lifestyle and grooming focused.
The hairdresser ideally wants to make Mentega a must-have brand in the local hair products market.
- You can read more about Mentega here.
- You can read more about other Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: Kevin Cottie Tan, Co-Founder of Mentega.
Our sincere thanks to