Valerie Obaze has always been passionate about natural skincare products, public relations, entrepreneurship and empowering women. She decided to make a transition from the P.R industry to entrepreneurship a few years ago, and she has been thriving ever since. When Valerie was creating a company, R & R Luxury, she ensured that she put women at the center of her brand and sourced all her ingredients from local female entrepreneurs. Her brand has been featured in many renowned publications such as Forbes and Elle magazine. Her natural skin care products are stocked in beauty stores all over the world. She shared her career journey with LFE:
What fueled your interest in beauty entrepreneurship after working in the public relations industry 15 years? How did you make a career transition? I always knew that I wanted to be my own boss and after working in consumer PR for many years, I took the first step to venture out on my own, along with my friend, setting up our own PR agency. That was my first real experience with entrepreneurship. However, I first cut my teeth as an entrepreneur with ‘En Afrique Boutique’, a lifestyle brand I started with my university roomie, sourcing and creating unique fashion and lifestyle pieces from the African continent and selling at our weekly stall at the fashionable Portobello Road market in London. They were both great learning experiences for me. PR is a service industry, so once I had started the agency, I was always ‘on the go’ on conference calls and in meetings around town which kept me busy.
Moving to Nigeria after my wedding and becoming a mother changed everything for me, as I was about to enter parenthood, I knew I wanted to have some free time to be home with my daughter and as all parents do, I wanted the best for my new born baby. I was determined to find a natural product gentle enough to use on her skin that was accessible, affordable and didn’t have to be imported. After being introduced to shea oil myself and witnessing the amazing results it was providing for my daughter’s skin, my husband’s skin and my own skin, the idea for R&R Luxury was born as I wanted to share the ‘Liquid Gold’ with everyone!
Being a self-employed entrepreneur gave me the freedom to run my business how I wanted to, work from home and raise my children.
How did you navigate your career change from Public Relations to Entrepreneurship?It came quite naturally for me as when I set my mind to something, I do everything I can to achieve it. My PR background was a great help when building R&R, my knowledge on brand identity and marketing meant that I was able to excel in that area of the business relatively quickly. I also had to do a lot of self-learning and online courses on topics that I had no experience in such as, product formulations, production and accounting.
I took everything one step at a time, as I had recently given birth to my daughter, Rebecca-Rose (where R&R takes its name from). At first, I was still freelancing in PR whilst working on my business plan and taking online courses.
R&R’s ingredients are sourced from local female entrepreneurs, why is supporting women led brands important to you?Supporting women is everything to me. I love working with, partnering with and collaborating with other female owned businesses. When we support each other we are stronger. Everyday I’m inspired by the strong rural women in Northern Ghana who process all of the raw ingredients that R&R uses in product formulations. These beautiful women work from sunrise to sunset processing the raw ingredients by hand and stop at nothing to ensure that they can provide their children with an education and a good start in life which is something I can relate to. When starting the business, I wanted to create something not just for myself, but for my children. I have three daughters now and it’s important for me to show them that being a woman doesn’t mean that you have limits. They need to understand that they can be whoever they aspire to be as long as they put in the work and that nothing worth having comes easy! I want them to know that a woman has every right to be independent, work for themselves (if they’d like to) and be responsible for the creation and maintenance of their own finances.
As a first time entrepreneur, how did you secure funding to kick off your business? Would you advise other entrepreneurs to bootstrap or seek out investors for their business?It all started with bootstrapping at the beginning (which was in 2010). I used my savings and PR income to get started, learned what I could about my industry and used my skills in marketing to spread the word. I took full advantage of FREE tools available to me, including social media (and particularly Instagram) which helped to grow R&R’s customer base. Only when the brand was ready, and at a place where the business had solid projected growth, did I start looking for financial support from the likes of investors and banks in order to scale.
I think bootstrapping when first starting out is always the best way to go, people will be able to see how much you believe in your idea through all the resources you are using to make it happen. Once you’re at a stage where you need to move to the next step and no longer have the financial means to make that happen, then it’s a great idea to go to investors or banks, as you will already have the experience with running and financing your business.
What is the most exciting project you have worked on in the history of you career?Definitely R&R Luxury! Taking an idea from conception and then watching it develop into a growing brand is like watching your child grow up right before your eyes. We’ve just moved into our first purpose-built factory space and have plans to open a second factory, in the rural North of Ghana, which will provide work for over 600 women potentially. This will be a truly proud moment when it comes to pass.
Running a business across Africa can be tough, what are some challenges you have faced and how do you overcome them?I prefer to see challenges as a positive thing. Running my business in Africa meant that I had new territory to conquer. When R&R started out, our industry (luxury, branded, skincare made from Africa’s natural ingredients) did not exist in Nigeria and natural products were not as popular or in demand as they are now. Many people, especially within our primary market at the time (Nigeria), knew that they could purchase Shea Butter (one of our main ingredients) at the local market and so they weren’t drawn to R&R and our ‘modern’ Shea Oil at first. Over time, we provided education on Shea Butter and our other natural ingredients which were pure, traceable and ethical, and people began to make the switch and have never looked back since. My advice to anyone starting a business in Africa is do your research, network as much as possible and find your niche!
What Career advice do you have for aspiring professionals in the beauty industry? Once again…Do your research! Research is the most important step in starting any business and most of the time, it is free to conduct research – Google is my best friend! Always stay up to date with the latest industry news and trends. The beauty industry is huge and there are changes every single day – be sure to read (online and in the press) and listen too, there are some amazing podcasts available from industry experts which provide a great insight into the world of beauty. You can also try to look for a mentor, someone established within the industry who can give you advice on how to climb the career ladder or start your own beauty business. Most importantly, believe in yourself!