From United States to Kenya: premium beauty products whose idea was born in college

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Sundial Brands’ founder Richelieu Dennis

BY victor adar

If you are a business oriented individual you already know that the moment a start up expands to Nigeria, Mexico, South Africa and even to United Kingdom, things are already on a roll. Forget the politics and the politicians, Kenya joins a growing list of countries outside of the United States where much sought after brands are now officially being distributed. And just like the moon which goes through phases, Lintons Beauty World and Jesavi, which are both owned by Kenyan women who have a passion for the beauty industry, are currently the talk of town, becoming the sole authorized suppliers of America’s top beauty products, SheaMoisture.

Manufactured by U.S. based Sundial Brands, whose founder and CEO is Richelieu Dennis, SheaMoisture is the legacy of Sofi Tucker, who sold handcrafted shea butter, a homemade hair and skin preparations in Sierra Leone to support her family after becoming a widow with four children at the age of 19. With her entrepreneurial spirit and knowledge of the power of natural ingredients to provide effective solutions to skin and hair care issues, Ms Tucker became known as a healer throughout the countryside and passed down her recipes to her grandson. She was Dennis’ maternal grandmother.

In 1991, upon graduating from renowned business school, Babson College in the U.S. where he had received a scholarship and unable to return to his home country of Liberia because of civil war, Dennis partnered with his college roommate, Nyema Tubman, and his mother, Mary Dennis, to pursue a bold concept which is now taking the world by storm.

Today, continuing to draw from deep family traditions and four generations of recipes, Sundial Brands remains family-owned and operated, with SheaMoisture as its lead brand, including haircare, skincare, face, bath, body, baby, cosmetics, women’s shave and men’s. Dennis is the guy smiling to the bank thanks to a focus on specific skin and hair care issues that had been traditionally ignored by mass-market skin care companies. 

“It means so much to us –professionally and personally – to launch in Kenya because in addition to being the largest and one of the fastest growing economies in East Africa, Kenya represents another step forward in our efforts to ensure that more women on the continent are served with and have access to the highest-quality haircare and skincare products made with natural and organic ingredients,” says Dennis. 

A guy whose entrepreneurship dream is not to be deterred, Dennis believes that opportunities come in a number of ways. His brand operates with a business model called Community Commerce, which equips underserved people and communities with access to the opportunities and resources that enable them to create lasting value for themselves and others. “We started our company out of a need to survive, but we’ve built it based on a mission not only to help others survive, but to prosper,” says Dennis. 

In fact, the passionate entrepreneur views the whole thing as a mission with a business, rather than a business with a mission. Because of that, he says, their purpose (to empower people to live more beautiful lives) is at the centre of everything they do as company and compels the firm to keep community at heart. To make this happen, 10% of SheaMoisture Community Commerce collection sales, for example, are reinvested into efforts focused on empowering women through entrepreneurship, education and commerce.

“We look forward to the impact that we will be able to make via our Community Commerce efforts here in Kenya as we have in communities around the world. We are evidence that companies built with purpose at the centre can do well in business while also making a significant positive impact on the world around us,” he says. 

Answering the, “how can we be fairer than fair trade?” and “What is the next evolution and elevation of corporate social responsibility?” Mr Dennis challenges entrepreneurs like him to develop businesses now and for the future that provide the access and opportunity that allow people to create sustainable economic value.

It is such more creative business moves that not only put businesses on the global map but also push up economic growth. With Lintons’ experience as far as distributing of international brands is concerned (having been in the business for more than 15 years) and Jesavi’s understanding of the needs of the natural hair products market, a partnership like this one will increase revenues as well as sales volumes.

From the moment the beauty firm made the decision to invest in Kenya, necessary market intelligence, business matchmaking and due diligence was carried out. So far products currently available in the Kenyan market include African Black Soap Hair and Face, Coconut & Hibiscus, Jamaican Black Castor Oil, Manuka Honey & Mafura Oil, Raw Shea, Super Fruit Complex Multivitamin, Yucca & Plantain.

“We could not be more pleased to be working with Lintons and Jesavi to provide our Kenyan community and retailers with the comfort and security of knowing that when they buy from Lintons and Jesavi, they are receiving genuine SheaMoisture products,” Raja Kaul, who is the chief operating officer and head of emerging markets for Sundial Brands, said during the launch at a Nairobi hotel.