Founder of Arami Essentials, Ms Ore Runsewe, tells TOBI AWORINDE how her passion for branding, skincare and hair care came together in the creation of her beauty company
Can you share a bit about your educational and professional background?
I went to the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. After university, I pursued a career in communications. So, my educational background is primarily in the areas of public relations and digital marketing. I worked as a public relations/communications consultant in the UK, and then I moved to Nigeria in 2014. In Nigeria, I did the National Youth Service Corps programme first and while I was doing that, I worked at Women in Management, Business and Public Service, a non-governmental organisation based in Lagos. After that, I moved to a communications consultancy called Hill+Knowlton Strategies. I then started working at an investment bank within the communications/digital marketing team.
Growing up, what kind of skincare and beauty products did you use?
Initially, I used very common, average products in the UK as a young girl. So, I used to just use products on the shelf of stores in the UK. It was when I moved to Nigeria in 2014 that I started looking for alternatives to these kinds of products because the products I was used to were not readily available and I had begun to try and live more of a toxic-free life by making my own do-it-yourself combinations; things for my skin and hair. So, when I moved to Nigeria, I started looking into what was available. A lot of the brands I used before I moved to Nigeria, I couldn’t find them here or they were overpriced. So, I then started looking into what people used in Nigeria and the kinds of things that were available like the ingredients and products. That led me into looking into shea butter, black soap, coconut oil, and so on. I started experimenting with those things for myself and that basically grew into what is now Arami.
Somebody just stopped me one day and asked me, ‘Have you ever considered actually doing this on a larger scale because a lot of the things that you make are really nice?’ Also, because of my professional background, I’m very much into branding and how brands come across, this led me to want to create something that I felt other people would also want to see on their dressing tables and in their homes. That was what led me to setting up Arami.
What year did you start Arami?
Essentially, it began at the end of 2016.
What other discoveries did you make during your research?
It’s a very interesting thing because a lot of Africans already know about the ingredients that are grown and sourced locally. But I was born and grew up in the UK, so I wasn’t as familiar with a lot of things that are available in Nigeria. It just wasn’t something that I knew. I mean (I didn’t know) about shea butter and black soap. I knew the basics, but I don’t know if I was really as aware of the vastness of it – the fact that there are different kinds of shea butter grown in different countries. There are only a few countries in West Africa where you can find shea butter. There are only a few states in Nigeria in which you can find shea butter. They are all very different. There is a lot that I found out, and that was really interesting to me. That led me to do a lot of research and wanting to find out a number of different things. It was very interesting because we were opened up to a new world that we never knew and we began to see opportunities we had no idea were available.
How would you describe the experience of doing business in Nigeria and dealing with the peculiarities of this environment?
When we talk about young businesses in Nigeria, I would say the first two things that come to mind are capital and overhead. For me, I think that was one of the reasons I say I juggled a nine-to-five (job) and my business for the first few years because it was manageable for me to be able to put small amounts of money into my business. I was making the money and putting it right back in, reinvesting in the business, because I had a nine-to-five (job) that I could live off. So, I didn’t have to live off my small business, which I think helped the business to grow. I could live off my nine-to-five (job) and I know that is not something everybody is able to do.
You must have started with a huge sum of money?
I didn’t start off with a huge amount of capital. I started off with an amount of money that I thought was enough to buy a small amount of ingredients and packaging (material). I sold those things (products) and put that money back into the business. So, I think that was how I dealt with the packaging issue at the beginning.
I think that a lot of people assume that you must have a certain amount of money when you’re starting a business, and it’s not always true. I think if more people knew that it was okay to start small, more people would actually start something.
In terms of overhead, I decided I was going to start a business primarily online because I didn’t want to have to pay for a shop, electricity, water and so on. I wanted to try and keep everything small as much as possible. So, I started my business from my bedroom. I then moved into a smaller room in my house that was empty. Eventually, I moved to the back of my compound that was empty where I built a small space to begin to create more things. For me, I think that in terms of overhead and capital, it is all about really starting small and reinvesting back into the business at every point in time, so that the business could grow.
Natural hair seems to be growing in popularity. What do you think is responsible for this?
I think that, honestly, people are beginning to be 100 per cent themselves and all of a sudden, in the media, it’s now acceptable to have an afro and people want to find their colour pattern and understand their hair. A lot of people who use chemical to straighten (their hair) now realise that it’s actually damaging their hair, so it’s liberating in terms of the fact that ‘I don’t have to straighten my hair, I can just wear it as it is.’ And then they end up saying, ‘I actually like this better.’ ‘My hair actually looks nice.’ ‘This is a new style I can do.’ So, I think when it became more common to have natural hair, a lot more people decided that that was the way they wanted to go. There are still a lot of people that use chemical to straighten their hair and their hair is still fine, but I think the reason natural hair became more widespread is because that look became acceptable. We were no longer seeing our hair as being unkempt, scruffy or undone in its natural state; rather it became a symbol to be proud of. It was no longer about straight hair versus curly hair; it became healthy hair and a lot of people realised that they could take better care of their hair when it’s in its natural state.
What are some tips you can offer on the care of different hair types?
I think the first thing to do is spend time looking at your hair, not just trying to rush through your regime or routine. Spend time looking at your hair and understanding how it is. There are times when, maybe it’s just taking your hair out of braids or it’s sitting under a wig and, if your hair is dry, it’s feeling lifeless. So, the routine that you did two weeks ago may not be adequate for the state that your hair is in now. I think it’s really important to really look and listen to your hair and try to understand what it needs.
Another thing I would emphasise is to always make sure your hair retains some kind of moisture. Moisturising your hair really helps to make sure it doesn’t break; it helps it to have more life. I think it actually helps it to grow because it’s not breaking. And I think it obviously helps to soften your hair. I would definitely say you should keep your hair moisturised at all times because you should think of your hair like a living thing that needs to be fed consistently. We have a lot of oils that I believe are very good for your hair. Oils are good in terms of locking in moisture.
Finally, I would say, try to touch your hair as little as possible. Try not to do a new style every single day because lower manipulation of hair leads to more growth and less breakage. When you’re manipulating your hair and doing new styles every day, it can actually hurt your hair. Try and choose a style, have it for a week or two, and then you can change it up.
What are some of the common skin conditions you have come across?
I would say acne, eczema, sensitive skin, dry skin, hyper-pigmentation, dark spots from acne scars. For eczema, for instance, we have a lot of body butters and oils, which are really important for a dry skin. In terms of acne, there are products that help to regulate the oil production of the skin and help to reduce any flare-ups that you may have.
Skin lightening is subject of ongoing controversy in the beauty industry. What are your thoughts on this trend?
My honest thought, when I come across people who want to lighten their skin, is really not to condemn or make them feel bad for wanting to lighten their skin. It’s really to try and understand why. A lot of the time, you find out that somebody really just wants a healthy skin. They want to have less dark spots on their face or less uneven skin tone patches. It’s really not about going five to 10 shades lighter. There are some people that do that, but if you really have more in-depth conversations with people, you find that these are the issues that they are facing.
Also, we live in a very hot climate where there’s a lot of sun, so people are getting darker. There are some people that want to be way lighter than their original skin tone, and with that, we don’t have lightening products, so I can’t really recommend anything for somebody that wants to be a number of shades lighter than their skin tone. We don’t have anything for them.So, I would probably tell that person, ‘Sorry, we don’t have anything for lightening your skin.’
You have expressed a strong commitment to customer satisfaction with the use of promise cards. Why is this so important?
It’s because I feel customers don’t just want to receive things from a brand. They want to feel like they are part of the brand and they want to have an experience when they are receiving their products. So, putting promise cards in the package lets them know that we’re thinking of them constantly and we appreciate them for buying from us. As it’s said, there is no brand without the customers. We were having a team meeting last week, and we spoke about the fact that our customers are like our body. They are a huge part of our lives. We just always want to remind our customers that we are thinking of them constantly and we always want to make sure that they are happy.
The messages in the promise cards are scriptures lifted from the Bible. We have (verses like) ‘Everything will be beautiful in its own time,’ ‘Peace that passes all understanding,’ and the verse about love is ‘Patience, love is kind.’ These are just to encourage our customers in their daily lives, to remind them of the fact that we are thinking of them. We want those words to cause a positive ripple effect. We don’t just sell beauty products; we’re a wellness brand. Our slogan is ‘Your body is a temple,’ and it’s not just about your physical body; it’s also your mental, spiritual and emotional well-being. We want to encourage total wellness for all of our customers.
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