Deborah Iwakun Edileola is the CEO Debbiebarbie skincare line. In this interview with ROTIMI IGE, she talks about the industry and how she aims to change perceptions as regards skincare.
How did you get into the beauty business?
I started a few years back when I had issues with my skin. I had tried many things and they weren’t working, so I had to start reading and researching myself. I made some products for myself and it worked like magic. People would come up to compliment my skin and ask what I used. That was when I realised that I liked giving people skin advice. I have been in business for about four years now.
What would you say your success rate has been like?
It has been great. When I started, I was making products at home and selling online. Later, we were able to expand and get a better space. We have built a good customer base both in Nigeria and all around the world.
COVID-19 pandemic affected a lot of businesses. Did it affect your sales too, since people were not going out much?
The fun part is that during the lockdown, I made more sales than ever because I made people see reasons to care for their skin. People had less stress to contend with and I advised them to try out our products. It was the perfect time for the skincare business. Many wanted to look good when they resume work after the lockdown is over. So truly, for my own business, the lockdown was favourable. Now that the economy is opening up though, people are a little more prudent with their spending.
A lot of people are quite sceptical about products in Nigeria, how do you reassure people?
Our products are safe. We sent them to certified laboratories for analysis and all we are expecting now is the NAFDAC number and the process is already on, including NAFDAC inspections. The truth is that if our products are not safe, I won’t want to register it. I know it’s safe, hence my confidence. If a client is scared to buy online, they can simply walk into our store.
Some people don’t use the right products and they conclude that the products aren’t working when they are the ones that aren’t using the right thing for their skin type. The fact that a product worked on one person does not mean it will work on another person. I counsel and ask questions to understand each client’s skin type.
Have you ever gotten a skin type you could not handle or bad reactions?
No. The basic thing is knowing how to handle clients. There are situations where a client would try our product and they might break out initially. I let them understand that when you change your skincare product at times, your skin might purge. That doesn’t mean it is bad; it’s just that your skin is trying to cleanse itself and get used to the new product you are introducing to it. Skin purging doesn’t last for more than three to four weeks. So when you explain, they are patient.
Some people still believe they can employ makeup to cover flaws. What’s your take on that?
Makeup should not always be the solution because sometimes your skin just needs to breathe. If it doesn’t breathe, you will break out. In this part of the world, we don’t read the ingredients on our products. There are some products that when you use them on your skin, based on the kind of skin you have and the ingredients, you will break out. By reading labels, you become familiar with these things.
As a young woman in business, what are the lessons you have learnt so far?
Make your mistakes your own way. There’s nothing wrong with starting small with trial and error; just don’t give up. If it is your dream, stay focused. Beginnings are never rosy, but along the line, you see things and learn from your mistakes. Those experiences make you better.
Have you ever been at the receiving end of any stereotype?
Once you are in the skincare business, people believe you are bleaching. People attack me quite a bit on social media, and I used to feel bad. Now, I just reply and block them. You can’t make me feel less than I am anymore. This business has also made me realise that there are demand and supply; whether you supply it or not, someone else will do it, so why don’t you do it. Skincare is not bleaching. However, when you get to a certain point in your life when you start living well, there is no way you won’t glow. You’ll look more beautiful. Everyone wants to brighten up a bit and glow and we have products that are safe, approved all over the world, and natural that would give you that result. It’s just that in Nigeria, people are very judgemental, so you have to stand your ground and understand the place of your business and know that there is demand.
Some people don’t believe in putting their business on social media as a result of backlash and criticism. What’s your take on that?
Are you kidding me? Why would you not put your business on social media, especially Instagram? Trust me, billions of dollars flies on Instagram every day, you just have to know your way around it. I made my first million on Instagram. So, my advice is that people should put their business online, especially with the situation of the world now. Things are changing now and the world is going online. E-commerce is taking over traditional commerce; you just have to maintain a physical store for those who still need to walk in. No one would come from the UK to buy products in Nigeria, but social media changes that. All my international clients got to know me through my social media handles.
How profitable is the business?
I don’t have any other business, this is all I have for now and it pays the bills. We expanded and we now do facials and other skin treatments. We have a spa too. The fun thing about this business is that if you know how to go about it, there is a lot of money on it. Virtually every woman wants to look good. People want to bathe, I sell soap, cream… you can’t run out of business when it comes to beauty.
How affordable are your products though?
In business terms, you need to realise that your target clients must be able to afford you. My target clients are working-class ladies. Still, we are quite affordable.
Was this your dream career?
No. The plan was to be an air hostess. But life puts you in situations where your dreams change. I lost my father at some point. I’m grateful for my mum because after my father passed on, she worked hard to put us through university. I never wanted to work for someone else because I knew I could never get the kind of money I want. My mother didn’t like it when I ventured into this, but I explained to her and reminded her that she was able to care for us because she was also in business and not working for someone.