Read this inspiring conversation with Neli Zovko, the founder of The Royal Affair!

Neli Zovko
Photo: Nike Koležnik

Meet Neli Zovko. She is a successful entrepreneur and one extremely exceptional woman. Neli is the face behind the brand The Royal Affair. 

Over the years Neli has tried practically thousand and one formula on her hair. So she knows what to offer. So today, we can skip this part and just enjoy the very best we can offer to our hair. She is distinguished by her incredible perseverance, that fits in nicely with her long-standing passion for cosmetics. She surrounds herself with exceptional women on her entrepreneurial path. Her beliefs are put into her practice every day. She wants to encourage women, helping them make a better tomorrow by reminding them of their own dreams.

1. Which personal experiences and observations were the key point for the birth of The Royal Affair?

For me it is difficult to determine exactly when the idea for the creation of the brand was born – the whole process was very organic. The real hair care started for me personally when I damaged my hair with blonde strands twenty years ago, which required peroxide dyeing. I was determined to change something, as my hair was like a straw, even though I didn’t know anything about it at the time. The hairdresser suggested me a proper care, I really fell into that -I am a person who is extremely immersed in things. This research lasted at least ten years. At that time, the internet was still ‘a baby’, so I could only get information from hairdressers and shops, everything went quite slowly, but I was gaining new knowledge all the time. With social media information began to become more accessible and my knowledge was loaded, but no product achieved the expected result. I wanted to make my hair soft, supple and moist, as it is in itself extremely demanding, dry and curly. Among other things, I also threw myself into researching ingredients, and an important turning point came when I went on business trip to Morocco. There I asked my guide, who had hair similar like mine, how she cares for them. Her answer was henna. She taught me that henna is much more than just a colour. I brought it home and mixed it with argan oil and noticed the result after the first use. I knew this ingredient had some potential and then came the question – could this be a brand? The remaining co-owners from our company supported my idea to try to put this product on the market. This was followed by the ‘never-ending’ search for a suitable laboratory, but we did not find one that already had henna in its set of ingredients, nor were they ready to take it, so I almost gave up in the meantime. Later, at one of the business meetings in Zagreb, I received a recommendation from a lady I have known for many years for an excellent company that produces cosmetics. She connected us and we immediately clicked. Because they work for recognizable brands, I couldn’t believe they would take someone who is basically a complete beginner. It turned out that the lady in this company, with whom we then collaborated, is a true encyclopaedia of ingredients, a great innovator and a researcher who is not afraid of challenges. We developed the shampoo for months, even in the middle of the night.

2. Can you please explain the meaning of the name, The Royal Affair?

Everything is somehow connected to me; from the packaging to every word on it. It is me. The slogan is Because your crown deserves nothing less. My hair has always been the crown and I still feel that way today, so that word had to be included. The word earn” is also a strong one – as I always say that we deserve the well-being. There is also the word »queen«, because every woman must have the feeling that she is a queen. Our ambassadors are also women who inspired me at a certain moment and supported me in my ideas.

3. So, a brand is much more than just a set of products? There is a strong mindset behind it.

That’s right, I don’t want it to be just another shampoo and conditioner, but that the brand has a concrete content, and you can come to it for inspiration, confirmation, or a little encouragement. When you’re on the ground, the story of another woman overcoming a particular challenge can lift you up. The quote we use “Let’s support each other” is perhaps a bit worn-out, but I really believe that we women should sincerely support each other. We still live in a male world; of course, we are successful, and we know how to survive in this society, but every success of another woman is also your success, no matter in what field. I have been working in the world of cosmetics for twenty years now and the leading actors in it are still men.

4. Making mistakes at work – how do you see this point?

Life teaches you a lot, I’ve been through quite a bit myself and I think everything happens for a reason. He who does not work does not sin. I learned an important lesson when I worked for one sales company, I once sent the wrong customer a price list of his competitor. That was the thing I was most afraid of and then it happened. As soon as I realized this, I was already imagining in my head that folders would be flying through the air and I would get fired, and I had two small children at home. When I told the mistake to my boss, he nonchalantly replied, “Okay, just don’t do it again, if it happens again, you’ll be in trouble.” This has stayed with me and even today, when I am a leader myself, I tell my co-workers the same thing that this mistake should have value and they should learn something from it. These are philosophies acquired over the years, when over time you also become less whirlwind, as you realize that you are not solving problems with stress and emotional instability. You sooner or later see that you will solve this problem as well, so it doesn’t make sense to put yourself in some emotional distress. This wisdom is also poured into our brand. Plans for it were made in the best of times, the launch was in the worst of times, at the beginning of the pandemic. But we’re still here, kicking, and I hope in five years we can say we’ve stayed.

5. For what kind of women are The Royal Affair products?

When I was designing the formula, I had a desire that these products could also be used by children because they are so pure. I have two daughters and my wish was that all three could use the same product. I also wanted to reduce the amount of plastic packaging in our bathroom, as it was significantly too much. Now all three are using The Royal Affair products because they are for everyone. They are especially made for women of all ages who love and care for themselves. There are no heavy chemicals in the products, and this will remain so, this will be the red thread for all the future products that are still being developed.

6. Beauty rituals are an important thread of The Royal Affair brand. What do they mean to you personally?

My memory runs back to the time when I was a mother of two small children. Someone needs you all the time and the needs of others are always more important than yours. You also have a responsible job and other challenges, which is really exhausting. The only time I was alone was the time spent in the bathroom. When I closed the door, I told my husband to knock only if there is a fire, so I could get myself together. In moments like these, things like cute packaging or the pleasant smell of the product mean a lot to you, because with them I felt like the old me again. I remember in the first two years of motherhood often telling myself to hold on a little longer and get my old life back, but when my second child was born, I soon realized that this is my life now. When I was alone in the bathroom, however, traces of a previous life emerged. When you take a shower and get dressed, you are immediately fresh. I feel strong then and that gives me the confidence to beat the day ahead. A woman who feels good in her body can overcome everything. It always starts with us, and you have to take care of yourself. Just as you must take care of your mental stability, you also have to take care of your exterior. When these two parts come together, nothing disturbs you anymore. I believe that inner well-being is very visible on the outside. Beauty is not valued by numbers, dimensions, or height, but it is the energy you radiate.

Neli Zovko
Photo: Nike Koležnik

7. You are an entrepreneur, a mom, a wife, a friend, and we could go on and on. Which of the following is the most demanding?

Each one inspires me in its own way. I don’t even think about having so many of them because they intertwine very naturally. I always go back to the roots. My family has given me a lot with upbringing, and I probably draw from this all the strength and confidence I have had all my life because my parents have always believed in me. I was not expected to be like a top doctor or something, I just grew up knowing I had their support and they believed in me. My father always said that I should not be envious, but the things I see in others should be my motivation. I am very sociable and the people around me are very different, each of them gives me something. Above all, it is important that you have self-confidence and hope, because then life takes you forward. Of course, you fall but this is an opportunity to learn. How successful I am as a mom remains to be seen. But I always do my best because they always asked me to do that at home. If you already must do something, then do it the right way or don’t even start. And that’s the philosophy I’m now passing on to my kids and we have it in the company.

8. How did you, as a brand, include an environmental mindset in the creating?

We have been thinking about it from the very beginning of packaging design. As I mentioned, I was already burdened by the amount of plastic we had at home, so I started making changes in my private life earlier. I work in the world of cosmetics, and I am aware that this is a huge challenge because of the packaging, plastics and in general. I knew the brand I was going to sign under had to follow green practice from the start, but I didn’t know it would be so much of a challenge to find the right packaging. At first glance, many of them are organic, but in reality, they are not. We tried glass packaging and sugar cane packaging, but we faced too many challenges. I was very demanding, but I later realized that I could not be perfect, but it is a lot if I make a step towards it. We later came up with recyclable packaging that I didn’t even know existed. With normal tubes only corks can be recycled. Our packaging suppliers then introduced me to an ecological approach, namely a tube made of mono material, which meant that even the tube could be recycled. I was reassured by this. This packaging brought other challenges, but the most important thing for me is that it can be recycled. I believe that the packaging will change over the years, and we may find better solutions ourselves, but so far this has been the best option for us.

9. You are a “women’s company”, the brand was created because you had real women needs in your mind. Every woman in your company is unique, but there are quite a few parallels between you. What are these?

We are all in love with cosmetics, committed to the task ahead and brutally honest, these are somehow our common denominators. I appreciate my team being reliable, as I don’t like to exercise any control or pressure over my co-workers. Trust is key and every time we start working with someone, we start with trust. I am a person who first sees positive things in others and then time shows its own.

10. First thing I use in our line ...

Hair mask, as this is also the product on which the whole story began. The shampoo and conditioner then naturally joined together. I use shampoo right after the mask, and I use balm the least because my hair needs more. It is diligently used by my younger daughter, who has a different hair structure, and the mask is simply too much for her. In short, everyone can find their own combination.

11. What are your wishes for the future of the brand?

I’m currently taking on all the work because we’re a small team. I hope to expand in the future, and I will be able to focus on developing new products because I still have a lot of ideas. Above all, I want products that deliver our promises and work. All of this, however, takes time – I currently have very little time available. In the future, I want to dedicate more time to development, maybe even marketing, which is just my passion, and for other things, I hope to have a team that will support me in this. Above all, I want to expand the range of products in the future.

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