“ We’ve gotten requests to make products that do not align with our values, but we respectfully turned them down. Here, we do not make what we can’t use on our skins. „
Afolake Senkoya leaves no room for average products or poor customer service. Her work is rooted in excellence and she was a delight to speak with, even over email (the channel she chose for our chat). She told me all about her business, Àlàáfíà; how she started, the challenges she’s faced, turning down clients, and a lot more. Here’s our chat.
What’s your first ever experience with entrepreneurship?
My mum owns a consumer store for soft drinks, and I was her salesgirl for a year after secondary school — like, family business. Then I grew up, got more education, worked full-time (in finance) for over 5 years, before starting Àlàáfíà.
Nice. Tell us about Àlàáfíà. How did it all start?
So, Àlàáfíà didn’t start as Àlàáfíà. It started as Organiksbyjane in 2017. In 2015, I started my natural hair journey and I was a product junkie. I used every, and anything, to help make my hair grow. I even went as far as importing hair care products. As time went on, I didn’t find it sustainable because it was costing too much. Literally, all my salary was going into hair products lol. So, I headed to YouTube and started to check out different DIYs.
The first and easiest one I saw was shea butter mix. I went straight to Nairaland to search for authentic shea butter and coconut oil suppliers. I found one, bought a hand mixer, and started my mixing journey. I would make quite a number of jars and gift them to friends and family. After a while, some of them started asking if I had any shea butter mix for sale. They loved the results on their skin and hair. I also loved the mix on my skin, so I decided to start selling it.
What happened after that?
In 2017, I launched Organiksbyjane. It’s been a couple of years since then and, after a lot of training and research, the brand grew and we added more products for the skin and hair. As we evolved, we realized that a lot of things had to change, including our name. We took a long break to reevaluate and recraft our purpose, value, target audience, and a lot of things. By April 2021, Alaafia was born. So, I’d say Àlàáfíà was inspired by the need to provide safe, effective, and easily accessible solutions for the African Woman.
“ To me, Àlàáfíà is the confidence and strength that comes with being at peace with and in who you are. „
Quite a journey, love it! Why did you choose the name, Àlàáfíà?
It’s no news that the beauty industry pushes a general narrative of what a woman’s skin should be like. Flawless, smooth, blemish-free, etc. Because of these standards, many people are on the quest for perfect skin.
We chose the name, Àlàáfíà (meaning peace in Yoruba), to encourage women to find peace with their skin tones and minor imperfections. This is not in any way encouraging the neglect of one’s skin. It only means that, in your routine, you should aim for healthy, rather than perfect skin. We chose Àlàáfíà because we want you to approach your skincare routine with a desire to improve your skin, rather than changing it to meet society’s beauty standards.
What’s your process for creating a product?
At Àlàáfíà, all our products are solution-driven, and this realization births a lot of them.
The first step in our process is ideation and research. We ask questions like; what issues do people battle with skincare? Where do they seek solutions? What do they use? etc. We then go ahead to further research on how we can improve on the available solutions. This leads us to ingredients and other materials sourcing.
Once we have these, we develop the formulation process and standard operating procedures for that particular product.
We create a test batch for people to try out and give feedback.
If we have great feedback and visible improvements, we produce the masterbatch and launch the product.
Well thought out. What’s your favorite part of this process?
My favorite part of the entire process has to be the packaging. I get a deep sense of satisfaction from seeing our hard work come out beautifully in the final product.
Thinking about it, that’s quite some work to do by yourself. Do you have a team?
Yes, I have a team. My first hire was in the last quarter of 2020. Working with staff has been great, except for a few issues here and there, mostly stemming from poor communication.
What are your values around managing clients and How do you train your staff around this?
At Alaafia, we know how important our clients are to us because without them we won’t be in business (this is a cliche saying but it’s very true). So, we go above and beyond to ensure that everyone that patronizes us leaves with not just their packages, but a smile on their face and joy in their hearts. We keep our communication lines open, constantly request feedback, and resolve disputes as soon and fair as we can if it ever arises. My staff knows this and we all work in line with this principle.
Have you ever turned down a client?
Yes. Severally in fact. At Alaafia, we have core values that guide us and one of them is honesty. Everything that comes out of our Lab is based on this: ensuring that every consumer knows what they are putting on their skin. And ensuring that they are safe and ethical. On more than one occasion, we’ve gotten requests to make products that do not align with our values (even for private label and white label, which won’t have our names), but we respectfully turned them down. Here, we do not make what we can’t use on our skins.
Let’s talk about money for a bit. Where did you get the initial capital?
It came from my 9-5 salary.
Nice. And how do you manage your finances as a business owner?
I don’t like numbers (I used to fail mathematics a lot haha). However, with the use of an accounting app, it’s easier to manage my sales, expenses, and other financial parts of my business.
Haha. Always great to have a system that works. What are three major challenges you’ve faced in business?
The first is logistics. The logistics process is quite difficult even with big logistics brands. We’ve had many delivery-related issues that could have gone awry, but thankfully we’ve had understanding clients. The second is unstable electricity. Most of our work is done with electricity, so we spend a huge chunk of funds on generator fueling and maintenance. Finally, there’s the inability to access funding. Accessing credit facilities as a business owner in Nigeria is quite difficult because of frustrating conditions from financial service providers.
Whew. That’s quite something. What’s the one thing someone could gift you right now that would improve your business forever?
Money, money, money. Hooooge Money. With that, I can get more efficient equipment, improve my marketing activities, hire more hands, the list is endless.
What’s one tool that has helped you a great deal in business?
Which would you say makes a successful business: Luck, money, or hard work?
To be honest, money!