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Beauty care penetrating ‘natural’ markets as sector grows - But cosmetics producers, Jampro still on export learning curve

Published:Wednesday | September 6, 2017 | 12:00 AMAvia Collinder
CEO of Kumea's Hair Perspective Yolande Gooden-Rhoden shows off her products from her current operating base in Stony Hill, St Andrew on Tuesday September 12, 2017.
Jampro manager for market development, Berletta Henlon-Forrester shows off an expo guide in this file photo. Henlon-Forrester says Jampro is working with cosmetics producers on market penetration overseas.

Yolande Gooden-Rhoden, owner of the organic natural hair care line Kumea's Hair Perspective, is one of several cosmetic manufacturers whose products are being promoted in foreign markets by state investment agency Jampro.

From the hills of St Andrew, Gooden-Rhoden has been producing cosmetics geared at non-processed hair.

But she has been doing so from her home, which itself denies her capacity to grow the business and, concurrently, her output to take a bigger slice of the expanding market for natural cosmetics.

That is expected to change this month with the planned relocation of Kumea's to factory space in Kingston leased from the Factories Corporation of Jamaica, for which the agreement is already signed.

While unwilling to seek bank financing to achieve scale, Gooden-Rhoden is nevertheless confident that her dream of taking Kumea's to the world will be realised soon.

Like other organic cosmetic producers in Jamaica, Gooden-Rhoden's venture into manufacturing arose from her own efforts to find personal care products suited to her hair texture.

"I began as a result of my own hair. It was damaged. I remember going to the hairdresser, who, after relaxing my hair, said my hair looked nice. By the time I went home, the middle of my hair was all gone. The relaxer took it out," she said. "I decided I was going to try and grow my hair out and go natural."

She started the process of research while working full-time as a data analyst at the University of the West Indies in 2009.

"I saw recommendations for shea butter, jojoba and avocado. I got really interested. The long and short of it is, in wanting to achieve healthy hair for myself, I became interested in the types of products which would help me to achieve this. I started a business out of it," Gooden-Rhoden told the Financial Gleaner.

Used challenge as opportunity

The Kumea's founder's persistence and other women like her who saw their challenge as an opportunity for business, has evolved within the last decade into a new sector in the manufacturing sphere, where imported brands ruled the shelves. And now, the state investment agency is helping to secure additional markets for them in corners of the world where organic cosmetics are in demand.

In fact, the Jampro manager for market development in the agriculture and non-food manufacturing segment, Berletta Henlon-Forrester, acknowledges that cosmetics is a relatively new export sector for the agency, but that it is pressing ahead with programmes geared at opening access for the producers, primarily in the United States and United Kingdom.

"Our focus has been on the manufacturers of natural products as we seek to help our companies to tap into that growing segment in cosmetics and haircare," said Henlon-Forrester. "We are working with MSMEs with relatively small operations but producing high-quality, high-value products using primarily natural ingredients."

In August, Jampro implemented market penetration initiatives in London involving 11 companies, and for eight companies in Atlanta.

While local research on the cosmetics sector is yet to be completed, the agency is relying on global research showing that natural hair and skincare is an exploding field.

Henlon-Forrester said Mintel research, published in August 2015, notes that the "natural  hair movement" is increasingly the new normal in the global haircare industry.

Quoting the research, she said: "In 2015, expenditures on haircare among black American consumers were estimated at US$2.7 billion, which includes sales via various retail channels, including local independent stores. By 2020, sales are forecast to reach US$3.4 billion. Population growth, rising interest in natural hair, and new product innovations are likely going to drive industry growth."

The Mintel research also found that more than half of black American women, and nearly four out of 10 black American men hold the view that "natural hairstyles are not a fad and are here to stay" - a finding that speaks to the sustainability of demand.

Utilising local raw material

The number of cosmetics producers in Jamaica is uncertain, but those that Jampro know are producing facial cleansers, scrubs, masques, moisturisers, toners and anti-ageing preparations, shampoos, conditioners, leave-in treatments and products for hair repair, scalp treatment, rejuvenation and growth, body lotions, body wash, body scrubs, hand creams, foot soaks and bath and body oils.

"Many of these products can be found in local retail outlets, such as Fontana's and other similar stores, as well as supermarkets," Henlon-Forrester said.

Of note, she commented, is the fact that the manufacturers utilise local raw material, such as castor oil, lemon grass, cerassee, aloe vera, sorrel, honey, coconut oil, pimento oil and Irish moss.

"Some of the product formulations were developed by the Scientific Research Council, while others were created by the manufacturers, some of whom have chemistry backgrounds," the Jampro manager told the Financial Gleaner.

Gooden-Rhoden started with a kiddies' line, buying inputs that the suppliers said were organic. But these did not do well. Eventually, she started procuring the raw materials directly and mixing her own formulations, which soon gained traction. Kumea's was born.

"I decided to make my own products, starting with shea butter purchased from Amazon. I remember being so excited. I wanted to find coconut milk. I searched out all of Kingston. I even went to the Coconut Board. Then I went back to the drawing board. That's when I got into coconut oil. I started making shea butter mixes," she said.

Kumea's Hair now has five product lines, including a full suite of haircare products for children, a men's line for hair and beard care, products to help with balding, dry hair scalp eczema, and also restorative haircare.

One line is called For Starters and consists of a moisturiser, deep cleanser, a protein deep treatment, sealant and a refresher; while another, the Strawberry Curls line, includes a curl cleansing shampoo and conditioner, moisturisers and curl definer.

"Your natural hair has its own curl pattern. The product hydrates the pattern and it comes to life. It does not change your hair or straighten it," said Gooden-Rhoden. "For persons with very thick or coarse hair, they would have to twist the hair using this product, which holds the curl created."

Kumea's products are made with mainly natural ingredients, including shea butter, mango butter, avocado oil, grape seed oil, jojoba oil, olive oil, coconut oil, rosemary, thyme and aloe vera gel.

"Some are 100 per cent, but for the shelf life, we have to use preservatives which are not natural, but the percentage of preservatives used is not harmful," the manufacturer explained.

Confident about move

Regarding her move into a real factory, Gooden-Rhoden is confident she will secure the funds to relocate this month.

"I am moving into the factory, God's willing, by the end of September. I started with a fork and a double boiler. Now I have machinery and commercial pots," she said.

To date, all the funds invested - upwards of $8 million - were from personal sources. But she added, "I definitely cover my costs. The market is good and definitely open to using more Jamaican-made and natural products, in spite of the fact that I have massive competition from the natural producers abroad."

Kumea's first real break into the market was provided by Fontana Pharmacy.

"I was still working at UWI at the time. The purchasing manager was all the way in Montego Bay. I journeyed down, took my four products and sold the vision to her. She took them and now Fontana carries every single one of my product lines in all of their stores," Gooden-Rhoden said.

She remains Kumea's sole employee, but expects that to change when she takes on staff when she relocates.

Kumea's needs around $3.5 million to begin buying products and packaging in bulk, hire two more workers - one for formulation and another for finishing and packaging, as well as funds to cover the general costs of operation for five months, but Gooden-Rhoden said she does not intend to seek out bank financing. Instead, she is trying for grant funding, but is also willing to consider proposals from equity financiers.

"For eight and a half years, I have carried this company. If it is to go further, I can't do it on my own. I have seen others get opportunities through the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association. I am waiting patiently," she said.