Tell us about the brand AJALI, when did you start? And what inspired you to start this business?
It’s a pretty long story but the short version is I had a major health scare in 2012 that made me more conscious about what I was putting in and on my body. I decided to eat better, stop relaxing my hair, and pay more attention to my cosmetics. I started off making moisturisers and soaps from recipes I found online and soon after that, word-of-mouth kicked in. I found myself making products for my family and friends, and in August 2013 I decided to brand it and see how it would do at an exhibition organized by my church, and here AJALI is, nearly 2 years later.
What does Ajali mean?
It means “red earth” or “sand” In Igbo. I am very proud of my background and it pays homage to the ingredients we use, which are hugely locally sourced. We will not import anything that can be produced (at the same quality) in West Africa, even if it means we have to pay a higher price for it. Once the sourcing is done, all the producing is done right here in Nigeria by hand and distributed from here too.
When did you realize that opening a spa and showroom was the next step?
For the first two years of AJALI, our products were sold predominately online on ajali.com.ng and Konga but there’s still a hesitancy amongst Nigerians to purchase products online which is why we also did as many exhibitions and pop-up shops as possible. With artisan products like mine, they sell themselves. Being able to touch and smell them is a key part of the experience so it’s important to have a physical presence. I noticed that the average sale was higher and customers were more satisfied with their choices when they could try our products before purchasing. Adding services on to our existing product range with our holistic spa was just the natural next step for us. We use our products and all natural-ingredients for massages, facials, hair removal and other body treatments to offer our clients an effective yet authentically natural experience.
What has been the hardest part of launching your business?
Sourcing investment has been my biggest challenge and is something I’m still trying to sort out. But what I will say is, it’s important to make use of your personal connections – your family, friends, church members. They all form a network of people that could help you a lot sooner than a bank would approve a loan. I’d also recommend splitting up how much you need. I’ve found that it’s easier to raise 1 million naira by asking 4 people for N250,000 each than asking one person for 1 million up front. There are also a number of grants schemes and programs out there, you just have to keep your eyes open for opportunities and apply to EVERYTHING! I started AJALI with just N300,000 and I’ve gotten to this point with personal savings and by being diligent with my spending. Whatever amount you’re looking for, you can get started with what you already have, just build slowly and don’t let finances (or a lack of finances) hold you back.
Where do you see AJALI in the next five years?
I envision AJALI being Africa’s answer to The Body Shop or Lush. I want to have AJALI stores all over Africa selling products created for Africans, but most importantly made in Africa. Our raw materials are being utilised by the best skincare brands in the world and that’s great, but its time for us to have a brand for ourselves too. The potential to have a brand that operates in Africa, employs Africans and creates with African raw materials is mind-blowing and I hope AJALI can be a part of that.
What is the best part about owning your own business?
The sense of feeling that every single thing you’re doing –the sweat, the tears, the triumphs and the disappointments, are all part of your own dream and vision. It’s the most challenging but most fulfilling thing I’ve done.
What do you want your customers to know about your brand?
Last September AJALI won the Ebony-Life TV award for ‘Best Made In Nigeria Product of the Year’ and that’s because we offer a unique, handcrafted, artisan product. The whole supply chain is monitored personally from sourcing the finest ingredients, to making the products and sending them out to our customers. It’s important that the whole experience associated to shopping with us – for our suppliers as well as our customers, is positive. But beyond that, the AJALI brand is not just about selling products, it’s about supporting the local industry and encouraging us to live a healthy, fun life. We take part in events and try to raise awareness for the lifestyle we promote.
What are some of your favourite products from your brand?
AJALI’s Body & Hair Butter Soufflés are incredible and I use them everyday, sometimes twice a day! I love the AJALI Fresh Face Masks. I’ll admit I was inspired by Lush to start making them! The masks are made from fresh fruits, vegetables and clay and need to be kept refrigerated. The French Green Clay one helps me keep my oily skin under control and there’s nothing like putting on a cold face mask and relaxing at the end of a long day. They’ve done really well at exhibitions so I’m excited to finally have a place where I can sell them all year round. I also love the AJALI Sea Salt Body Scrub too, it’s a another pamper-time favourite of mine.
What advice would you give someone thinking about starting their own business?
In addition to what I mentioned earlier about using your personal connections and starting with what you have from a financial standpoint, I would also advise that you seek out a mentor. Your mentor does not necessarily need to be in your industry, it can just be someone who’s accomplished in business or you admire that can offer you advice and prevent you from making avoidable mistakes. I must mention, there is a huge difference between seeking a mentor and looking for a cheat sheet. No one is going to hand you all his or her secrets on a silver platter, and to be honest it’s insulting to even ask. Do the groundwork yourself, look out for relevant trainings, network and make your own connections and take advantage of the many mentorship programs available.
Also why Konjac sponge?
I learned about Konjac sponges on a trip to Japan as they are incredibly popular in Asia. Our Konjac Sponges are made with the purest natural vegetable fibre, Konnyaku (or Amorphophallus Konjac) and mineral rich extracts to deeply cleanse, exfoliate and detoxify your skin for a radiant complexion. They are unbelievably soft and gentle enough for sensitive skin and babies, our ph-balanced Konjac Sponges are the ultimate in natural, effective skin care.