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How losing job created shea butter venture

By Jeckonia Otieno | May 10th 2016
Maryfaith Vutale at her shop in Nairobi. [PHOTO: JECKONIA OTIENO/ STANDARD]

In 2012, Maryfaith Vutale was forced to take a long, hard look at her life after she was fired from her job. She worked with an NGO and donor funding had dried up.

Ms Vutale was a marketer at the organisation, and on the long list of bills that she had to figure out how to pay without a steady monthly income was treatment for her son’s eczema.

She had no time to wallow in self-pity and was quickly on the lookout for business opportunities that would help her survive.

“I met a Ghanaian just before I lost my job who told me about shea butter soap and body oil used in Ghana to treat eczema. He encouraged me to consider selling the products locally while I looked for another job,” said Vutale.

Eager to find a way to pay her bills, she did some online research on the benefits of shea butter, and ordered a batch of the soap, body oil and hair oil her Ghanaian friend had told her about.

“The products did not smell that nice, but they worked miracles on my son,” she said.

Vutale was not immediately sure the business would make money, but she was willing to try. Her Ghanaian friend sent her 10 more pieces of black soap, and two bottles each of body and hair oils so she could test the market.

“I put the products on Facebook, and to my surprise, everything was bought up within 10 minutes,” she said, adding that this was the push she needed to be convinced about shea butter’s business potential.

Vutale decided to get in wholeheartedly. She dipped into her savings and booked a flight to Ghana to learn more about shea butter products.

It took five days, and she came back to Kenya with a consignment of 30 soaps, and 10 bottles each of body and hair oils. She sold everything within days.

“I realised I should not be doing piecemeal sales, so I decided to go bigger, but I needed capital for this. I approached two friends who gave me Sh50,000 and Sh20,000, and I headed back to Ghana.”

Tailored clothes

During her second trip, Vutale’s sister suggested she also come back home with fabric from Ghana just to see how sales would go.

She knew African-print dresses were already quite common in Kenya, but was hoping to find something exceptional.

“My Ghanaian friend showed me designs that were different from what is locally available, so I added fabric to the shea butter products,” Vutale said.

When she came back home, she initially sold her products out of her car boot, before moving into a shop where she shared rent costs with a friend. Business picked up, and she was soon able to afford to move into her own shop in Nairobi’s central business district.

Vutale’s products have found a strong following. She sells beauty products at between Sh200 and Sh1,500, while dresses cost between Sh2,500 and Sh10,500.

“I found that there was more demand for ready-made dresses than for fabric. So I now bring in clothes that can be adjusted to fit a client’s size and shape,” she said.

Vutale started her business venture with just Sh26,000, and is proud of how much she has grown it in four years. But she knows the journey ahead is long.

One of the challenges she has had to contend with is high taxes when bringing in products from Ghana.

“Taxation is a major challenge to many business people, especially importers, and this hinders the growth of business,” she said.

“The relevant authorities should consider revising taxes for dresses made from African fabric downwards to promote business among African nations.”

Vutale added that high air ticket prices are also hindering trade with West African countries, saying in most cases it is cheaper to travel to Europe than within the continent.

“Accessing funding from institutions in Kenya is not easy either, because banks do not appear to have any interest in small ideas. This has stopped many people from expanding their businesses,” she said.

Vutale tells those looking to go into business: “There are great opportunities around, you just need to tap into them. Get out and knock on all doors because you never know where your opportunity lies.”

She added that a friend once asked her how long she would continue selling “small-time products”. She responded that she would sell even charcoal, as there is money in everything.

“Patience is one of the secrets to success in business. Most young people want instant success, which only happens in fairytales.”

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