For years now the natural hair and skin wave has taken over the country and the world.
A unique new entry to the organic beauty market is the chebe powder native to Chad that inspired S+AVA. Chebe powder is used for hair growth.
Starting with no capital, no specialised skills and no products, founder Silava June Ogana cooked up her business idea in her kitchen and turned it into a full-fledged organic beauty brand. She tells us how she managed to get to this point.
“I would do my own research, buy my own ingredients and basically come home and cook these beauty products. Initially it was just for personal benefits, obviously but as time went by those around me, like my friends and my family, would have these similar complaints about the lack of products for their skin and hair – then they started requesting and actually offering to pay for the products that I made, and that went on for a few years,” says Silava.
She concedes she wasn’t thinking of starting a company at that point but after she decided to leave her business development job about three years ago, the idea eventually crept into her mind.
“You could see that there’s an actual tangible need for such products [and] I decided, you know what, maybe I don’t have the tools to start a business, so I looked for a job that would give me the skills that I needed so I could learn [and] could get better,” she says.
Supplementing her skills
From that point Silava got a job in a multi-government institution and was part of an agriculture working group that led her to the position of head of organic research. She says she landed this role “because they knew my passion for organic produce”.
She adds: “While I was at that job I gained all this knowledge then I just started doing a few things like registering for a company, thinking about the brand’s name, putting together ingredients and products. Then I decided to make a few products, share them on social media and they sold out. That was the chebe powder product.”
Silava identified a gap and took the plunge to pursue her idea without looking back.
“There was basically no one doing chebe at the time so I was probably the only seller in Southern Africa. That batch sold out within a month. Then I realised it’s actually a need not for chebe products but other like products for skin and hair and then I started formulating more products and formalising my company,” she says.
“When I saw that this could actually be something left my job and decided to go full speed until where we are now,” she adds proudly.
The journey of being an entrepreneur is notorious for its never ending challenges but that was no reason to stall for Silava. The major obstacle for Silava’s business was a lack of funding.
With no success accessing funding via mainstream sources like banks, overdrafts and grants, but with some creative ways to get around it, the Kenyan-born businesswoman found herself at an incubator program in Egypt.
“There they told us to present our business ideas and from that meeting I received a per diem of about $1 000 (around R14 500). I did not spend it, I quickly came home, ordered many kilograms of the chebe powder and very basic packaging just to see if there was an interest and that batch I sold within a month, and then I had back orders,” she says.
“From the profit I made from the first batch, I made very basic labels and then I sold the next batch and then from the profit of that I bought more ingredients to expand my products and then I sold that out as well,” she adds.
She then managed to get a website and eventually invest in quality packaging for her products with a professional designer.
“Once I had a very good product I met a potential investor who had a lot of belief in me. They gave me a little push to completely clean up the image, do a little marketing and PR, improve the formulas and this is where we are now,” says Silava.
Her secret? She says “it was just genuine, sheer determination”.
What she learned
Key advice from Silava is to not hesitate even if you don’t have all the resources. She says: “If you are filling a gap it’s best to just start it now because there are probably so many people with the same idea and they have the same vision as you. The difference between you and them is just the ability to start.
“So what you need to do is use the resources that you have. If you have a R100 extra this month use it to register a company, next month build your website etc. and before long you’ll look down and you’re at the top.”
Now S+AVA is available at their own online store, can be found in four retail stores and is looking to expand to more retailers.
“I just decided to build a door where there was a wall then I started to take down the wall to build a door,” she adds.
Silava’s story is an example for all of us that our dreams are valid and possible.
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