If you haven’t heard of Chinese entrepreneur and philanthropist Yiwen Hao, you will soon. With the launch of her forthcoming skincare line Pototaly—yes, it’s made from potatoes—Yiwen is giving traditional Chinese holistic practices a decidedly modern twist. And beyond being a bonafide businesswoman, Yiwen is dedicated to raising awareness of HIV/AIDS in China. A leading figure within amfAR’s China arm, she is spearheading an effort to combat many of the longstanding misconceptions surrounding HIV in her native country and campaigning for greater recognition and rights for those living with the virus.
Where did the idea come from to use potatoes as a source for cosmetic products?
It was a traditional practice I grew up with from a very young age.
For example, when I would go to the hospital as a child for a vaccine and come home with a bruise, my mom would cut a small piece of potato and place it on the bruise. The bruise would, quite literally, be gone within two days. I knew from my mother that potatoes had benefits for the skin—for removing bruises, brightening, puffiness— and that lead me to develop Pototaly as a skincare line.
When do you think ofPototaly and your vision for the brand— and yourself— what do you see as central to its success, and how does it tie into your emphasis on supporting women entrepreneurs?
Of course, with my brand, the desire is to help women feel beautiful. But as an entrepreneur, I want to empower women, both with my products and as an example of how a woman can run a successful business. Also, I wanted to build a sustainable, eco-friendly brand. All of Pototaly ’s packaging is made from potato waste. Even though it’s three times more expensive to create this “potato paper,” I believe it’s worth it in order to save our environment and emphasize sustainable business practices. Additionally, I want to align ourselves with various social causes. For example, a portion of Pototaly’s profits will go towards charities, such as the Red Cross Association of China.
Why is your work with amfAR and HIV/AIDS awareness important to you?
It ’s important because the level of awareness around the subject in China is not the same as it is in the western world. In China, people are scared of AIDS. Many people still think you can contract the virus simply by shaking hands with someone who has it. I see myself working to help advocate and raise awareness about HIV/AIDS in a way that aims to eliminate many of these stigmas.
Have you seen a difference in attitudes towards HIV/AIDS since teaming up with amfAR?
Yes, for sure. There are a lot of people getting to know amfAR and its mission in China, and with each event we hold, we raise both awareness and donations that will go to spreading more information about HIV/AIDS throughout China.