Building, preserving your integrity is only currency that can get and keep you at the top
Jennifer Jones is a mum, lawyer, creative entrepreneur and the founder of Manebody Limited. An associate member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, she birthed Manebody Limited, the parent company of Manebody Cosmetics in 2017.
As the brand’s chief executive officer, she is the brain behind most of its creative ideas and is passionate about seeing them come to fruition.
In everything, Jennifer’s values stay the same, to change the world, one person, at a time by ensuring that the next person is comfortable; giving back to society; prioritizing women’s needs; being honest always and respecting everyone’s opinion and views.
Using her plethora of knowledge from years of experience in skin and hair care, she has produced natural high-performance products that have unmatched benefits and are easy to use.
In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, she talks about starting off her business with N15, 000, her advocacy on cancer awareness, creating opportunities for industry players and being an exemplary advocate for women.
You left law for entrepreneurship. What informed your decision?
Job satisfaction and fulfilment for me is tied to my ability to actually help the less privileged and the legal profession didn’t give me this at all. Manufacturing natural cosmetics, on the other hand, gives me the opportunity to literally help people, from increasing their confidence in themselves to empowering them with skills and knowledge and so on.
Take us briefly through your entrepreneurship journey, how has it been so far?
I managed to save up a miserly N15, 000 and started selling skincare products for other indigenous brands, adding one brand after another. This was in 2015 and by 2017, I switched to selling imported hair care products, co-owned a hair salon and in 2018, I started manufacturing my own products after some informal and formal training locally and internationally.
You say you manufacture products for other companies and brands. How does the process work?
It works in three ways basically. First, the client company either asks that we create formulae with specific, customised functions, or they provide their formula. Secondly, they can ask us to manufacture and supply to them either in bulk (pails and kegs) or in their retail packaging which go on to carry the client’s brand labeling or clients can buy our already existing retail products in bulk and rebrand by using their brand labels and desired packaging.
Funding is a major issue, especially for women-owned businesses. How were you able to fund your business at outset?
I funded it with proceeds from the distributorship for the other brands I sold for and proceeds from selling imported hair care products. I also put in all my personal funds and cried afterwards from being very broke but I survived.
It’s no secret that many businesses were affected by the pandemic. How are you surviving whilst looking to thrive?
On the contrary, the pandemic was great for us. It was tough at some point but looking back, sustainable locally sourced manufacturing of natural, basic personal care products did well during the pandemic. The part that did well the most was impacting others lives through the many skill acquisition schemes we were privileged to be part of, especially teaching how to make cleaning products and variants of sanitizers. It was absolutely amazing, to say the least.
The global beauty industry is a multibillion-dollar one, which experts say Nigeria is yet to fully tap into. How can we achieve this?
We can do this by focusing on empowering interested indigenous youths with the skill, knowledge, proper business acumen and the funds to start, run and scale-up safe cosmetics manufacturing businesses. Importing is fine but given the constant inflation hitting our economy, sourcing ingredients, human resources and funds, local production is more sustainable in the long term.
How can we create better opportunities for industry players like you in the global beauty and wellness market?
By creating free, fair and unbiased platforms that will provide us with a wide range of skills, knowledge, technology and machinery to further empower and showcase us to the rest of the world. Also, by making the laws more flexible and giving their enforcers less room for subjective execution of their roles. For instance, exporting is presently more expensive and tedious than importing, which shouldn’t be so.
Being an entrepreneur can be challenging. What are some issues you’ve had to deal with over the years?
Staffing, infrastructure and technology are the major issues now. It’s difficult for me to get very good hands to make an operating system for me that covers every department in my company. I believe in working smart but having 15 different applications/software with 15 different login details for every single staff is very exhausting.
As an advocate for women’s rights, how are you exemplifying this and raising the next generation of women?
In as much as my company is all-inclusive, I give preference to females. I hire women with a hunger for growth by picking those with side hustles. I am also very intentional with my relationship with each member of my team and do what I can to help them grow by spending time, helping them with their personal development and side hustles and enrolling them in internal and external training for these causes. I give two days of paid leave, monthly, to every female member of my team when they are on their periods. We call it the Floral Leave.
I also offer paid internships to ladies between ages 21-35 years, looking to delve into business and other departments/careers that are growing in the industry. The stipend is small though, as we are still growing.
For breast cancer, one per cent of our revenue goes towards breast cancer awareness and education in Nigeria. Also before and during the world breast cancer day, we make tiny cute pink soap bars and use them to raise funds and at the end of the period, we give the money to non-governmental organisations or bodies to help fund their project in October (which is breast cancer month) or for them to pay for treatment or test on behalf of their patients. We also offer these soap bars to breast cancer awareness groups or NGOs to give out to volunteers of the October project to thank them and then use them to raise awareness on the advantage of using natural products on the skin.
How can we get more women to become successful and rise to the top as you have done? What tips do you have for younger women?
Build and preserve your integrity inside out. From my experience, it’s the only currency that gets you to the top and keeps you there.
Regulation is a major problem in this industry, as policies are perceived as weak and unenforced. What can government do to nip quackery in the bud?
The policies are not weak, the enforcers and enforcement are where the problems lie. To nip quackery in the bud, the agencies can have industry experts/good eggs, enlighten, monitor and check others in the business.
Many Nigerians don’t have much trust in locally sourced and made products. Why is this still an issue?
Too many quacks have become major players and are thriving as a result of the ignorance and gullible nature of the populace. The more informed the populace is, the fewer quacks we’ll have.
You said you were homeless and survived abuse when you were younger. How did this experience shape your life choices and propel you to success?
It showed me who I didn’t want to be, made me empathetic towards others and made me see that people need people to survive. It made me more resilient, empathetic, giving, creative and passionate about empowering others, especially women, so they won’t experience what I went through.
Being an entrepreneur can be very challenging in this clime, how have you been able to grow your business?
The most pressing challenge I have faced is staffing. Generally, staffing is a big challenge most entrepreneurs face and in looking for jobs, it is either people find the work but are not willing to work or people go to the wrong places to find work and end up not finding one. I have struggled over the years with staffing because most of the graduates I have employed and paid very well for an SME, end up not being productive or end up not having the basic skill needed to function to add value and they have no form of teachable spirit nor were they willing to learn. So, I had to start from scratch. I started with finding ways to make them understand that it was a personality issue that needed to be changed. I also had to do in-depth training and personal development to help them get the right skill to function well and add value to any organisation.
Tell us key things you do that women entrepreneurs can learn from to scale their businesses?
I know that God owns the business and I’m only the manager, so I should be open to being the perfect tool to run it according to his will. I am also team-oriented and focused and this is something that would always take you far.
You wear so many hats. How do you combine everything and make them work?
(Laughing) Things are still not working, to be honest, as things change and evolve too often for me. But planning and scheduling every single thing helps me a great deal though.
How do you get inspiration and stay motivated when things aren’t going the way you want?
I remember that I’m doing this for the people that the universe wants to use me to touch/reach out to. That’s my why, reason and purpose.
How do you relax and recharge from life’s stress?
I take time alone away from my team and family. I also love sleeping a lot, my bed is king.