Oluwaseun Olarewaju, an accounting graduate from the University of Abuja, is the Founder/CEO of SoapboxNg, a private label company that manufactures organic skincare products for skincare brands. She talks to Joy Ehonwa about entrepreneurship in Nigeria, and the private label structure she chose for her company.
CN: When did you start SoapboxNG, and why did you choose that name?
I got the idea in January of 2016 but I didn’t launch until June of 2016. I wanted a name that showed that I was into soap making but I also wanted a fun name. Some names that I wanted, like ‘Soap Town’ and ‘Soap University’, had already been taken so I decided I would stick to SoapBox as the domain name was available to purchase. I stalled a bit and by the time I wanted to buy soapbox.com, it had been taken. So I added NG to signify that it’s a Nigerian company and also differentiate it from other SoapBox companies.
CN: What were you doing prior to this?
I had previously sold jewelry I imported from China as an NYSC member. After my youth service program, I tried launching a fashion label. I didn’t have the required funds to launch a creative first collection and so the label flopped and I didn’t sell one piece of clothing. Then I started a fashion blog where I promoted fashion lookbooks from Nigerian designers for free. I did that for almost one year and I didn’t earn money doing it despite the fact that I had like 10000 people who had viewed my page. I tried earning through Google Ads and they rejected my blog saying it didn’t qualify to earn from Ads so I just abandoned it and decided to go into organic soap making after I learnt it from reading books and articles.
CN: Give us a peek into your product range, what kinds of products do you create?
I started with only organic soaps but I added body soufflés, facial scrubs, and facial toners as time went on. We are billed to add scented candles and organic lipstick to the list of products we already make for small skincare brands and companies. We don’t actually sell retail under Soapbox NG. We are a private label company so you can call us contract manufacturers as we manufacture for companies who wish to carry our products in their own brand names.
CN: What other services do you offer apart from making soaps?
We also offer trainings for those who want to learn how to make yummy looking organic soaps and skincare products.
CN: What’s the most challenging part of doing business in Nigeria?
Funding and Forex. Most of the packaging materials we have are imported; the foreign exchange policies aren’t stable so you can’t plan your price list around that. Banks won’t loan you money unless you have collateral like a house or land. Microfinance institutions won’t lend you money unless you have a regular salaried job.
CN: What do you consider to be the best career decision you have ever made?
Choosing the private label structure for my company. A lot of people are surprised that there is a private label company in Nigeria that manufactures all that I do.
CN: What have been the high points of your journey since you started this business?
The support has been overwhelming. Being profiled by Reuters International recently has been the highest point of our journey so far. It shows that we are doing something phenomenal and people are paying attention to us. It’s a sort of endorsement that we are making an impact with our company.
CN: What advice would you give someone who wants to go into this line of business?
You have to have a passion for soap making. You have to be committed to your organic brand. I’ve had people come to me to make skin whitening soaps for them, and the offer was tempting but it defeats the purpose of having a company that promotes organic living. Having credibility is very important and making sure you have integrity. Say only what you are sure of. Test your product several times before selling it, and give out a percentage of your earnings to local organisations or charities, even your local church. Just make sure you are making impact apart from making sales.
CN: What’s your long-term vision for SoapboxNG?
The long-term vision is to have every Nigerian using handmade organic soaps and ultimately have our soaps and skincare products in every home in Nigeria. I believe it’s possible and we will keep working towards that.