Vitafoods Insights is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Vitafoods Europe 2023

‘I was determined to create products that empower my community’: The multivitamin brand putting melanin on the map

Article-‘I was determined to create products that empower my community’: The multivitamin brand putting melanin on the map

© Mela Vitamins Mela Vitamins Founder: Ashley Harmon
A US-based startup says it is the first wellness company to custom-formulate supplements for people of colour.

Ashley Harmon, the founder and CEO of Mela Vitamins, started creating her own supplements a decade ago after being diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) as a student.

Her symptoms included chronic fatigue, anxiety, and digestion issues – as well as a severe vitamin D and vitamin B12 deficiency.

After years of trial and error, my doctor finally found a mix of vitamins and supplements that were effective, but cost hundreds of dollars a month,” she said. “This was not sustainable as a college student, so I learned how to make them myself.

I taught myself how to order raw ingredients and create my own supplements, and I have spent the last decade testing different formulas.

Prioritising preventative wellness for communities of colour

Harmon didn’t set out to make supplements full-time – but then the pandemic hit, and she realised there was a need for communities of colour “to invest in and focus on preventative wellness”.

She said: “Despite the unique nutritional needs of melanated people, no companies were researching, developing, or prioritising supplements that addressed our unique health needs.

This is what inspired me to utilise my experience and testing from the past decade to launch Mela Vitamins. I was determined to create products that empower my community to prioritise wellness and live healthier lives.

The company launched its first product in July 2022, and has since added a subscription service, as well as expanding to retailers in Los Angeles and online marketplaces across the US.

Underrepresentation in research contributes to public health risks

Communities of colour have specific health and wellness needs due to a variety of factors, including genetics, environmental exposures, and socio-economic conditions, said Harmon.

However, despite this, “melanated people are often underrepresented in clinical trials and medical research, leading to a lack of understanding of our specific health needs”, she explained.

Research has shown that melanin impacts how our bodies absorb nutrients, especially vitamin D,” she added. “Melanin impacts our body’s ability to convert vitamin D from the sun, which has resulted in an estimated 86-90% of melanated people being vitamin D deficient.

This is having a huge impact in our communities, contributing to our increased risk of everything from severe Covid to breast cancer and dementia. In fact, melanated people are almost twice as likely to develop dementia in their lifetimes.

Despite these findings, there is still limited research and resources dedicated to studying nutritional needs and the effect of vitamins in melanated bodies, and how this impacts long-term health outcomes.

One of our goals at Mela is to help address these disparities is to dedicate resources to research, consumer studies and, eventually, clinical trials – and to then use this data to create tailored wellness solutions and supplements for melanated bodies.

Creating a precise formula of vitamins, probiotics, and adaptogens

Before launching its first product, Mela spent a year co-ordinating research with healthcare providers and consumer focus groups to understand the community’s needs.

It used these findings to formulate its Daily Essentials multivitamin – a “precise blend of vitamins, probiotics, and adaptogens”, including a higher dose of vitamin D than traditional multivitamins, as well as ceylon cinnamon and lion’s mane.

© Mela VitaminsMela Vitamins - first wellness company to custom-formulate supplements for people of colour

We were also very aware of the general lack of trust among communities of colour and the health and wellness industries, and the sometimes harmful products that are marketed toward our communities,” Harmon said. “So it was important for us to not only create a custom and effective product, but also to use transparent and high-quality ingredients, while avoiding fillers.

While this approach may have raised costs, she said the benefits were evident.

Our formulation and dedication to quality definitely increased the amount of time and money it took us to manufacture our product,” she said. “However, this allowed us to successfully create a clean, effective, and affordable multivitamin for a community that has been largely overlooked by the wellness industry.

An inclusive product with an ‘incredible’ consumer response

Mela’s products are certified vegan, non-GMO, and gluten-free – an important step to make sure the brand can serve as many target customers as possible, said Harmon, who herself has a gluten allergy and was vegan for 20 years.

I wanted to create a product that I can stand by and feel comfortable taking myself, and recommending to my family and friends,” she added.

In future, Mela hopes to expand its product offerings and target consumer groups, as well as address other health priorities, such as prenatal health.

Since our launch, we have received an incredible response from consumers and healthcare providers,” Harmon said. “People are excited to find a product that is not just inclusive, but actually made for their unique nutritional needs and wellness goals.