Business cashes in on growing movement of natural and organic beauty products 

Mkamboi Mwakale

Mkamboi Mwakale, the founder of Saru Organics, an indie beauty brand whose products are made using biodegradable ingredients.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • In 2017, Mkamboi founded Saru Organics, an indie, ‘green’ beauty brand that uses 100 per cent natural, sustainable and biodegradable ingredients.
  • The business creates hair care products for kinky hair using ethically sourced organic ingredients that nourish and give the hair luster and moisture.

A chance discovery of the numerous health benefits of the renowned Moringa oleifera tree as Mkamboi Mwakale sought ways to boost her then four-year-old daughter’s immune system would lead to a business. As she researched more and more about the tree, the more her curiosity was piqued.

Keen to share her discovery with others, she decided to launch a business that capitalised on the high nutritive value of this plant. In 2017, Mkamboi founded Saru Organics, an indie, ‘green’ beauty brand that uses 100 per cent natural, sustainable and biodegradable ingredients.

‘’The name ‘Saru’ is a Taita girl’s name, which means the organic manure used by farmers to introduce nutrients necessary for plants to grow and thrive. Since beauty is a big deal to us women, the name was complete for my vision,” she says.

The business creates hair care products for kinky hair using ethically sourced organic ingredients that nourish and give the hair luster and moisture.

“I grew up at a time when silk pressed hair was preferred since it was neat and considered more beautiful and easier to manage than unprocessed African hair. However the current generation not only self-aware and has embraced the natural texture of their hair, but is also keen to learn what they consume and use on their body.”

This has required businesses to consider their products’ impact on the environment.

“Our kinky hair has in the past been defined as unmanageable, hard and unkempt, but its beauty lies in how the strands tightly hug and defy gravity. Only the right products made specifically for our type of hair would work on them.”

Mkamboi is determined to encourage women to love their curls more, embrace the shrinkage and rock that fro with pride. Today, the business is stable with growing customer base, and is also making a big economic difference in the lives of the farmers that plant the moringa tree.

“My light bulb moment came when I found out the tree was farmed in my backyard, Taita-Taveta County. The few farmers I interacted with had the ‘middle-man’ problem and felt exploited, reaping low economic benefits. My motivation was therefore to enable the farmers get better earnings as I explored the plant for beauty formulation since it has amazing properties.”

Mkamboi and her business co-founder, Emmanuel Asuma, met in 2016 while studying at USIU-Africa. At the time, Mkamboi had completed a development and market research on her first two products, the 3 in1 Revitalizing Clay Cleansing Shampoo and a leave in conditioner.

“I had Sh10, 000, savings, which I used in my research. When my mother saw how dedicated and determined I was, she boosted the venture with Sh50, 000, my initial capital for the business,” she explains.

Mkamboi studied Bsc Information Systems, MBA (Finance), Advanced Diploma in Natural Skin Care Formulation from Formula Botanica, a UK online accredited school, while her business partner, Emmanuel, is a Bsc Economics & Mathematics, MBA and CPA (k) holder.

The business sources 70 per cent of their raw materials locally since they mostly use ingredients that are locally available such as Moringa oil, Avocado Oil, Baobab oil, Macadamia oil, Mango butter, Peppermint and Shea butter from Uganda.

“Once we source the raw materials from our suppliers, we book them in our workshop and ensure their batch numbers and expiry dates are noted. When a production has been scheduled, we test for factors such as moisture, PH and colour to ensure the raw material is in good condition,” she explains.

After this stage, the production process, which takes about 10 days, begins. The packaged goods are labeled and stored according to their respective batches, ready for distribution to their partner retailers.

Mkamboi Mwakale

Mkamboi Mwakale, the founder of Saru Organics, an indie beauty brand whose products are made using biodegradable ingredients.

“We have our 3 in 1 Revitalizing Clay Cleansing Shampoo retailing at around Sh650 and our Damaged Hair Care bundle that works to restore and revive damaged hair to a healthy gorgeous look retailing at Sh5,000 as a package.”

Thanks to technology which has transformed the world into a village, the business has customers from all over the world, who they serve through their e-commerce platform in partnership with shipping and courier companies such as DHL.

“We also have partner retailers who own beauty shops and serve the kind of clientele we target. We are available countrywide via these retailers, such as the Goodlife Pharmacies, Super Cosmetics, Natural Hair Kenya and True Cosmetics.”

With six fulltime employees and two part time employees, Mkamboi says that the business has grown from initially producing two products, Shampoo and Leave in condition and a range of cold pressed oils to having 16 products that cater for the entire family, including men.

“We focus more on cross-selling, hence selling bundled packages more than individual products. This strategy saw us gradually develop products that would cater not only for hair care needs, but scalp health, receding/thinning hairline and styling needs.”

Mkamboi says they maximise their profits by being efficient in their operations, therefore reducing costs significantly while still being able to offer unrivalled quality.

“Once you have identified a system that works for your business and developed standard operating procedures, then you must be on a positive trajectory. We made losses in the first two years in business and only begun making profits on our third year.’’

Meeting the demand for their products is one of the biggest challenges Saru Organics currently faces.

“Running out of stock is one of the challenges we face. These challenge deepened during the Covid-19 pandemic when we could no longer get the ingredients that we source globally, and therefore experienced lots of uncertainties. Cash flow also contributed to these shortcomings.”

Say what she is doing to overcome this challenge.

Her business acumen has not gone unnoticed. Mkamboi was the 2021 Zuri Award Honoree under the manufacturing category, and the Most Resilient Founder in 2019, awarded during the FOYA Global awards.

Other than supporting sustainable value chain and working with local small scale farmers, the business has also played a part in easing the lives of girls in marginalised communities by offering free sanitary towels, through the Hami Imani Africa Foundation, therefore helping to keep them in school.

Mkamboi says that 10 percent of their online sales goes towards supporting the foundation initiatives.

She notes that the business’s desire is to become a household name in Kenya before venturing out as a pan African brand. This, she says, will be possible by seeking out more partnerships in modern trade with retail chains.

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