Monday, March 28, 2011

Interview: Funlayo Alabi, Shea Queen

Funlayo Alabi is the co-owner of Shea Radiance (with her husband, so impressive) a fabulous company based in Baltimore, that works with communities in West Africa to import traditionally harvested shea butter (an Etta + Billie favorite). Not only do they sell this fabulous shea butter they also make luscious shea butter skin treats. Luckily, Funlayo was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the business of shea butter:

How did you start your business?

My business started more out out of a need for richer more emollient products. We had dry skin and the kids had eczema and we couldn't find any good products on the market.

We started using raw shea butter and saw a remarkable difference in our skin. We knew that there had to be a market for people who shared our need for a natural effective solution to dry skin, because our friends and family were raving about the samples we gave them.

What have been some of your biggest challenges with your business?

Finances. When you are involved in the shea butter supply chain at the level we are, there are a lot of upfront expenses. Working directly with shea producers in the early stages involves pre paying for the the nuts, providing storage facilities, bagging and boxing product and getting the product from the 'Farmgate' (point of production which is usually in the 'interior' country (village) where the shea trees grow and the butter is extracted) to the port.

We also do all our product manufacturing here in the states, so the expense of running a small scale manufacturing facility does require expense.

What have you been most proud of with your business?

I am most proud of the fact that we are positioned to be a company that will have a positive impact on the lives of women in Africa and in the US. The personal care business is a womans business on any levels. Our key ingredient, shea butter, is produced by women and 90% of the customers who buy our product are women.

What is your favorite product to create with shea butter?

The chocolate whipped butters. They look and smell so yummy. Like dessert for the skin. (these sound fantastic!)

What should consumers look for when sourcing fair trade shea butter from vendors?

The main thing I look for is a connection with local producers. Many of us who work directly with the women do not necessarily have all the finances to obtain 'Fair Trade' and/or Organic Certification. These are all very expensive for small businesses to obtain in addition to the fact tat they are taking on a lot of financial risk working on a grass roots level. What I look for is intent and progress and the mission of the vendor.

Check out a description of the processing with photos here.

Why should consumers choose fair trade?

Fairly Traded means that there is financial and social benefit to the local producers.

Do you have a favorite product that you don’t make yourself?

I love the rich organic soap bars produced by Botanical Skin Works. A local business here in Baltimore.

Thank you again Funlayo for sharing your story! Hopefully I can come along on a shea trip next year!

Friday, March 18, 2011

2011 Biz Goals

I've been meaning to post these for a while and finally (the story of my blogging life) have them postable.
  • Create a real business budget: I am a little embarrassed to admit this but I have never created a budget for my business. That is not to say that I didn't track my sales or purchases or my COGs (cost of goods sold). But I have never had an actual budget as a guide. Part of the reason was I was scared, how much would I actually need to make to move to part time work? or quit my day job all together? I also kept putting it off for other “more important” tasks. This year I’ve vowed to create a real budget for myself so I can track my progress, create goals and make changes when necessary. As of last week, I have finally created a real budget for my business. There are some scary numbers there but at least I have a real idea of what I need to make to move my business forward.
  • Add three new products to my line. I would like to add lip balm, candles, and whipped scrubs to my line this year. I hope you are all as excited about these new products as I am!
  • Add a soap of the month club. Done, you can check it out here.
  • Add 2-3 new wholesale accounts each quarter. This is a big goal. After completely my budget I see the necessity of adding additional accounts if I want to move to part time work by the end of the year. This is also a part of the business that is a bit hard for me. It is really scary to put your business out there, especially when it is such a part of you. However, its something I have to get over if I want my business to succeed, so I need to suck it up and get it done.
  • Create a production schedule. I’ve created a long term production schedule and am working on breaking the larger goals into smaller pieces. I feel so much better. :)
  • Create a marketing plan. Marketing is on of my biggest business struggles. I’ve read books, gone to seminars and I still don't seem to have a full grasp of everything, especially a plan that I will consistently follow and refer to. So, I started seeing on of the free business counselors at the San Francisco Chapter of the Small Business Development Center. I should have a “real” plan in the next few months.
  • Start blogging 1-3 times a week. Obviously this has been going ok, but could be better. I need someone to get tough with me - any volunteers?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ingredient Feature: Beeswax

image from Little Alexander

I am a bee fan and have been since I was little. I never had a fear of bees and was so concerned with their welfare that I would save them from drowning if I ever found them in a pool or at the lake. Perhaps that is why I've only ever been stung a handful of times...I have good bee karma. My affinity for bees makes me a devotee of honey and beeswax. I love the sweet rich honey like smell that emanates from the wax. If you’ve ever been to a farmer’s market and stumbled upon the local honey booth you know exactly what I’m talking about. Beeswax is a wonderful natural ingredient that is part of my lotion bars and the new product I am working on (hint: its for your lips). I wanted to share a little more information with all of you about this amazing ingredient.

Beeswax is created by honeybees to make the honey combs where honeybees raise their young, store honey and pollen. The wax, secreted from glands of the worker bees (who happen to be female), is molded in the six sided comb, filled, then capped. When the wax is first secreted it is clear, after it is molded to form the comb it turns white and overtime ranges from yellow to deep brown. To produce one pound of wax, the worker bees need to consume about ten pounds of honey and fly approximately 150,000 miles, the equivalent of almost six trips around the world (Wow!). Clearly, beeswax is a precious natural resource. The wax is a wonderful addition to skin care products because it has similar “wax esthers” to skin. When in skin care, it acts as a natural humectant (which means it attracts moisture to the skin) and creates a breathable moisture barrier on the skin. Beeswax also contains Vitamin A which is necessary for healthy cell development. It has been used for centuries for its antiseptic, emollient and healing properties. The beeswax in Etta + Billie products comes from a company that works with American beekeepers.