Necessity has been credited for millions of inventions. It is also the proverbial truth that Tom Kiragu, 40, ascertained when he started his company, Cleo Nature, four years ago.
The company manufactures organic soaps using goat milk and other beauty, hair and skin care product from essential oils such as castor oil, rosemary and tea tree.
When at the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom, the graduate in Business Management, embarked on research to get a permanent cure for his son who had struggled with eczema since birth.
Despite hopping from one hospital to another, numerous prescriptions and ointments, the family’s efforts to heal their child’s skin condition proved futile. Then one day Kiragu stumbled upon the myriad benefits of goat milk as a natural emollient.
The idea of starting Cleo Nature was born at the balcony of the family house in 2017, and since then, the company has grown in leaps and bounds.
When Nation paid him a courtesy call in his office at Kenya Industrial Estate, Embu County, he was engrossed in packaging products ready for delivery to customers who had placed orders.
He pleasantly informs us that the name Cleo and the idea to use goat milk to manufacture skin products has its origin from the legend about Queen Cleopatra, famed for being the most beautiful woman to have walked the deserts in Egypt.
“In our research, we came across the legend story behind this natural goat milk soap. It is the legend of Cleopatra the last queen of Egypt, renowned for being the most beautiful woman.”
“We researched on the condition and possible solutions and natural unscented emollients stood out for their efficacy in moisturising the skin and sealing the skin oily protective barrier which in turn soothes dry irritated skin,” he says.
Their efforts were incredibly rewarded when their child was cured from eczema. This prompted them to share the magical invention with other people facing similar condition.
“My friend and I decided to try making our own natural emollient soap since we couldn’t find a natural or castile soap in this market. It took some time to put all the necessary equipment. That settled, we started by making coconut soap on our balcony at home for our own use. The soap was used to bath the child and to our surprise it worked.”
“We gave some samples to people we knew had family members with the same condition and the feedback was mostly positive and encouraging. Word spread and over time requests started trickling in from friends and family. One evening as we were producing the soaps it occurred to us that our soap making could be made a business and that is how Cleo nature was born in 2017,” he narrates.
Keen on manufacturing safe and high quality products, he embarked on intense research, attended workshops and engaged Biochemistry and Dermatology experts who highlighted the numerous benefits of goat milk.
Goat milk is rich in Hydroxyl Acids (AHAS), Caprylic acid and Selenium. The acidic components help to slough off dead skin cells hence allowing for a more youthful complexion while selenium is a mineral that promotes healthy skin membrane, according to experts.
“This soap is handmade in a cold process. No heat is applied to the organic oils making it a gentle emollient for people with most sensitive and irritated skin.”
Other than products made from goat milk, Cleo Nature also manufactures hair care and beauty products made from essential organic oils such as tea tree, castor oil and rosemary.
“We grow and press our own castor oil. The castor beans are planted in the outskirts of Embu town. We infuse our Jamaican black castor oil with tea tree and rosemary essential oils which have been scientifically proven to benefit the skin and hair.”
Tom’s initial capital was Sh1milion which he borrowed from a bank but nothing had prepared him for the bumpy ride ahead.
“We faced challenges in finding space to put up our start-up. Most landlords ask for 6 months deposit, six months’ rent and goodwill. We got lucky to have found an incubation space at the Embu Kenya Industrial Estate Offices where we remain to date.”
“Another challenge was the government requirements to start a business, from permits tax registrations where some cost up to 300,000 to register which is so expensive for a start-up,” he recounts.
Cleo Nature targets customers are people who wish to maintain a healthy lifestyle by using products that are free of harmful chemicals and synthetic additives.
“We market our products through social media and word of mouth, customer’s feedback helps to give confidence to other potential customers to make a purchase.”
“We started this business as a team of two but we have currently grown to a team of 15 people and we expect to reach 20 by the end of this year,” he reveals.
That said, making their products available in every part of the country and the need to scale up production, which requires more capital injection is still a thorn in the flesh.
This is because banks and financial institutions have been hesitant to fund SMEs in the wake of Covid-19 scourge.
However, that has not deterred the unrelenting, budding investor who is intent on soaring to greater heights.
“Our future plans involve becoming Africa’s Number One Natural soap and hair care company by penetrating the African market apart from Kenyan market.”