Women & Money is a monthly PiggyVest series that explores the relationship between real Nigerian women and money. This series sheds light on money, career and business from a female perspective.
For this month’s episode of Women & Money, we spoke to Chidera Ogbu, the founder of Olaedo Naturals, a traditional Nigerian skincare brand. In this interview, the 29-year-old discusses money as a tool and how she fell in love with skincare.
So what was your relationship with money growing up?
I never really thought about money as a teenager. I always saw it as something that was readily available, which is interesting because I wasn’t making any, and I never felt like I needed to at that point in time.
I came from a family where my mum was the main breadwinner. I would see her go to work and provide for the family. She also made sure our school fees were paid on time and that we had everything that we wanted. My siblings and I never had to even ask for money.
How did that change as you entered adulthood?
I still don’t really think about money that much as an adult, but I sure do know how to manage my money better.
To me, money is a tool. For instance, when I was in the university, if I needed money in two or three months, all I had to do was plan how I would save to meet that goal. It also helped that before I finished university, I made money on the side by doing make-up for my friends.
As a girl, you tend to want more than you can ask your parents for. Your mum could give you small money for hair, but the hair you want to buy is probably a lot more expensive. So I learned to save up instead. I did this until I discovered PiggyVest in 2016.
Look at that seamless plug!
[Laughs]. I had just finished uni when I saw the buzz on Twitter. And I was able to save up enough money to go to the House of Tara makeup school. Just before NYSC, I worked in a makeup retail store, where I would recommend makeup products to people and also do makeup on clients.
So, obviously, I was making enough money for myself, as I was being paid for makeup and managing the store as well. My saving habit helped me save up enough to move to Abuja, buy my own make-up kit and even start Olaedo later on.
How did your family feel about you deciding to do makeup?
My mom wasn’t happy about it at first. I studied English and Literature, and I’m an avid reader to this day, so she (and I, actually) hoped I would become a professor in my field. The plan was simple. Finish school, go to China, Japan or Korea, and teach English as a second language, while doing my master’s. Then eventually return home and lecture at a Nigerian University.
But I had gotten sucked into beauty. Plus, I liked how the money was coming. As far back as 2016/17, we were getting paid around ₦15K to ₦20k. And on a good week, I could do four to five jobs. MUAs like BMPro were charging up to ₦600k for makeup, so I figured that by the time I got up to their stage, I could charge ₦1 million for makeup. All I had to do was focus and hone my skill.
When did that change?
Along the line, I realised that I was not really good with face-to-face interactions with customers: brides, bridesmaids, and other clients. I’d had a couple of issues with bridesmaids, where the girls were rude to me. Some would make me wait so long that I would miss another gig and have to refund. It was costing me money, and I couldn’t manage it anymore. But I wasn’t sure what to do next.
Sorry about your experience. How did you discover skincare?
So, I have psoriasis, a skin inflammation. It became very serious towards the end of 2016. I was having flare-ups every two months. One time I went home and my grandma got me shea butter (called okwuma in Igbo) in the raw form.
My grandma also did this thing where she would soak bitter leaf in hot water and make us drink it. During this particular flare-up, I drank this liquid and then she rubbed shea butter all over my back. In two nights, my skin cleared up and my symptoms stopped coming back like they used to.
I was immediately intrigued by the potential benefits of shea butter, so I went straight to the internet for answers. It’s the answers I found that led to the birth of Olaedo Naturals.
First of all, congratulations on 5 years!
Thank you so much!
How did it all happen?
I sold my first product in late 2017. Olaedo started with just shea body butters. I learnt on Youtube how to whip it with oils because in its raw state shea butter is difficult to apply. Then, one of my friends asked to buy one. She used it, loved it, and asked me to make another one for her.
She also told another friend, who then told another friend. And the word started to go around. We sold shea body butters till November 2018, and then we introduced our old black soap paste and sugar scrub. This was literally how Olaedo started.
What was your plan going forward?
Growth. But skincare is different from colour cosmetics. With skincare, you have to have general knowledge of science. You need to know the different skin types and how different people react to products.
It’s easy to whip body butters — you just have to follow your formulation guidelines — but I had to buy our black soap paste from Ghana. I had used one from Ghana and really liked it, so I found a trustworthy vendor who I sent my specifics to. Then we would package and sell.
But Olaedo didn’t start doing great until 2018, and especially in 2019, when I started attending a lot of pop-ups, big and small. That was how this brand grew. I remember going to UBA marketplace, and selling out on day 1 of a two-day event. We went to bring the goods for day 2 and came back, and still sold out.
So we had to stay up all night to package goods for the next day, because we already had the stand and couldn’t go empty-handed. I made over ₦700k in two days. These experiences motivated me to start applying for opportunities. In 2019, I got to travel to Japan and talk to people there about Olaedo.
Most times, it’s easier for these people to get our vision and where you’re coming from. Nigerians don’t generally key into your vision when you start. Then you get that international recognition, and they’re like, “Okay! She’s doing well.”
It was after I went to Japan that people started taking me seriously — including my parents. That was when my mum stopped bugging me about doing my masters. She would even help me out if I needed anything.
After the trip, I started thinking of improving our packaging and branding. I had been to the Shiseido HQ in Tokyo, and I was impressed that the brand has existed for over 100 years. At that moment I decided that I needed my business to outlive me. That was when I started taking myself seriously, too. I registered my business, got a business account, and started putting structure in place.
As an Igbo girl, obviously, Olaedo’s newfound success gave me this ginger to go on. I’ve not been able to do a lot of pop-ups after lockdown, because I started planning on Olaedo’s rebrand during that time. I even wanted to go to China myself, to pick and design my packages myself. But COVID happened and we had to slow down.
COVID was a monumental time.
Yes. Even for Olaedo. But it was a good year for us because many people couldn’t buy their regular skincare from abroad. They didn’t have any option but to buy our easily accessible products. It also helped that I had a viral moment as an individual; that led people to the brand. So 2020 was a really, really good year. The beginning of every good thing for Olaedo.
So we started the rebranding process in 2021. We got two Nigerian cosmetics scientists to formulate our new products, so that the only product we make in-house is the body butters. It’s very important because people use these products on their skin. And this helps me focus on running the business.
This brings me to another thing that is important to us at Olaedo. We make sure to work with Nigerian workers, products or ingredients. Many people like foreign skincare, but we have to push our own at some point.
You’re right! What challenges do you face as a skincare business owner in Nigeria?
The skincare industry in Nigeria is a baby industry. There are no regulators for skincare in Nigeria. I’m currently going through the process to get our products NAFDAC registered, and it’s so stressful. So many people give up and you can’t blame them.
You also have to educate and reassure people that you’re not selling bleaching products. Logistics are also tricky because body butters melt in transit. We had to invest in packaging items like bubble wraps to keep them intact. This is important because people like things that look nice. We incorporated yellow into our stickers because it is a happy colour. These things are not cheap, but they are important if you want to enter the international market; we’re not only trying to sell to Nigerians.
Getting your products to retail outlets is also tough. Some retailers ignore your emails completely. But hopefully, Olaedo will soon start retailing in the international market, where the purchasing power is higher. Especially since our market is filled with good and affordable foreign products. And I’m working towards achieving it this year. Wait, let me be realistic: next year.
No dream is too big!
Abi. We want to build our website from scratch with Shopify and register in the US. We’ll optimise our website so that people can shop directly with pounds, dollars, and yen. And then we ship directly anywhere in the world.
That makes sense. I wish you all the best.
Aw. Thank you very much. I just wish there could be more trust in the industry. We also need to use indigenous ingredients. Let’s take a leaf from countries like Korea. See how K-beauty has become such a big deal. We should also try to collaborate within and across industries. It’s why I love to patronise African brands, especially clothes and skincare.
What are Olaedo’s money goals?
To get more funding. Apart from a ₦2.5 million grant we got from the federal government and another ₦1 million grant, Olaedo has been sustaining itself. Organically too. People are iffy about investing in traditional brands. They’ll tell you, “Is it soap and cream? I don’t know.” But you have to take your bath, right?
It does help that I don’t care for instant gratification. I’m trying to build a brand that will last. A legacy. So apart from the main Olaedo brand, we also do corporate gifting on the side. We supply minis that can be repackaged as corporate gifts. A not-so-subtle pitch to PiggyVest.
I can provide body butters for your events. In summary, all we need is to bring more money into the business. Because when you have money, your ideas come to life.
Outside of Olaedo, what is financial freedom to you, Chidera?
[Sigh] I don’t know. Being able to just buy my ticket if I want to travel somewhere.
Or use PiggyVest to target save. Highly recommend, by the way.
[Laughs]. Yes o. Plug yourself. But that’s just the simple explanation for me. I don’t want too much in life, I just want a nice house, clothes and food. And also make the girlies look good. That’s my life’s work.
For the girlies!
For the girlies o. As long as the girlies are no longer dealing with hyperpigmentation, my work here is done.
How are you working toward financial freedom?
To ensure that I’m not spending more than I’m making. I had this problem in the first two years of my business, but I learnt to separate myself from the business. Personally, I also believe in saving towards my goals. I’m a savings girl. But the returns we get from saving are not a lot, so I’m looking to get better at investing.
And any money mistakes in this journey?
Yes. Bookkeeping mistakes. I would just buy and sell without keeping track of anything. I made so many mistakes that I started thinking of closing and starting again. But luckily we survived. And I’ve learnt a lot.
Happy to hear that! What’s your favourite purchase you’ve made?
A trip to Ghana in 2021. I was so very happy. Oh, and giving all my staff — including myself — a workers’ day/pop-up bonus.
Do you have any advice for aspiring beauty or skincare entrepreneurs?
Start small. With one product, then two, then three. If you start with too many products, you’ll get confused. Don’t let imagination finish you. You’re not going to become big overnight, and you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. Don’t be scared. I studied English and Literature, but I’m here because I took an interest in beauty.
Put yourself out there. And if you don’t want to be out there, do the groundwork. My viral moment helped my brand. This way you can win your customers’ trust and still build a track record and portfolio that can win potential investors. Look for opportunities for growth and collaboration. Don’t be too proud or scared to speak to anybody. No man is an island.
Customers will be hard to deal with. Logistics companies will be hard to deal with. You have to throw away your ego, and keep building the brand. One day, you’ll make mistakes too, don’t be too proud to apologise. Replace the products or give them a discount if you must.