Meet graphic designer turned soap maker who is joyfully living her dream of making skin care products
By Joseph Macharia
Her life changing decision to quit graphic design and venture into soap making business drove her family and friends nuts. After spending a successful decade in printing and publication industry, they wondered why on earth she opted to leave such a colourful career to make soaps. Tired and bored of staring at a cold computer at her work, Flora Wamuyu called it quits, partnered with a friend and started making natural soaps branded as ‘My Kenya Soaps.’ Her passion would have you believe that the journey was a walk in the park. It was not. On the contrary, it was a strenuous uphill task fraught with frustrations.
“I never wanted to sit staring at a computer for the rest of my life. I wanted to go out, interact with people and offer a service that is fulfilling and one that would make me happy,” she stoically reminisces. Since she and the other partner did not have any training about soap making, they researched in almost molecular detail in a way that would make a scientist green with envy. Often, Wamuyu would lock herself in a room and read voraciously. It took two years researching and learning from different people to formulate their first recipe for making a natural soap.
Early on, she had attended a soap-making training organized by a local politician where they were taught how to make ordinary bar soaps. Upon surveying the market, she found the soaps they were taught to make were substandard and had already flooded the market. However, she observed that there were virtually no skin care soaps in the market. Being a lover of nature, plants and healing properties of herbs, she decided to establish a line of eco friendly skin care products. “I realized that I can do natural soaps. It was challenging at first because there were no recipes, but that was the niche I wanted to focus on,” Wamuyu notes.
Leap of faith
In early 2013, she started selling her line of skin care products. The products were new in the market. As expected, the uptake was discouragingly slow. People would out rightly question her why she was selling one natural bar soap at Kshs. 300 when they can source for alternatives at a cheaper rate. From these experiences, she learnt that she had been making products for the wrong market. That forced her to start creating awareness about natural soaps. There was scant information about skin care products at the time.
She started creating awareness about skin care products through the social media. Majority of the clients were foreigners. They started buying her products since they were informed and valued the benefits of using skin care soaps. Some would collect the soaps to resell in countries like South Africa and United Kingdom. But there was a problem. All her market was outside the country. When Westgate was attacked in September 2013, her market collapsed as clients would not visit the country. It is around this time that her partner got engaged in a different sector.
Left alone, with a struggling enterprise, she did not want to see the business die. With determination, she decided to register the business and structure it in a different way. In order to penetrate the local market, Wamuyu started training organized groups as a means for earning income as well as making the skin care soaps popular. The overarching aim was to empower and enlighten people on why skin care products are good, despite being expensive. “I would organize a group of women, go to a hotel and train them,” the My Kenya Soaps founder notes adding that she enjoys imparting knowledge.
After several training sessions, she started receiving invitations all over the country. These events breathed a fresh air into her business as people started embracing skin care products. These events helped her to get contacts, giving birth to consultancy business. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) invited her to train women groups regionally, including Uganda and South Sudan. Consultancy was helping her business grow. Since then, she has been consulting with various stakeholders. In 2019, she set up shop in Nairobi and got an office to work from. To increase revenue, she started contract manufacturing for clients requiring natural soaps in bulk.
All skin care products made at My Kenya Soaps take into consideration various skin types. They make both bar and liquid soaps exclusively for skin care. Natural liquid soap can be used to make shampoos, handwash and natural cleaning soaps. Unlike commercial soaps which are made using chemicals, natural soaps are not harmful to the skin. Essential oils are the main ingredients in making these soaps. They are obtained from moringa, coconut and avocado among other sources. Other key ingredients are goat milk, camel milk, honey, turmeric, lavender, tea tree, aloe vera and indigenous herbs.
Apart from being eco friendly, natural soaps help to control skin diseases. “If you find people with eczema conditions, natural soaps help to manage it. Babies born with eczema are usually advised to use certain soaps by a dermatologist,” explains Wamuyu adding that, “when you use natural soaps you don’t have to go buy those soaps.” Eczema is a skin condition that causes dryness, itchiness and inflammation of one’s face. In medical parlance, it is called dermatitis. Use of natural soaps helps prevent skin cancer as well.
Natural soaps also help to control acne. This is a skin condition where oil glands of the skin become clogged by dead skin cells, bacteria and sebum forming spots, pimples and sometimes cysts. Its scientific name is Acne Vulgaris. Natural soaps help to remove dead skin cells. Essential oils in the natural soaps heal damaged skin and provide deep nourishment. However, it should be noted that natural soaps don’t cure; they manage and maintain healthy skin.
What makes her business unique is that, she gets to do what she loves while taking care of the environment. She advocates for people to start using skin care products citing that even our ancestors used herbs for medicinal purposes. “Our forefathers used herbs. Westernization has made us forget them. For example, neem tree is used in most communities to heal many infections,” notes the self-taught soap maker. “We are losing our rich indigenous knowledge. We need to stop using chemical products and go back to using our herbs.”
Entrepreneur or a business person?
Despite facing many obstacles, she has managed to pull through and overcome most challenges. The journey has been interesting, she says cheerfully but remarks that it has tested her endurance. She categorically identifies herself as an entrepreneur not a business person. “An entrepreneur is a person with passion for an enterprise; who wants to see it grow whereas a business person is only driven by making money. For entrepreneurs, passion is the main motivation, but for business people, it is money, ” she observes adding, “for me it’s not about making a lot of money, it’s about growth and living a fulfilling life as well as leaving a legacy to my children.”
Wamuyu advises anyone who plans to venture into business to seek one line, stick to it and have patience. She quickly remarks people must choose a venture they are passionate about. “It is not about overnight success, it is about growth, small baby steps,” she adds. Her future aspiration is to have My Kenya Soaps becoming a one stop shop for all skin care solutions.
The other side of Flora Wamuyu
Hobbies: Spending time with her kids, visiting places and singing.
Marital status: Happily married with two children.
Favourite dish: Mixture of maize and beans (Githeri).
Best moments: Whenever she gets an opportunity to train others, it gives her joy and contentment.
Strengths: Resilient and she is a great teacher.
Philosophy: “We are here to help others and share what we have.”