Jennifer Jones is the Chief Executive Officer of Manebody Cosmetics Limited; an Abuja based leading skin and hair care cosmetic company. She is a lawyer and creative entrepreneur, who has unwavering passion for women empowerment and enjoys her solitude. In this interview with OLUWATOSIN OMONIYI, she speaks about women empowerment, her advocacy for cancer awareness, challenges in entrepreneurship, women in management, risk taking in business and how she overcame effects of being homeless and abuse in her teenage era, among other issues
You are known as an advocate of economic empowerment for women and you have deployed all your activities into this. How has this helped champion this cause in Nigeria?
First off, all members of my team are females. Also, I believe that charity begins at home in this case but shouldn’t end there; hence, I make sure that they are empowered. Most of them have other streams of income aside working for my company, Manebody; be it business or skill.
I show great interest in it and make sure they excel during the time they are with my team or when they have left my team. I also make sure that they are properly trained above and beyond what is required of them, so that they can be productive and effective in their personal lives.
Career wise, I make sure that I do what I can to elevate them. Beyond the team, we teach free skill acquisition programs and courses on natural cosmetics and we follow up on these participants even after the scheduled scheme is over.
This is to ensure that they use the skill acquired to better their personal life or business because a seed planted is more important than not attempting to plant at all. For breast cancer, one per cent of our revenue goes to breast cancer awareness and education in Nigeria.
Also before and during the world breast cancer day, we make tiny cute pink soap bars. We use these soaps to raise funds and at the end of the period, we give the money to nongovernmental organisations or bodies to help fund their project in October (which is the breast cancer month) or for them to pay for treatment or test on behalf of their patients.
We also offer these soap bars to breast cancer awareness groups or NGOs to give out to volunteers of the October project to thank them and then use it to raise awareness on the advantage of using natural product on the skin.
Being an entrepreneur is challenging in this clime. How have you been able to overcome challenges and grow your business?
The most pressing challenge I have faced is staffing. Generally, staffing is a big challenge most entrepreneurs face and in looking for jobs, it is either people find the work but are not willing to work or people go to the wrong places to find work and then don’t find. Staffing has been an issue to me. I have struggled over the years with staffing because most of the graduates I have employed and paid very well for an SME, they end up not being productive or end up not having the basic skill needed to function to add value and they don’t have any form of teachable spirit nor willing to learn.
So, I start from the scratch. I start with finding ways to make them understand this is a personality issue and hence, needs to be changed. I also do in-depth training and personal development to help them get the right skill to function well and add value in any organisation.
How did you get into the beauty and skin care manufacturing industry?
After I had my first child, I struggled with some skin issues which occurred mostly on my forearms where he usually stayed when I carried him. I tried everything to clear the rashes with endless visits to the dermatologist and spending so much on skin care products, but instead of clearing, the rashes rather got worse.
While I was in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where I had my first degree, there was a lady who used to sell locally made black soap. I got some from her and within a short while, the rashes cleared.
I was marvelled at how I had a remedy right before me and have been spending a lot on pharmaceutical skin products. I decided to do a ‘tryout’ and create the soap myself basically for my son and husband.
In 2015, I started giving out my product to family and friends, who came back with wonderful reviews. Instead of diving into the industry since I was already good at it, I decided to study the market by selling for indigenous skin care brands.
And in 2018, I concluded that I had the skill and tools needed to start up my own hair and skin care brand.
So, I officially started Manebody cosmetics. So basically, it was the fact that the result I wanted for my rashes, I didn’t want it to affect my skin texture or my complexion. All I
needed was for the rash to clear and all the pharmaceutical product prescribed were obviously toxic and steroid that once I stopped using the product, the rashes comes back and also, I had discoloration on my skin from using the products. I also noticed that a lot of people became very conscious of their health and what they apply on their skin. So, I decided to help people like me whose kids had skin complications but didn’t want to change the texture or complexion of their skin.
What in your background prepared you for this?
Well, everything in my background led me here. If I tell you a little about my background, you will understand why I said that. I am Jennifer Jones (nee Ferguson), an indigene of Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. I have a BL in civil law, an LLB in civil law and I am an associate member of the chartered institute of arbitrators as well as a member of the association of mediators and negotiators in Nigeria.
Being homeless and abused in my teens rather than dent my outlook about life and people, made me embrace kindness; it made me more resilient, empathic, giving, creative and passionate about empowering others, especially women so they won’t experience what I went through.
I am generally passionate about ideas and seeing them come to fruition. I want to change the world, one person at a time by ensuring that the next person is comfortable; giving back to society; prioritising women’s needs; being honest always and respecting everyone’s opinion and views.
With the knowledge, skills and experience I have acquired, I passionately invest time in helping women know, do and be better. In 2017, I birthed Manebody Limited, the parent company of Manebody Cosmetics. We manufacture natural cosmetic products; hair care and skincare, for other companies and brands.
As an entrepreneur, I am not afraid to take risks, try new things and follow my passion wherever it may lead. When not making soap, I spend time with family and enjoy private swimming, alone time and indoor activities.
So what is your projection as a manufacturer?
In five years, I am hoping to be a major manufacturer for local and international hair and skin care brands. I am also hoping to have a team that is so empowered and confident in themselves and their abilities that the growth of other brands would be taken very seriously like the growth of our brand.
For breast cancer, we are hoping to be able to help more women and breast cancer awareness and education bodies to help them spread the word and make things easier for them with our little contributions while hoping to do more financially by God’s grace.
Do you have any advice for young women entrepreneurs?
As an entrepreneur or CEO, you need to understand that you are only the manager of the business or the company, the owner and founder is God and it will only go in the direction that he pleases and chooses. The only thing you are there for is implementation and execution. There is no way you are going to execute your plan over someone else’s property. So, the best thing is to know your place as his assistant, key into the plan that he has and execution will be easy. Also, scheduling will help you balance your school life, personal or work life.
What are your marketing niches? Do you produce and just take to the market?
We do contract custom manufacturing for natural hair and skincare products. That is, manufacturing skin or hair care products for other brands. We are also into private labeling and white labeling. Here, we create formulas for other brands.
Some of these brands buy the formula while some prefer we manufacture the products for them using the formulated formula. We have brands that give us their own formula to create a specific product for them. We do retail, bulk supply and retail packaging. We train youths and women through skill acquisition, either by partnership from the government, individuals or organisation.
With the beauty industry, especially cosmetics saturated in Nigeria, how do you manage to sustain your business and break even?
We make natural skin and hair care products that doesn’t whiten or lighten the skin but rather, it is mildly fixed for our customers’ healthy and glowing skin while increasing their confidence and beauty. Our soaps are made with plenty of love; they are creamy on the body and don’t just melt away. It is affordable and formulated for all skin type or texture. Quality is our key.