Nuya’s Essence: Tanzanian beauty queen finds her business groove with natural skincare products

Hellen Dausen

Hellen Dausen wanted to be a professional model and she was serious about it. After graduating with a BSc. in International Business Administration and Entrepreneurship from the United States International University-Africa in Nairobi, she participated in the 2010 Miss Universe Tanzania beauty pageant and won. As the winner, she received a scholarship to study performing arts at the New York Film Academy and the opportunity to pursue a modelling and acting career. But things did not turn out as expected.

“It was hard to get jobs and even harder to sustain myself while living in Los Angeles,” Dausen recalls. “I later made a bold decision to come back home with nothing to show for it.” That was in August 2012.

After four months of soul-searching, she found the inspiration that birthed Nuya’s Essence – an all-natural bath and body care brand based in Zanzibar.

How did this all start?

In early 2013, baobab oil became very popular in Tanzania as a food and skincare product.

One day it struck Dausen how absurd it was to use the natural oil after showering with a soap that contained chemical elements. She considered the possibility of having a baobab soap.

While researching how to make baobab soap, she found out that there were many natural skincare products that weren’t available in Tanzania. “So many women wanted these natural skincare products. Some were ordering from abroad with expensive shipping costs. Some were making it at home (which can sometimes be time consuming especially for a working woman) while some women chose to use toxic brands. It was a true eye opener,” Dausen says.

She identified with those women who wanted well-packaged, eco-friendly products and decided that she wanted to create such a trustworthy brand. “And honestly, thus far we are that brand to many people – offering alternative options for safe, eco-friendly, bio-degradable skincare products.”

Dausen’s research led her to a skincare manufacturer in Malaysia who later trained her to become a certified organic skincare formulator. Upon her return to Tanzania, Dausen launched Nuya’s Essence in 2013 in the backyard of her parents’ home, producing handcrafted natural skincare products from botanical oils, butters, herbs and spices.

How did the company grow?

In its early years, Nuya’s Essence was financed from Dausen’s personal savings and an investment by her parents. She re-invested sales proceeds back into the business. But this wasn’t enough to grow her business as much as she would have loved to.

There was no money for advertising or too many give-aways. But Dausen made sure that she created world-class products and gave excellent customer service, in the hope that early customers would share their testimonies with others.

Then, in 2016, as the winner of two business plan competitions, she received funding from the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Foundation and the Mandela Washington Fellowship. In the same year she was listed as on one of Forbes Africa’s most promising young entrepreneurs. After the magazine feature, sales shot up and her client base increased. “That feature really boosted the Nuya’s Essence brand and increased our credibility.”

Today Dausen has nine full-time and three part-time employees at three shops – one in Dar es Salaam and two on Zanzibar.

She now envisions franchises all over the world within the next five years.

She must have faced some challenges?

In the beginning, Dausen couldn’t get her brand certified by the regulatory board in Tanzania. I have had many disappointments,” she says. She was urged to close her workshop simply because she didn’t comply with the standards.

She then moved to Zanzibar where many artisans use spices and herbs to manufacture cosmetics and food products, and where the authorities understand the needs of small-scale manufacturers. There she quickly received the Zanzibar Food and Drugs Board certificate.

Only when Nuya’s Essence opened its Dar es Salaam branch in 2017, Dausen successfully applied for and received the Tanzania Food and Drugs Authority certificate.

Anything we can learn from her experience?

As a self-starter in the beauty care industry, Dausen says it is best for budding entrepreneurs to learn by doing. “Look for someone who is ahead of you and ask them to guide you through the process.” She says this will help to avoid unnecessary, and often very costly, mistakes. “Make sure you also have someone to help you with financial education. This will set you up on a very good platform from the start. Keep the passion burning, read books, meet people and draw inspiration from everywhere until you find your purpose.”

Concerning sales, Dausen says word of mouth is the most powerful tool. “I will encourage other entrepreneurs to maximise it before putting so much money into marketing and advertising. Nothing can beat an honest testimony from a customer. Nothing will.”

And in the end? “Be still and live life,” Dausen says.