By Agatha Emeadi
In the world of beauty, Beatrice Ene has carved a niche for herself and become dominant. After graduating as an engineer and working in Shell Chemicals in Houston, Texas, where she became a global supply design and advisor, she branched off to become a beauty entrepreneur. And in the process, she set up La’Roche-Posay (L’Oreal Nigeria). In a chat with The Sunday Sun, Ene parts the curtain to give us a glimpse of her foray into beauty enterprise
Why did you abandon engineering and high salary as a global supply chain design and advisor for Shell Chemicals in Houston to step into the world of beauty?
Beauty, all though not known to many, is actually identical to technology. Beauty is evolving and innovating on a monthly basis. The issue at stake now in Nigeria and Africa is that the global industry is moving a lot faster, so people cannot really identify with the technology that supports the innovation driving the beauty industry. So, for me having a background in logistics and supply chain management has been critical to my success as a beauty entrepreneur, because I look at it as being vertically integrated with the experiences from manufacturing to distribution, retail and even to the service arm of my several businesses. Today, I can fuse all together and identify what exactly the industry needs.
What exactly spurred your interest in becoming a beauty products entrepreneur?
You see, as children we do things that come into our heads without really knowing that it will actually be something pointing to what the future holds. As a young girl, I was that one child that would ensure that I look at my mummy’s face and go and touch it up without her asking me to do so. I was the one that would say, ‘Mummy your eyebrow is really old school; I want you to shape it better.’ So, reflecting back, I did those things without realizing that it will spur my interest into investigating more, even after I studied and worked as an engineer, highly paid as a global supply chain design advisor for Shell Chemicals in Houston. That unique passion kept urging me on and when I saw the gap in Nigeria, it was just an easy thing to say I want to do this.
Did you participate in beauty pageant competition as a student?
I never did that. Actually, I was more of a champion of Further Mathematics, Engineering and Technology guru. In fact, people really looked at me as a strategic and innovative person. As an engineer the things that happen behind the scenes in the beauty world, that is where I play a critical role. Right now, because of what is happening within the population and the demography, I am actually interested in the soft side of beauty which is the soft scale, the service side, the attitude that is required to deliver the excellence that beauty demands. So that people do not just see the beauty industry as just something you do or something that is for people who are not educated, but to take it to the next level towards developing industry standard that will spur Nigerians to really desire and inspire their children to create a professional career in the beauty industry. That is my goal. And to do this, we have taken several initiatives. During the West Africa exhibition, we had an arts competition which was the first of its kind in Africa, which we started few years ago. What we do is people to apply, free of charge. For this year, we recorded over 7000 applicants. About 20 were short-listed, to compete for the grand price of N1 million. Over the years, we have awarded this to winners and gotten the industry to help them set up their beauty business. It actually means that we practically move people from grass to grace, from being employees to becoming employers, trainee to trainer. We have also appointed winners of the award from previous competitions and have who have set up their own businesses to be judges at this year’s competition.
How long have you been doing this and what has changed in the industry over the years?
My experience in the beauty industry spans for about 12 years. A lot has changed in the past 10 years and many people can see the change in the make-up industry is more than the hair, the spa, the skin care and the distribution arm of the industry. Though we still have a long way to go in Nigeria’s beauty industry and the Africa’s fashion is not where it should be, but there are potentials because African love beauty. Nigerian women love to look beautiful, but the question is, is it standardized? Are we where we should be? There is a lot of work to be done. I will say that so many sectors of the industry, which is segmented, has a lot of work to do: the nail industry, the hair care, spa are so many that are still fragmented and obstructed. There is a gap in the retail beauty industry and not getting standardized products is the reason we are here to showcase our various products.
What makes your products stand out?
In the Nigeria industry, we have been able to create a niche that when they see any product that partners with Beatrice Ene, they such product is coming from the right source and the with right quality. We have been able to set out that a standard because we investigate the products, promote to ensure they are of good quality. We affiliate with the laboratories, and not just the manufacturers, but people behind the scenes. We look at the skin efficacy and the scientific research that back up this product to analyse them; it is evidence based, and not just for the Caucasian skin, but for the Africa skin, tried and tested on African soil by Africans.
How do you ensure African and Caucasian pigmentations are not married?
There are two different pigmentations, and the difference has to do with the formation of the melanin, but typically the difference is just the level of melamine in African and Caucasian skins.
What measures have put in place to prevent faking and adulteration of the products?
Where we are right now is that the beauty industry has been researched and written about. The statistics for one year indicate that the size of the industry is more than a billion dollar, we see that doubling in the next two years. We talked about fake products and their entrance into the green market, that is what you see when an industry is unstructured. But you see, as an individual I am collaborating with different stakeholders we hope will be inspired with what I am doing as an individual to raise our voices to say we are Nigerians, we deserve and demand quality, and get people to realize that substandard products are really expensive and encourage them go for quality products that are good for their skin. The skin is the largest organ in the body. The skin goes to every part of the body. We will start with educating the professionals, going to community engagement and imparting to them all they need to learn.
How did your parents feel when you switched from engineering to fashion industry?
I can tell that the rejected stone has become the corner stone. I know what comments I receive on a daily basis. You blame them because that is their world view. You talk about things from the vision of what one sees. It means education has opened my eyes. Studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, going around and seeing advanced industry, being a key member of America’s Beauty Association and seeing what they do that inspired me, I got interested and feel that one can develop a career from it, develop an industry and really change the narrative from what it is in my country and what it is abroad and that is the journey that I am embarking on.
Do you have people you are mentoring?
Yes, I have people I mentor from my security men, drivers to a lot of young women network like WIMBIZ, women I throw myself open to inspire and very passionate about women empowerment, because if you empower one woman, you have empowered the whole world. WIMBIZ nominated me to mentor some people.
Were there challenges when you moved from engineering to the beauty world?
Beauty is my passion, and I pursued my passion, applying the skills, there were no challenges. I do not see challenges, instead I see opportunities. One can see challenges and dwell on them, but I like to distil the challenges and ignore them because they are distractions; if one focuses on opportunities, I can tell that it will surmount the challenges. It is just like Nigeria being unstructured, there is no light, diesel, pipe borne water, dollar is out of this world, in all that mess, I see opportunity because in the Unites States today, everything is so structured and looks easy. Here in Nigeria also, there are so many things to see, all must not do dollar, just the love, trust and vision can make us great.