Beauty start-up also champions mental health
When Billie Rihal, 28, founded L’ÉLU, she was clear about what she wanted her business to champion - mental health, skin and hair care, all rooted in Ayurveda, an alternative healing system based on the idea that disease is caused by body imbalance or stress.
The brand merges traditional Ayurvedic herbs and techniques with modern-day medicine.
Billie’s interest in skin and hair care from a young age inspired her business, which she launched in 2021. She points out that different skin tones have specific needs, that weather affects our skin’s health and that mental health directly affects our skin’s health.
With the launch of her brand, she joined an emerging crop of African entrepreneurs breaking into the continent’s beauty and personal care industry.
“Directing my passion and purpose towards this business, my nuance of life shifted. Keeping those moments as my compass, I continuously learn from them and strive for more. Growth and change can indefinitely be created by mindset and drive to funnel the changes you would like to establish,” she says.
She started her business with a capital of Sh4 million, money that went towards market research, feasibility studies and development. The products have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and the Kenya Bureau of Standards. Their formulators harvest the herbs from their farms, whilst their packaging material is recyclable. Billie opted to locally outsource her branding in Kenya, explaining that the country is replete with talent.
“We work with sustainable farms to procure our herbs and botanicals, harvesting them at the peak of their potency,” she says.
“With distribution, as an e-commerce business, we use our website, which offers worldwide shipping,” says the businesswoman, explaining that the company also uses various marketing platforms including social media.
For those that would like to browse before buying, they have a walk-in shop at The Artisanal Gallery in Nairobi, as they plan to open other boutique stores.
L’ÉLU has four products so far, three skin and one hair treatment, all retailing between Sh3, 500 to Sh4, 500.
Although she single-headedly handles business development, creating formulations in terms of selection of ingredients up to the finalisation of the deciding product, packaging, marketing, and dispatch to her clients, she wants to create a brand that is beyond its tangible products, one that reflects transparency, inclusivity, efficacy and synergy.
“These principles have not only expanded in my formulations, but throughout every system in place within the business. With a desire to create an inclusive brand that allows everyone to embrace their body.”
Her dream is to see her brand stocked in outlets all over the world, and with this in mind, is keen to create high-quality products that adhere to global standards.
“Our clientele spreads across various ethnicities within and beyond Kenya, which has been humbling to witness.”
Billie admits that self-doubt is one of the key challenges that women entrepreneurs in Kenya grapple with, to deal with this, she allows her passion to guide her.
She encountered a number of challenges when starting her business.
“We formulate our products from scratch, and with that there are many stages we go through that take months to finalise. Some of these include ingredient synergy, establishing pH levels with selected ingredients, testing stages and procurement of ingredients at the peak of their potency,” she explains.
Completing these stages, some of which take place in different countries, has its own set of challenges, an important one being timelines, since formulating, receiving samples and testing them for consecutive cycles can be very time-intensive.
“As we started formulating at the height of Covid-19, we experienced a plethora of delays in production, procurement, supply chain and logistics. This impeded our timelines and in turn delayed our launch date.”
She notes that in today’s business world, it is very easy to get caught up in focusing on competition. While it’s imperative to know healthy competition exists in the market one is entering, it is equally as important to stay true to your “why”, she comments.
“I focus on why and for whom I built my brand. Sharing my story, vulnerabilities and growth has allowed room for others to relate to how L’ÉLU was brought about from inception. I believe one can penetrate the competitive world through authenticity,” she adds.
With mental well-being close to her heart, L’ELU supports a few mental health foundations and schools in Kenya. The business intends to start its own mental health foundation.
“We have a lot in the pipeline. Our Research and Development took close to one-and-a-half years due to the various testing stages we put our products through, the back-and-forth with samples and the approval stages. We aim to offer intentional unique formulations with each product that is multi-functional and offers purpose and quality at each stage.”