Pela Tonye is a fashion and beauty influencer, whose specialty is offering advice and guidance in matters relating to skincare. An indigene of Delta State, who grew up in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, he attended a Federal Government College and went on to study International Business at Bell University of Technology, Ota, before heading to The Philippines for a course in skincare. He is today the chief executive of PELS International Skincare and Beauty Limited, which also runs a spa, and has become a hub for celebrities. In this interview, he sheds light on his childhood, lifestyle and offers advice to women on skincare and beauty.
Tonye gave an extensive interview to CHRISTY ANYANWU
What are your memories of The Philippines?
I have a lot of memories because I learnt the educational parts of skin care in that beautiful country. But what I know now in terms of production did not exactly come from the skincare academy. I rather acquired the knowledge from production, which is the practical aspect. I am constantly experimenting and doing research. I try out a lot of products on my skin most times, sometimes I get good results and sometimes the effort turns out bad. That was how the production knowledge came. In the Philippines, I learnt about the layers of the skin, and was taught that you need to use sunscreen to protect the skin. I also learnt about high grade ingredients for skin care such as collagen, allantoine, liuzotanone and what each and every one of them does to the skin.
When did you develop this passion for skincare issues?
Basically, I have always been passionate about skincare and anything that has to do with beauty. Wherever I traveled during summer holidays while growing up, I always found myself looking at the shelves for beauty products and reading the information on the packaging. I bought a lot of those products for sampling purposes. In the university, my colleagues always referred to my locker as ‘chemistry laboratory’ because I had a lot of products there. When someone has any skin reactions like acne, eczema, I would give them something to use. The joy was that whenever I met them in class they would tell me that what I gave them worked. Now the demand increased. I was doing so freely, but somehow the demand for the products grew. At a point I gave them a list of what to buy so that I could make products for them. Some of them said they could not go out of the school to shop for the items.
So they offered to pay for them if I bought items. After seeing the result in their skin, other people sought my help and that how this thing started.
What did your parents say?
I always tell my friends that I have parents that are well exposed. My mum was crazy about beauty. My passion for skincare and beauty started from my grandmother. I used to watch my mum use lemon grass and rose water to make personalized beauty products. They didn’t discourage me; I even make products for my mum and aunties. During my university days, they used to call me after giving birth to recommend what they could use because they looked too dark after delivery. I remember that my dad used to tell me that the cosmetics industry is big. They gave me examples of European brands doing well in skincare and beauty. They always believed in me.
Have you faced any negative reception for being a man in what is thought to be women’s business?
Yes, but that only happened in Nigeria. But internationally, nobody cares because this business is not seen as a female gender enterprise. Overseas, you see men that are stylists, make-up artist just as you will see women that are drivers. In the wake of feminism, people overseas believed that what a man can do a woman can do also. So, I was discouraged by the negative perception about a man like me being engaged in skincare and beauty. Rather I was determined to succeed. Penetrating the Nigeria market was not easy because I found out that lots of Nigerians find it difficult to believe in indigenous brands. There’s this craze for international brands. Our popular celebrities or public figure sometimes come to buy our products secretly. When you tell them to talk about them, they shy away but you see them advertising (boasting about) international brands.
Some people have this belief that your products promote bleaching. What’s your take on that perception?
Now, I have tried to change that idea. When I started the business I think I was quite focused on skin lightening. But now the brand is wider. We have products for dark skin, anti-aging, and a lot of corrective products. In order to change that perception we have been publishing the pictures of some of our clients who granted us permission to use their pictures to pass our message. As I said earlier, we have products for dark skin, skin glow and delaying the appearance of wrinkles.
Who influenced you growing up, your dad or mum?
I would say my mum. She was a contractor and a shrewd business woman. I used to visit the offices of Shell, Chevron and NDDC with her. In fact I literally worked with her as a minor. She sent me to lots of places to meet governors and deliver documents as well as business proposals. At the age of 10, I was a director in her company. I started getting a feel of the business environment from an early age.
Whenever the drivers picked me up from primary school, they took me to Shell to meet my mum. She always involved me in whatever she was doing. You see, I am an only child. There was a lot of togetherness. We were always together. So my drive for business is a bit different.
Apart from skincare what would have been your Plan B?
Maybe I would have become an interior decorator. I’m also good in interior design, royal and antique interior Jewelry and fashion.
What is your personal style?
I love royalty. Look a certain way from the outfit and jewelry you wear, to the way you carry yourself with charisma. My style is royalty.
What lessons has life taught you?
I just see life the way it is. I wish people most times can be a bit more understanding, a bit more loving; I’m a straight forward person. I think if there’s a lot of love, straightforwardness and if people could be themselves, I think it could be better. I like sincerity, I like love.
You just talked about love, when is marriage likely to happen?
I don’t talk about my love life. I don’t know (laughs)
As an only child were you spoilt growing up?
No, I wasn’t spoilt. Everything was available for me but I was not spoilt. I remember a time when my mum told the driver, the house help, security and cook, to go on a break. Then, I would open the gate, drive out, go back and lock the gate. When we come back home I would go into the kitchen and cook as she sat down and gave me directions on what to do – when to put salt, pepper and maggi in the soup. After cooking, I would share the food, put in the freezer, switch on the generator; it was a lot of work. So, I know how to do all domestic chores. Sometimes, I would tell her to send the house help but she would refuse. She said that what she wanted to achieve was to make the house helps realise that what they were doing was not a big deal, that her son could equally do chores. I cook very well. Just name it – stew or soup, I can cook anything.
What advice do you have for young people who aspire to become entrepreneurs?
Be consistent, re-invent and be responsible. You have to constantly innovate and create something new. You have to be very advanced, you have to expose your brand and also be firm as a businessman. For instance, with our research team, we get to meet quite a lot of international producers, discuss with laboratories that produce high grade skin care ingredients, attend international workshop and feature in international beauty fairs. I will be at an event holding in Korea in October.
Last May I attended one in the Middle East. When you attend such events you meet with other people in the same field; there is what is called the business matchmaking programme. A lot of times products are done on my specification because I have understood the African skin. I know the basic skincare problems that a lot of us face which include our weather, which those people don’t know about.
Why did you delve into spa?
Spa is an essential treatment to getting a beautiful skin. I usually advice my clients to go to spas because for you to get a good result from my products you have to exfoliate, detoxify your skin and undergo scrubbing and steaming. People suggested that I should own my own instead of sending them to other facilities. The request kept coming from various clients until I caved in. That led to my launching a spa recently.
What’s your best beauty advice to women?
Women should never sleep with their make-up on. They should not always touch their face because the hands always have bacteria. Do not use hot water on your face because it causes premature aging and takes moisture off your skin.