Terryanne Chebet is a household name in Kenya, where she works as senior business anchor and associate editor at local TV station Citizen. She started out as an actress before becoming a news anchor at Kenya’s national broadcaster KBC, and later a reporter and producer at CNBC Africa, before joining Citizen TV.
Outside the glitz and glamour of television, Chebet is a successful entrepreneur running two businesses. In 2012 she founded Scarlet Digital, an advertising, communications and digital branding agency. And 18 months ago she started her own line of natural skin and hair care products called Keyara Organics, joining an emerging crop of African entrepreneurs breaking into the continent’s beauty and personal care industry.
Chebet tells How we made it in Africa she was motivated to start her own line of natural organic products to fight her daughter’s eczema flares.
“I realised that when dealing with eczema, using natural products and eating organic foods helps. Someone introduced me to shea butter from Ghana but I couldn’t get a consistent supply locally… So I figured why not start a product that will always be on the shelf?”
Her first products were natural oils with no preservatives or additives. Keyara’s portfolio has since expanded and now includes body butters, body balms, soaps and hair food. Some of the products are 100% natural, while others are formulated. They are made using coconut, shea butter, cocoa butter, almond oil and macadamia oil infused with aromatic blends of essential oils. The oils, butters and scents are sourced from Uganda, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Morocco.
“We use the highest percentage of natural oils and scents, even in our formulated products such as the body butters. We use at least 80% or higher natural products,” says Chebet.
Keyara’s range is manufactured in Kikuyu, about 20km northwest of central Nairobi, and retail at health and beauty stores. It has also contracted a distributor who supplies outlets in the US and Europe.
The products are currently targeted at women and children, but Chebet sees opportunity to expand the market reach.
“We are starting a men’s line – we want to start with one thing like an aftershave, which most men use daily. We want to target aspirational, upwardly-mobile people who are beginning to identify with the African brand. I am an afro-optimist and I love being part of changing that Africa poverty narrative. But I don’t want to sell something just because it is African, so we have to make sure the quality is good enough,” she explains.
Mistakes and lessons
Chebet notes that breaking into the beauty industry is no easy feat.
“When we started I thought we were going to grow big. I was looking at all my products and doing my mark-up. Now I have learnt to slow down because money doesn’t come that fast. You have to sell the product [and] you have to get buy-in from people who doubt the quality of a Kenyan-made product. We are now thinking of going into the larger retail stores,” she says.
Accessing packaging material is one of the challenges she faces. Although good-quality bottles can be bought in Kenya, the company has to import jars from China. Last year Kenya increased import duty rates on plastic tubes for packing cosmetics from 10% to 25%. The move was meant to protect local plastic manufacturers, but Chebet says not all the packaging material she needs can be sourced locally.
Chebet also narrates an experience where she bought packaging bottles online from the UK, but ended up spending five times more than the price of the bottles on freight charges.
“I was selling the product knowing that what I was really selling was the bottles. We didn’t make money at all. I have burnt my fingers quite a bit. Many times I wondered, ‘what was I thinking starting this business?’ But the good thing is I have learnt from the experiences. I get motivated when the stores I supply call to say they need more products,” says Chebet.
Chebet’s vision is to take her brand global. Initially she avoided taking on debt, relying on her salary and savings to finance the business. But she is now ready to partner with financiers to achieve her ambitious growth plans.
“I want to walk into a shop in New York and see Keyara Organics. I want to walk into a shop in Johannesburg, Lusaka and London and see my products,” says Chebet.
“In Africa we know a lot of foreign beauty brands. But we don’t have one African brand that has recognition across the continent. We have a few locally made products but they have stayed within their borders. I recognise that it is not easy to break across geographical barriers but we will try.”
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