Mrs Temitope Mayegun is a name synonymous with organically based skin care and hair products. In September 2016, God gave her the vision to begin what is now a household name in natural skin care and general beauty products. Three years on, Avila Naturalle has become the largest manufacturer of organic skin care and beauty products in Africa, commanding an elite place in the comity of cosmetic makers. With more than a thousand distributors of its products, spread across Africa, Europe, Asia and the US, Avila is not resting on its oars as it plans on diversifying into food supplements next year.
In this interview with Africhroyale, Mayegun speaks about the upcoming Avila awards, the products and its processes, challenges and other aspects of Avila Naturalle products.
The 2019 Avila Awards comes up November 9. Can you shed more light on the awards?
The Avila awards is all about appreciating our distributors; Our major and mini distributors who have worked hard throughout the year. We feel the way to appreciate their hard work is to reward them by giving them the awards and also other gifts. That is what Avila does every year and we’re committed to sustaining it.
What edition of the awards is the instant one?
This is the second edition of the awards. Last year was when the awards debuted.
There will be a training session preceding the awards. What does the training seek to achieve?
We have up to 1000 distributors both major and mini. Our mini distributors buy directly from our major distributors and deal directly with the end users. So it is important that they have product knowledge of what they are selling; about what Avila Naturalle is, what each product works for, to understand what Avila stands for; our vision, ethics etc, and importantly also to improve their entrepreneurial scheme.
Recently you embarked on a CSR activity. Can you shed more light on that?
The CSR is basically going to schools and telling them about the importance of maintaining their natural skin texture and impress upon them that they don’t need to alter their skin color to look beautiful, you know, and also let them know about the dangers in tampering into chemicalised products that damage the skin.
We were able to reach to 10000 students and gave them free coconut oil. The reason behind the CSR is because we discover that a lot of people have bleached their skins and have issues. It is a well known fact that the market is saturated with chemicalised products, so we need to sensitize young people about this. They need to be told to appreciate their skins, as beauty has no colour.
We also went to the hospitals; many mothers would rather have these organic skin care products like ours for their children, but many do not have access to them and some can not afford them. So we gave free coconut oil to mothers, to babies, students and teachers . Its just our way of giving back to the society.
So is it correct to say that apart from beautifying, Avila natural skin care also restores?
Spot on. So many people who are tired of using chemicalised products due to bleaching, sunburn, stretchmarks, discoloration, pigmentation etc., and want to use Avila Naturalle. This set of people will have their skins go through a transition; a period that is not usually long. This is necessary for people whose skins have been depreciated by chemical products. The transition period allows the skin to return to its natural state. What bleaching does is to expose the skin to the sun and all kinds of skin infections. Our products will first of all restore such skins back to their original natural state before beginning the beautification process to make the skin glow. On the othet hand, those who have not used these chemical products for long, with no marked visible effects, have no need of transition. Their skins will naturally begin glowing as they use our products.
How affordable are Avila products?
We have products that are very affordable, compared to other organic products and also very effective. We do large scale production. We also deal with local farmers. So the synergies we have in place make our prices competitive. We have products that sell for N250, N500, and so on. Our products capture the income brackets without compromising on our standards and quality.
How many distributors are you looking to reward this year?
We are looking forward to host 300 distributors. That is up by 200 from last year. Our distributors in Ghana and other African countries will be here. Others from the UK and other parts of Europe will also be here. Our US distributor called that she would not be able to make it due to issues demanding her attention at the time. From all over the country, Africa and other parts of the world, our distributors will be coming for the awards.
Any new products in the offing or any other development?
Right now we have up to 200 products in the market; different products for different people. We have our salon range which is new in the market, baby set, men range etc. We just launched 7 new products, hibiscus toner, lemon body straw, lemon face cream, lemon toner etc. We have products for everybody, when you talk about hair care, baby care, women body care and so on, Avila’s got it all.
We also hope to begin the production of food supplements by the first quarter of next year, so its not just about cosmetics but also healthy bodies.
How much more do you think you can stretch your sensitizing initiative or your CSR, given the gravity of the damaged skin syndrome?
We have a sales team right now and what they do is to go into markets to talk to people and tell them about these products; we have also done a lot of PR activities this year going to TV stations, radio stations, and telling them about organic products. Those who use our products usually do referrals as well. However, I am also thinking about other means of continuing this and publications about it from you guys will also help.
What are some of the challenges you have as a manufacturer of organic skin care products?
When we started, people were just being introduced to organic products and as I told you, the market is saturated with chemical products and people just don’t see why they should maintain their skin complexion. So acceptance was a challenge; getting people to understand that organic products do not work the way chemicals work, getting them to know that organic products are best for their skins and general welfare. There were other challenges, like having the right staff. There was no company as big as us now, when we began, to have perhaps got mentoring from. In terms of the vision that we have, I looked around but there was no company that had gone ahead, from whom we could learn. The few then were not running theirs the way we intended to, since ours is a big vision. We had to depend on God, do a lot of research, share the vision to staff so we all can work with the same passion and frequency, and get people to see the vision the way God gave me.
Another challenge is in the area of raw materials. I have always said this and will continue to. Our soil does not support the plants we use, many of which are imported, so right now I am looking to begin the production of indigenous plants, which hopefully should set off next year, that is our ‘vision 2020’. We have six acres of land where we work with local farmers but even so, we still need access to raw materials as almost all the plants for essential oils are imported. Another challenge yet is that of space and a good challenge you’d agree. Right now we are working on a new and bigger factory. Access to funds is another one. However, the biggest challenge is getting people to accept organic products. The long time effect of bleaching is cancer, and the increase in cases of breast cancer results from skin bleaching.
Do these chemicalised products bear NAFDAC numbers? If they do, isn’t it a problem for the industry?
What NAFDAC can regulate is what you give them. They are trying in terms of ensuring compliance with good manufacturing practices. Some of these chemical products even hide under organic facade. Some of them also are not registered under NAFDAC. Many of the ingredients they use have been banned in many other countries. So the cosmetic industry really needs good regulation.
What is the unique angle about Avila?
We are truly natural. We follow good manufacturing practices. We use standard opoerating procedure in all our formulation and we do not compromise. We are not just all about making profit but also concerned about customers’ skins. Avila is a well structured company with different departments; a standard factory, raw materials department, packaging department, media, administration departments and so on. We ensure that every product is safe to use. We try to give the best always because all our raw materials are 100 percent organic. Many today call chemical products organic, but organic starts from farming. We do not add fragrance to our oils. There are a lot of adulterated cosmetics. Avila harvests its products and processes them into what they are. We do not add chemicals to our products. A lot of people who have used our products see the positive effects and speak for us. Many companies are trying to compete with us but we are not moved because we are original and we care. We have 1000 distributors as we speak, We have about 70 staff, while 26 of our products have gone through NAFDAC analysis. So we are not a one-room company, augmenting its credibility with the internet, but a unique company, unique in every sense.
Avila is also providing opportunities for business and entrepreneurship, with your farms, distributorship etc., Was this in the original plan or fell in line with the progress of things?
Avila is a vision that God brought to us in Nigeria. I was in a secular employment when God told me to go and start working on herbs and plants for skincare and general well being of the skin and hair.
God is part of Avila. He gave the vision. I have not sold anything prior to starting Avila. I have no skill in selling as all my life I have always been an office person. So I want to believe it is the hand of God on the business that is making it prosper. We try to ensure we keep our commitments to our distributors no matter how inconvenient, with commissions and other rewards.
You apparently have an effusive working relationship with your staff. Can you explain this?
Its an observation many have made. I believe there should be a good working relationship between the MD and the staff to allow for a free work flow. I don’t believe that workers need to quiver before their MD’s. When a conducive atmosphere has been created, the work flows well. You can easily get ideas from them because they can easily relate with you. There are errors you might be at the verge of making which, owing to the good working ambience, they could help avert, otherwise they’d probably just watch you get into the ditch. However, I am a stickler for correctness. I do not joke with due diligence. Whatever the company achieves is a collective achievement. It also helps them add value, because once they notice that their input is recognized and appreciated they would do more.
Any plans to get Avila listed on the stock exchange?
That is in our plans and we’re looking forward to hit that milestone very soon.
Have you had any case of production mishap?
We have had one or two cases of production errors but were quick to remedy them. For instance, there are some products which when exposed to the sun for a long time lose their stability. In such cases, what we do is to recall such products from the market.
How can the government assist in making the industry better?
The government of Nigeria needs to support the Natural skincare products sector, seeing that people are now going natural. We have taken our products everywhere around the globe and also meaningfully contribute to the GDP of the country. We’re a pride to the nation. So it will go a long way if the government can provide fertile lands for us, on which organic plants can be grown. With that we would cover more grounds, get bigger and provide more employment and business opportumnities.
We have products that you cannot see anywhere else in the world. For instance, our organic leather cleaner, you cannot find it anywhere else. I did a research on it and it is a hundred percent organic.We also have Bitter Guard Oil which is good for pile. Excepting one Egyptian company, that also cannot be found anywhere else. Apart from these, we also have our bar soap for laundry which is purely organic and not the type of chemicalised ones you see in the market. This also maintain the colour of clothes, as it contains no harmful chemical.
So, yes, government support is needed. NAFDAC has been supportive. They gave a lot of advisory services when they were here; telling us what to do to maintain good manufacturing practices, ensuring that our products are free from micro-organisms. I believe they are trying, but can do more.
Any advise to potential customers out there?
For potential customers, they need to know that the organic beauty products are way different from the chemicalised products. Organic skin care products do not work as fast as chemicalised products do, but in the long run, organic based products will promote their general well-being as their skin and hair will not age on time. Most of our products promote collagen. We don’t just dabble into products. We have right now products that are still going through research and development. As it were, some customers are asking for snail serum and it is not as if we cannot have that in the next 24 hours, but as a matter of policy, we subject products to research in order to ensure that they do not have long term negative effects on the skin. They should know Avila is here to give them the best. We are the best organic skin care brand. Avila cares.