Award-winning local beauty brand Olumes tackles skin troubles using kalalit water

Kalalit extract is a healing essence that can be found in Bornean rainforest or on Mount Kinabalu.

Olumes, inspired by the word Olumis which means “beautiful” in the Kadazan-Dusun language, is formulated using natural ingredients (All photos: Olumes)

Aerin Gabor, 42, suffered terrible skin problems in her youth. Even after she turned 30, her skin did not improve. She tried all sorts of recommended products, from Korean skincare items — known for their gently formulated natural ingredients — to expensive brands on the market to treat perpetual issues. To her disappointment, none of them worked. 

“The breakouts were not the occasional zits that come and go. I had big red bumps all over my face for a long time and my confidence suffered a blow and affected the way I interacted with people,” says Aerin, one of the founders of Olumes

Aerin’s mother is Kadazan-Dusun and her grandparents are from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. Having resided in Kuala Lumpur, she had visited her grandparents’ house only twice in her life — once when she was 10 and then a few years ago. 

The latter trip changed the course of her life, as she encountered the cure to her skin problems, which then led her to establish her skincare brand. Fascinated by how the locals compliment each other by saying, “Ko ni olumis betul la” (You are truly olumis), Aerin decided to name it Olumes — changing the“i” to “e” as a trademark. Olumis means “beautiful” in the Kadazan-Dusun language. 


The Olumes collection aims to rejuvenate and restore skin’s youthfulness

“The elderly in my kampung had clean and clear skin. Days after I got there, I followed them to an orchard where they worked. On the way there, my grandma stopped by a Sappan tree and cut a branch, from which kalalit water streamed out. She drank the water and splashed some of it on her face. Grandma said it is their kebiasaan (ritual) to do that and they do it whenever they have the chance,” she explains.

After learning about kalalit water, Aerin concluded that the water might be the reason for her relatives’ flawless skin. Naturally, she wanted to give it a try. “I put the kalalit water in a bottle and used it as a toner every day. Amazingly, it worked well on my skin. After a few weeks, I could see my acne subsiding and no new ones appeared.”

As Aerin was happy with the results, she asked some friends who had the same skin problems to try kalalit water. “They achieved the same results and that’s how I knew there was something remarkable about kalalit water.”

The R&D process for cosmetics commonly takes a long time because it involves meticulous and tedious steps to perfect the formula. It took Aerin three years to produce Olumes’ first range of products, which include Satin Cream, Brightening Cream and Refining Lotion, all of which contain kalalit as its main ingredient.

“Of course, we couldn’t just sell the kalalit water in its original condition, as it would have gone bad by the time it reached customers. We needed preservatives to prevent bacteria from contaminating the extract. So, we teamed up with a few labs to help us work on the formulation,” says Aerin. 


Ika and Aerin flank traditionally-attired Kadazan-Dusun women in Kota Kinabalu

Covid-19 proved to be the biggest challenge for Olumes, launched in late 2019. She says it was a pandemic enterprise, as the outbreak surged during the time the brand was about to kick off. As a result, she was able to launch a complete product range only one year after its inception. 

The Olumes collection aims to rejuvenate and restore skin’s youthfulness. Owing to the use of high-performance ingredients and the complexity of the formulations, the cost of three products in this range fall within the higher price bracket (Satin Cream is sold at RM300 for 50ml). It was hard to market them at first, as no one really knew about the brand.

Aerin had faith in her products, however, and did not want people to miss out on kalalit water extract, which has all the benefits required for skin to be healthy. “I wanted to help people who had the same problems as I did and I really believed our products were good.”

So, she came up with another range of products called Miss Olumes, formulated to tackle multiple skin conditions, minus the anti-ageing benefit. The cleanser, toner and moisturiser are more affordable but still packed with nutritious kalalit water. 



A post shared by OLUMES (@olumesofficial)


Kalalit water can be found in abundance on Mount Kinabalu. Therefore, Aerin has partnered with her cousin Ika Yahiya to help manage the business from Sabah and source the main ingredient. The products are manufactured and packaged in Kuala Lumpur.

Olumes also set up a movement called Save the Forest, which is handled mainly by Ika, to educate people about the importance of preserving and nurturing our magnificent rainforests. In an effort to give back to the land, the enterprise will give a percentage of profit from sales of its products to an initiative to help preserve trees in East Malaysia. 

Although Olumes had a rough start, the brand is now internationally recognised by media such as Fox News and NBC. On top of that, Satin Cream was awarded the best pore-refining product by Beauty Media, Singapore’s largest beauty media, marketplace and rewards platform, which commended the product for its light and smooth texture. Aerin hopes to see Olumes on Sephora’s shelves and sell to a bigger audience worldwide.

This article first appeared on Feb 14, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.


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