Sheth Naturals is a classic story of how frustrations that come with uncomfortable changes can breed innovation and thrust one into the challenging path of entrepreneurship.
It is also a tale of how passion can drive a business.
In 2014, Dr Gasheri Thuku, a dentist, decided it was time to do away with the ‘Western World’ style of beauty and instead embrace the ‘African beauty’.
On this day, she walked into a barber shop with simple instructions to the attendant. Cut down her beautifully relaxed hair, that had fallen flawlessly on her shoulders.
“I had decided to go natural,” she says.
To the dentist, this was the culmination of deep research and self-realisation that she needed to embrace the sort of beauty supportive of her biological nature. Such beauty would be effortless to maintain, and at no health cost.
“For the longest time, we, Africans have always relied on western standards of beauty which were usually not favourable because they were not based on our skin or hair,” Dr Gasheri explains.
She says even though Africans’ hair naturally grows upwards as opposed to white colour people’s which grows downwards, Africans insist on using products meant for white people hair such as relaxers. Continued use of these products, she observes, is the reason behind thin hair and obsolete edges.
After taking the bold step to embrace her being, Dr Gasheri faced the first practical challenge. There were no available local manufacturers of hair and skin care products, particularly those meant for the black skin and hair texture.
“I realised there weren’t products to apply on my hair and any time I needed them, I would either import from the US or the UK, which were very expensive,” she recalls.
Dr Gasheri’s frustration opened her eyes to a critical gap in the market, ultimately setting the stage for her establishment of one of the most recognised natural hair and skincare products in the country.
Overtime, Dr Gasheri, who was a dentist for five years , has become a household name in the hair and skincare sector. Besides selling products, Dr Gasheri offers consultation services for people with skincare and hair problems. Her company, Sheth Naturals, has been in operation since July 2015.
When it started, the company only dealt in hair products, which were mostly imported ones from countries that originally produced.
“When I could no longer sit on the idea, I approached a chama group we had and convinced members on the need to serve the natural hair community in the country. We started with trading in Coconut Oil, then introduced Shea Butter and later Avocado Oil,” she recalls.
Today, the company has a manufacturing plant in Nairobi’s industrial area, has recently set up another in Kilifi County. Its products have penetrated almost all corners of the country. Its products are also being consumed outside the country in Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania.
Sheth Naturals has also grown to manufacture and sell more than 30 products made of oils and extracts from plants to support natural beauty, with two product lines; Mizizi – products applied on skin and Sheba – hair only products.
“We basically run like a clinic since we have classified products based on the type of skin they serve. The composition of these products also takes into account what our hair is made of so that they achieve the desired effect,” Dr Gasheri.
She says she feels elated that the firm is achieving its mission, “to provide everything that a natural person may need in their journey of being natural.”
“When we got into the natural community we realised that it was not only about natural hair, it was a health journey,” she adds, saying they realised they were serving clients who were conscious about products they used and what their effects were.
The clientele also expanded from the initially targeted natural hair women to men who ended up loving the products and children, after many parents adopted usage of the products on children when they realised they always solved skin problems. The company has a total of 35 workers.
Dr Gasheri says the company is now focusing on streamlining its models in order to venture properly into the international markets, noting that the black hair and skin community is still untapped to the best levels.
She also argues that most of the health conditions being witnessed today could be avoided, simply by people being conscious of products they apply on their bodies and how they react.
“I have been engaged in many free cancer screening events and have realised that a lot of the cancers that we saw in women could be prevented before they happened, by using products that are healthy,” she says.
Meanwhile, Dr Gasheri – who is currently studying Msc in Health Economics and Policy – sits in her corner office along Likoni Road, Nairobi, admiring her natural hairstyle – a Mohawk with a front and back bun, as she ponders the next move the business she leads will be taking.
“When people ask me what I am doing in hair as opposed to being in dentistry which is also in health, for me that’s the meeting point for what I am doing currently and what I am trained to do,” she closes.