When opportunity to study abroad failed to materialise, Shirlene Nafula set up a business

Shirlene Nafula

Shirlene Nafula, founder of Crystal River Products

Photo credit: Pool

Shirlene Nafula is the founder of Crystal River Products, a manufacturing company that produces bio-based beauty and hygiene products.

Her business idea came about during an intensely low moment in her life in 2014 after she was denied a visa to travel to the UK, where she was to study a masters of Msc Biopharmaceuticals at King’s College London.

“I needed to have a certain amount of money to cater for the annual fees and some more to pay accommodation for 12 months, but was unable to raise this money,” says Nafula.

She was stranded, and did not know what to do next following the shattered dream. In preparation for her studies abroad, she had researched a lot on beauty and cleaning products, and eventually decided to start a business related to this.

After the ideation stage, she registered the business as a sole proprietorship in March 2015, though it would later become a limited liability company.

20 different products

“My initial capital was Sh10,000, given to me by my late grandmother, with which I used to register the name. My mother also chipped in by buying me some of the stock I needed to start off, as well as rent for the workshop,” she says.

Her company has since grown to produce a range of over 20 different products, which are on sale not only locally, but in some parts of East Africa as well.

These include Bio Pearl Hand wash and Hand Sanitizer, Bethels Hair shampoo, Shanea Body Lotion, shower gels, glycerine and Granmas Multi-Purpose Wash, a dish wash, laundry wash and surface wash.

“We are set to introduce more products such as bar soap, petroleum jelly and household bleach in the course of this year,” she says.

Some of the raw materials she uses in manufacturing are imported, others locally sourced.

“We get our plastics, labels, shrink wrap and boxes for packaging locally,” she adds.

The company’s workshop is locate along Likoni Road in Nairobi’s Industrial Area, while the office is located in Upper Hill, Nairobi. The company has a presence in other parts of the countries through partnerships.

Extensive research

Nafula says that to succeed in this kind of business, one needs to do extensive research, which should cover demand for the product, competition, expected profit margins, risk and opportunity to scale. Her clients include distributors and cleaning companies.

What excites her most about the business is the process of creating whole products from scratch as well as empowering women and youth from disadvantaged backgrounds by creating employment for them.

Like many businesses, her share of challenges include debt, slow uptake of products and unwillingness of supermarkets to give shelf space to new products.

Her dream is to become a global brand with a firm market presence across the globe.

“We are slowly partnering with distributors to make products available across different African countries. Once we are done with Africa, we will focus our attention on other continents.”

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