This week, we catch up with Aviela founder Patricia Monney. Watch (or read!) the full interview to learn how this natural skincare business grew from Patricia's kitchen, the challenges they've faced developing a brand and building a business, and what you should do if you're just starting out.
Patricia Monney: Aviela started when my daughter was about two years old, and she couldn't walk, she hadn't taken her first steps and it was a problem for everyone, and we're all worried and concerned. I checked out with my GP in the UK, and she said it was fine, but when we went away on holiday in Ghana, I decided to check it out and find out what was going on.
The first doctor that I met up with said that she might need surgery, and she referred me to a bone specialist in main hospital. And when we went to see the bone specialist, he looked at her ankle and said "do you know shea butter?" and I said, yes, I come from the region where shea butter is. He said "Okay, take her home and massage her ankle for two weeks, and then come back, and then I will use the shea butter and I'll determine whether she needs surgery or not."
And so I went home and I did that. I was a bit sceptical about the whole thing but my mum encouraged me to do it, and when we did it, after the third day, she was up and walking and it just blew my mind that this ingredient that I've been using all my life as something that we had no respect for, could make that change in someone's life.
So I started to investigate more about it. I found out it had a lot of benefits for people for dry skin condition, especially with eczema and psoriasis and all of that. And having lived in the UK and having worked in the health sector, I knew that we had about 47% of the population suffering from those conditions, so I thought it was a good thing to bring to the fore.
PM: Yes, Aviela means something good or something beautiful or something nice. It's generally a connotation in my language, Ghanian language. For instance, if I'm dressed up, and I'm looking nice, my daddy say 'Oh, Aviela!' or something like that so it just means something beautiful, something nice or something good.
PM: So, Aviela is a natural skincare brand which uses shea butter as one of these few ingredients. It is made with 100% high grade unrefined shea butter. It is the textures that we have from other brands are quite different and the main aim of Aviela is to transform people's skin, especially people with dry skin conditions and in so doing also we help the women who actually craft the hero ingredient which is the shea butter, by transforming their lives, making money available to them to fund their children's school fees and feed their children and their families and help the whole community as a whole.
PM: There are quite a few brands but in terms of beauty brand and the beauty space, I think one of the brands that always stood out to me was High Skincare. I like their ethics in their approach and what it was actually doing, and I think that we are following a similar trend and we are not far from that trend of what High Skincare does.
PM: To be fair, I enjoy both. So, when it's time for home life, it's time for home life, when it's time for business, it's time for business so I'm able to balance that quite fairly. I think Ido well in that, my daughter is a teenager so the attention is not as much, and she's very independent herself as well, so she doesn't need a lot of attention from me. And so I'm able to balance that when I come home, I just have a normal conversation and catch up for the day, when I'm in the office it's business.
PM: When we launched in May, I was quite aware of the impacts of the digital space, so it was something that we wanted to go for right from the beginning. But along the way, we haven't had the right people to implement it, I think we finally found a company and we are going to go along with them and hopefully that should pick up ourselves a lot. It's very key for sales, that is your avenue when it comes to the digital space.
As I said, my background is digital. I'm a computer scientist, so I'm quite aware of the digital space and in today's world there isn't any business that you can run without some sort of digital, you need that to drive the business. It's very key in a number of senses. For us, even as a small business, anything that we do, we try to find out whether there is a sort of application out there which can help us to do it better and smarter and to get the right data formats.
PM: My key learnings will be the data we get from the data applications that we use, because it's very key, it helps us in decision making, it helps us in our strategies and how to improve things so it is very important to us, yes.
PM: I think when we launched, my brand consultant actually sat me down and said that 'okay, this is it, this time you just have to throw a lot of stones and see which one sticks." So that's all we are doing, just throwing all the stones out there and seeing which one is going to stick. I think it's very good advice that she gave me.
PM: Just do it. I know that when you come into running your own business, you want to try and make sales and all of that, but i think sometimes it's worth taking your time. In the end, you have to just push yourself and do it. Just go ahead and do it.
If you're looking to start your own company, maybe take a step back and understand why you're doing that, what are you going to do and all of that. Once you get that understanding of why you want to do what you want to do, I think you should just move forward with it. Don't be scared, don't be afraid because everyone who started business started the same. We were all afraid, if you want to do it you just have to move forward and do it.
PM: I think the proudest moment is when we launched and soon after that we won the global beauty makeup award. It was quite interesting because I never thought we would win any awards, we just launched a product. So it was quite shocking that we had won an award, and we started winning few awards after that and it's just been ongoing awards and I'm thinking 'okay, this is really something good that we've done there.' It's made me really proud of what we've done.
PM: Not per se, I wouldn't say that. I mean initially, when we started, we had a few problems and we quickly were able to change some of the decisions so I think that for now, we are on the right track and on the right path but we're still growing so we'll see.
PM: On a business level, as I said, we had problems recruiting the right people, especially when we set out with the packaging. It took us a whole year, we realised we had the wrong design house so it made the journey a bit longer for us, and something that we could probably have done in six months or a year, we probably took an extra two years to do so that was a huge problem for us and I think we've crossed that bridge now.
There was a lot of scrutiny, I had to make sure I understood why the packaging was done in that way and a lot of soul searching for myself as well to see whether this is what I wanted to portray, and were we getting the right things in terms of packaging. We wanted recyclable packaging, some companies though they didn't have everything recyclable, and so all of that came into play.
PM: I don't think there's anything standing between woman and business, I think if anything, it's our mindset. We as women changing our minds to understand that we can do whatever we have to do. So, I don't think there's anything specifically but it's just our mindset and the way we think about things.
PM: So, in terms of my personal life, my daughter is one of the people who inspire me. She's always very positive and she's always 'Mum, you can do this' and she's always pushing me on.
When you come into the business space, I think one of the key people who I always look up to is Jo Malone, who owns Jo Loves, and I find her to be a very interesting lady. Having heard her story, ad her background is quite interesting, I take a lot of inspiration from that.
PM: So, one of our strategies is to get into the retail space. It was one of the reasons why we did all that we've done so far. We are hoping that we'll see ourselves in all the major retail stores, and of course, we have other products as well that we are looking to develop. So hopefully, in five years, we'll have a lot more skews than we have the moment.
PM: Beautiful and unique and simple. Actually, it's like I'm describing myself.
PM: So in terms of our competition, there are two main things that stand out. First of all, we use unrefined 100% pure shea butter, and that's very key because most shea butters that you see are not unrefined shea butter, so that's one key thing we have to make sure it's a Grade A unrefined shea butter.
The second thing is our product itself, the textures of our product. Whilst it may be heavy and drag on the skin for most shea butter products, our products are quite light and airy and within texture so they absorb very quickly and easily into the skin. And those are the key differences from our products to our competitors.