From the humblest of beginnings, Ifeoma Adibe-Chukwuka began her journey into social entrepreneurship at 19 when she founded her first non-profit organization (AYECI Africa) focused on providing educational intervention and access to work opportunities for young people and women in low-income communities.
Ifeoma is also the Founder and CEO of The Omaness Skinfood Company, an indigenous skinfood production company which began its operation in 2018. She broke the mould to become West Africa’s first homegrown skinfood products company “with an all-women direct distribution and merchant force”, as she likes to say.
Social Impact, Economic Empowerment and African Development- These three words best describe Ifeoma’s focus as an Entrepreneur. In 2019, Omaness launched the Business of Skinfood Program, a unique distribution model that allows Omaness to retail its products directly to consumers everyday through an all-women merchant force! The Business of Skinfood program is a deliberate approach to unlock a generation of new sustainable income source for women and exemplify the ideal of creating African-based solutions to African problems.
With over 40 products in the market, Ifeoma is breaking boundaries through Omaness Skinfood. She shares her inspiring journey exclusively with Esther Ijewere in this Interview.
One of my childhood dreams was to become a beauty queen. I recall being fascinated by the world of beauty pageantry. I was not only drawn by the glamour and I was deeply inspired by the way beauty queens used their voice and their platform to advocate, raise public awareness and support for worthy social causes. I remember I had a diary where I wrote down the names of several beauty queens and a portfolio of the social causes they were involved in.
As a teenager, this experience helped influence my ambition, and nurtured my interest to become a social change agent.
Today, I am a social entrepreneur who advocates strongly for women empowerment, education and local enterprise development. I may not be your regular beauty queen but I’m living out the childhood dream I once had to use my voice, skill and platform for social good!
Inspiration behind Omaness Skinfood
Before starting Omaness Skinfood, I had spent over a decade working and creating charity interventions for young people and women in low-income communities. During that period one of the things that became a pressing concern for me as I worked in those communities, was how I could help women who struggled with financial inadequacies and lack of opportunity to earn a decent income.
In 2016, while I was pregnant with my first child, I got a gift of shea butter from one of the women who was a beneficiary of my organization’s community learning program and I had my first real skin-enriching experience with that shea butter! The shea butter was so good and I wondered why this woman wasn’t making more money from her produce? It was this question that sparked the idea for Omaness Skinfood!
I thought to myself “How can I use my platform to get more people to know about this woman’s amazing local produce and get them to buy?” This was when I realized that if I can do this, I would have created a solution that can enable local artisan women earn more and have a sustainable income source.
This is what inspired me to start Omaness Skinfood, knowing I could create a social business that would enable me to enrich the lives of women in a sustainable and profitable manner!
The journey so far
Initially, when we launched Omaness Skinfood products the reception was slow because the majority of our target consumers were only used to foreign cosmetic products, while others were interested in skin whitening products. But over the last 4years since we launched Omaness Skinfood, we have stayed true to the mission behind the brand that is “to use naturally-active homegrown ingredients to create functional skinfood products best suited for the African skin” and I must say that our consistent brand positioning is gradually paying off as the consumer reception for our products has improved compared to when we first started!
What motivated me to start my entrepreneurship journey at age 19
I founded my first non-profit organization (AYECI Africa) at 19 while I was a student at Lagos State Polytechnic. My campus was located in a low-income community and I witnessed first-hand the lack of learning opportunities and exposure that affected many low-income students. This became my motivation for venturing into social entrepreneurship and founding AYECI Africa. With funding from corporate sponsorship and volunteer support the organization provides access to learning, employability skills and dignified livelihood opportunities for under-served young people and women.
How I Impacted the lives of over 30,000 youths and raised over N250m funding support
First, there’s a sense of fulfilment that comes with this kind of achievement, knowing that what I do is making a real difference in the lives of people who would not have otherwise benefitted without my intervention.
Secondly, I feel a sense of responsibility to do more! Knowing that there are millions of other young people and women in need of social intervention.
Challenges of running my business
First, one of the challenges we encounter at Omaness Skinfood is (impact) sourcing of our raw materials. Our business model at Omaness Skinfood is deliberate in its approach at ensuring women are key players and direct beneficiaries in supplying our raw materials. However, because the majority of these women are rural dwellers with limited access to mechanized processing equipment, we usually face the challenge of sourcing bulk materials within a shorter time frame. There is also the challenge we face with cumbersome government policies and rising cost of production that are unfavourable to growing businesses like mine.
Omaness products, our skinfood programme and accessibility of our products
Our skinfood products at Omaness are formulated to be functional to address common African skin concerns. We use naturally-active homegrown ingredients like shea butter, dogonyaro, tamarind, baobab etc. to create products that provide nourishment, healing and help our people put their best skin forward! Our skinfood products are sold directly to the final consumers through our authorized skinfood merchants. We created the business of skinfood distribution program onboard women to become independent retailers of our skinfood products, The program provides training, business support and empowers women to earn and build their own skinfood retail business.
How Omaness has impacted the women’s community
Since our official launch in 2018, Omaness has continued to enrich the lives of women. As a women-driven and impact-focused skinfood company, we have been deliberate in our approach at ensuring women are active players and profit fairly in every stage of our value chain. Omaness has continued to enrich the lives of women who are part of our supply chain in Badagry, Maiduguri, Nsukka, Tede,and Akure. We are also providing employment for the women who work in our production facility and creating an opportunity for hundreds of women to earn profitably by retailing our products as Skinfood Merchants.
What I enjoy most about my job
One of the things I enjoy most about my job as a social entrepreneur is the sense of purpose and fulfillment it gives me, seeing that my work is solving a social problem and making a real difference in the lives of people, communities and the African continent!
3 women who inspire me and why
First, would be Sara Blakely, an American female inventor, entrepreneur and founder of Spanx, a global leading shapewear and undergarment brand. I admire how she built her company from scratch into a global prominent brand now worth over $1billion. Next would be Tara Fela Durotoye, a Nigerian beauty entrepreneur and founder of House of Tara International. I admire how she pioneered the bridal makeup profession in Nigeria and a prestigious Nigerian-owned makeup line. Finally, would be Madam C.J Walker, I got to discover her story through a Netflix true life inspired series. It was so inspiring watching her story about how she created a homemade line of hair care products for Black women and her rise from poverty to becoming one of the wealthiest African American women of her time! One thing that stood out for me about her was how she built her haircare empire and financially empowered over 20,000 black women who sold her products.
Message for young women who are trying to go into skinfood business
There is room for more! We are yet to scratch the surface of Africa’s skinfood sector potential!
First, I am able to manage it all because I have an amazing support system. I am blessed to have a husband who understands, supports me fully and is constantly encouraging me to succeed! As a mom of 2 daughters one of the things that have kept me grounded is the aspiration to become the woman they can look up to and I hope my career and impact as an entrepreneur play a role to help them see that they were born to make a difference!
Being a Woman of Rubies
I am a woman who continues to use her work as an entrepreneur to serve and enrich the lives of others! This is what makes me a WOMAN OF RUBIES!