Award-winning 20-year-old Mass Communication student of Babcock University, Rosemary Awoh, the last of three children to a renowned lecturer at the Industrial Design
Department, Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, is today the chief executive officer of Sweet Indulgence, an organic skincare enterprise and is making aesthetically unique products. She recalled how it all started in this interview with Mary Ekah
As a student still in school, how did you find yourself in the trade and when did you start Sweet Indulgence?
I started last year December. I have always been a very creative person. I will call myself an artist. Growing up I used to draw and paint a lot. But to me, art was not for me so I stopped. Later, I started getting so attracted to natural products. I always wanted to spend money on natural things with no reasons. Then all of a sudden, I found recipes online and I took it upon myself to try my hands on those recipes and see what I could make out of them. The first time I tried it, it was really bad, the bar soap I made was so bad! But with time it got better and in less than four months, the skill was perfected. But I needed some attraction to it, I needed to get customers and so I decided to be more artistic with the way I moulded my soaps. So what I did was to make cake-like soap bars. I got some cake moulds and poured the liquid into the moulds and so I got soaps that look like cakes with flowers on top, while I also made some that look like sweets and so on, something very attractive and that is worth indulging in. That was why I named my business Sweet Indulgence.
You started by drawing and painting as a child and then you stopped. What then did you do at that point?
Right from my primary school, Yabatech Primary School, I would buy things from shops and I will take them to class and sell. I had this class teacher then, Mrs. Raji, she wouldn’t scold nor even beat me for doing that, rather she told the class that nobody should go out again to buy anything, they should start patronising me and that was how I realised the fact that I always wanted to be involved in business. It continued like that in secondary school, I will make beads, I will string it, will bake, take them to school and my friends would always want to buy. My life has always been like that.
I started a hair business because I loved getting involved in business right from when I was very small, I don’t know why. The hair business I was involved with was actually profitable. I was buying and selling imported hair extensions but along the line I realised that I was being supplied fake hair extensions because I was not dealing with the manufacturers directly and so I just had to stop and then I came up with Sweet Indulgence. And this has been my obsession for about six months now.
What was your very first experiment in making skin care products like?
I started production last year December and my very first experiment was my black liquid soap. It wasn’t hard to make that and later I moved on into making flower-shaped bar soaps. The first time I tried it was really bad and it didn’t even foam but the next time I tried it, it was better. It has got better and better every day.
Do you make just soaps?
I make both liquid and bar soaps as well as body butter – as in the cream you use on your body. I also make body scrub, lip balm and facial oil.
So what did you study at school?
I am still a student of Mass Communication at Babcock University; I am graduating next year June.
How have you been able to improve your skills in soap and body cream making considering the fact that you are studying Mass Communication right now?
Up till today, I have learned everything I do online. I tried a couple of times to go and learn from people but it didn’t seem like they were so interested in teaching anybody their trade. So I just went online and taught myself and today I am doing it better than they do.
What inspired you into going into this kind of business in the first place?
What inspired me to go into the business fully was the fact that I always got so many compliments for a nice skin. Initially I was making use of Ajali skin care products, these are handmade natural products because I am very fair in complexion and I just wanted to maintain my skin colour naturally without having to use chemical that will damage my skin. So when I started experimenting with my own products, I was still getting good compliments. I said then why can’t I also market mine if people are complimenting me so much. It means it can also work for them since it has worked for me and that was how I started. I was using my friends for experiment for my black liquid soap and the feedback I was getting was so encouraging and right now I deliver my products as far as outside Lagos in the space of about six months. All my products are made with organic materials, there is no chemical added to them and these are what I use too. These products are good for all skin types.
How did you cope at the initial stage of starting up your business considering the fact that you are still a student?
After I was very sure I wanted to do this, I just took my mother to the market and was picking and picking all that I needed to start making my skin care products and she was just paying and paying. At a point she said she was not going to pay again. But I actually got enough to start with. So she was my financier initially. Right now I am independent because I have made a whole lot of money from my initial capital and I try as much as possible to sell my products at very affordable prices. Presently, there are no challenges but initially getting raw materials was tough until I discovered am online store where I order most materials for productions.
How would you describe your mother?
I think she has done great for herself and like the Proverbs 31 woman, she is a jack-of-all-trades. She is an exhibiting artist, author of many books, event planner, cake baker, a fashion designer and above all, a lecturer of great repute with the Industrial Design Department, Yaba College of Technology, Lagos. She has a PhD. She had just her first degree when our father died 14 years ago. After my father died, she was faced with so many challenges, which affected her health but she has been able to scale through all the challenges through God’s grace and mercy; today she is a pastor with the Redeemed Christian Church of God. She has been so industrious for 14 years as a widow and by God’s grace she was able to make provisions for the three of us. I am the last of three girls and the closest to my mum. I have been so aggressive to learn from my mother’s hard working and innovative nature. So it is obvious that my mother has influenced me to start out earlier with my business at an early age. When I was growing up, there were times in my house that everywhere was just filled with cakes and so many other stuffs like hamper. My mum was always busy and when people asked what does your mum do for a living and I would tell them she is a lecturer, she bakes, she is a fashion designer, she is into event management and so many things. So she being a businesswoman, I also wanted to be a businesswoman by all means and that is what I actually love; so she inspired me.
Did your father’s death when you still at a tender age affect you in any way?
No, it didn’t. Many people would ask if I remember my father and I would tell them I remember everything about my dad. He passed on when I was six and I can remember the little memory we shared but hid death didn’t affect me in anyway, it didn’t even make me feel bad. Let’s just say because I was small, I didn’t really know much about life then but now, it would have been nice if he were around to see what I’m actually doing now but unfortunately he’s gone but I know he is somewhere smiling and just clapping for me.
How well have your products done in the market?
Sweet Indulgence skincare products are doing so well that my products won me the 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year Award at Babcock University. The truth is that I haven’t really gone out to tell people to buy my products but somehow everybody knows that I am making skin care products and also the school authority got to know and so I was called for interview on a radio station owned by the school for three times. It got to a point that my VC had my photograph hang on the wall of his office because he feels I have made the school proud. The school took it a step further and did a biography on me and wanted to know how it all started, they couldn’t believe that somebody that is still in school will have the time to actually make all of these. After which a documentary was made on me on how it all started. So everything was in the documentary, how I moved from high school to secondary school and how I am doing something big like this, the skin care product, I am making it look different from the regular skin care products that we see. I think it is the creativity that makes me stand out because when people see my bar soaps, they ask, is this soap? Some people don’t use it, I know friends that just buy and keep them for decoration to look at how beautiful they look. So I think it is the creativity that attracted people to my brand because it is different. Ordinarily you would not walk into a supermarket and see a bar soap that is so creative like mine.
Is your soap meant for black or fair people complexion wise?
It is for all skin type; that is why it is natural, all organic; anybody can use it and that is what I use. Sometimes I even get calls that ‘please, can I get whitening cream’? And I would tell them ‘I don’t make bleaching cream, it is strictly organic;.
Who are your targets?
My targets are from 12 years and above as well as the aging woman who want to clear herself of wrinkles. I am coming up with a beard kit; now there is this new beard gang and I get calls that please do you have something for beard, something that could make it grow. So before the end of this month I am already coming up with something for that.
Apart from your mum, who do you look up to as a mentor?
There is this particular lady her name is Toyin Lawani, whenever I look at her Instagram page and watch her on TV, I wonder how she does do it because she has over 20 businesses in one building and a single parent. She is so encouraging, you can tell that she doesn’t even have time to go out and party or gossip with friends, she is just too focused, so she is my role model.
What is your vision for Sweet Indulgence?
I want to be a supplier to different countries, not just Nigeria, I actually got one order this year to supply in Denmark but they just have to get me registered and it is taking a lot of time. So that is just one down and four more to go, I actually have five countries in mind.
How do you juggle between school and work?
That part wasn’t easy but I had to always make a large batch before going back to school. We have a despatch company in my school so whenever anybody needs anything, I pick up from my hostel and take it to the despatch company and they deliver to them.
Does it distract your studies as well as your social life?
No, my business does not affect my studies because I pay someone to do the marketing; I don’t need to run around advertising, I get people coming to me instead so there is less stress. But it does certainly affect my social life. I cannot remember the last time I went out to see a movie or even go out to do anything so I’m always focused on this every day. People call me to say, ‘let’s do go out but I tell them there is no time’, this is the only thing I focus on. Every single day I try to come up with new ideas, something attractive every single time, so there is no time to have fun.
What advice do you have for young ones?
I think that everybody is gifted with something; you just have to discover it. I didn’t even think I would actually go into this in the first place but upcoming entrepreneurs just have to realise that you can’t look up to other people, I can’t look up to Toyin Lawani and want to be like her, I am aspiring to be better than her. You shouldn’t copy another person’s product. I would have copied something like Ajali, but I just have to make it look better and different. I just try as much as possible to be better so they just have to know they have to be better. When I started I didn’t even have stickers, I didn’t even have a bag like this, so you don’t have to have that expensive branding before you can know that you can sell your products; you just have to start from somewhere.