Thursday, 1 August 2013

I’ll start shea butter processing plant in Nigeria – UK-based entrepreneur

Emi & Ben, a natural skin-care company founded in the United Kingdom in 2009, depends on shea butter produced by rural women in Nigeria. Ronke Ige, founder/CEO, Emi & Ben, in this interview with OLUYINKA ALAWODE, speaks on the business and the company’s growth plans. Excerpts:

This business idea came about because of my love for shea butter. While I was growing up with my my brother and sister in London, my parents always used shea butter as a moisturiser to tend our skins. However, it is not readily available in the UK, so every time any of my family members was travelling to Nigeria, my parents would always get or tell the person to bring back shea butter for use.
But it was in 2007 that the business idea came to me when my grandmother living in Nigeria sent a large quantity of shea butter to me in the UK. I used this shea butter to moisturise my skin throughout the period I was pregnant.
Starting out
I have worked as a publicist for 15 years, because my professional background is in public relations. But a few years prior to starting the business, I was freelancing in PR and after a while it became much harder to secure contracts because of the recession around that period. So, it was a period in my life that I had the time to develop a new business. I decided to develop this skin care company centred around shea butter. I named the company Emi & Ben after my daughter Emiola and my nephew Benjamin.
Raw materials
The shea butter is produced by women in rural Nigeria, but I have direct contact with four women in Nigeria. They produce the shea butter in bulk, I buy and ship to the UK.
Self-employment has its own challenges, especially when one is starting. I am the wearer of many hats at the same time because manpower is quite expensive in the UK. I am involved in the manufacturing, I do the marketing, I am the accountant, I am also involved in the packaging and labelling. In addition to running the company, I have to take care of my family. But in spite of all these, I wouldn’t give up self employment, I love the independence it brings, and the challenges give me the opportunity to develop myself. So, I tackle the challenges one at a time.
There is constant electricity in the UK, fortunately. But getting financing for the business is a challenge, I have depended a lot on personal funds, at a time I got a loan from a trust fund, the Princess Trust.
The demand for natural skin care products in general is very high; there is a big buzz about it as people are more conscious on what they put on their skins, not just what they eat. People are becoming more conscious of having a natural life and that includes good skin care. I am very happy to be operating in such a market. We package and send Emi & Ben to any country when there is an order through the internet. That is our biggest distribution channel so far. We also supply to high-end markets in different towns in the UK. I do marketing in those towns, we also attend trade fairs.
I want Emi & Ben Skin Care Company and products to be known worldwide. I have just returned from a trip to Dubai to get distributors, getting distributors in the different markets is a goal I am accomplishing at the moment.
But a bigger goal for me is to have a shea butter processing plant in Nigeria, so I would be able to support the women that produce the product with improved technology. That way, I would be creating sustainability for them, their family and for their community in general. The women I currently work with are in Ilora, Oyo State, but I am yet to decide where the plant would be. I have been working with them since 2009, so I would be liaising with them on where the plant would be.
Right now, we produce creams just for the body, but we want to expand the brand into lip balms, foot scrubs, body scrubs. I am continuously formulating new recipes to expand the brand.
Shea butter is on a very high demand by global cosmetic companies mainly because of its moisturising properties. It is well sought after by cosmetic companies in Europe and America. However, the shea butter tree grows wildly in the arid regions of Africa.