How this Senegalese entrepreneur seized an opportunity in the makeup industry
Most consumers complain that they cannot find the right products for their needs. Victorine Sarr Awuah started her own business, Lyvv Cosmetics.
“I was working for the world’s first cosmetics company and even I couldn’t find the right products for my skin tone. There were a lot of people like me around the world who had the same problem. I was frustrated, ”says Sarr Awuah.
After three years at L’Oréal in Dakar, Senegal, and several product launches later, the graduate of the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (an international business school in Paris) had business acumen and access to data. necessary to seriously think about starting a business.
Without any outside investment, Sarr Awuah started her beauty business in Dakar in 2015. Fortunately, she saved money meticulously, a lesson learned from her father. She invested her savings from seven years of work – four years at Apple in Paris and three at L’Oréal in Senegal – in her business, giving her a two-year grace period so she wouldn’t have to worry about earning an income. regular.
A little help from friends
“I looked for suppliers and a factory to manufacture for us. I found the ingredients and my sister, a chemist, helped me create the formulations. Three friends supported me with their respective skills: one is in finance; the other is in communication; and the third is an accountant. It took us 11 months from market research to getting our products ready for launch.
“One of the best decisions I made was to hire a PR professional early on because we wanted the brand to be known for its quality. The PR’s job was to make our name known. We targeted professionals first, focusing on beauty institutes and beauty professionals. I knew that when they approved our products, consumers would see us as credible. This is how we started to get clients.
Lyvv Cosmetics products – lipstick, lip gloss and lip lacquer – are hypoallergenic, so less likely to cause allergies and free from parabens, a chemical preservative found in many brands of cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. The items are also cruelty-free.
The company’s mission is to make quality products available to women of color to experience their authentic beauty. Lyvv Cosmetics is sold through retailers in Senegal, Ghana, Canada, the United States and France, with 60% of its consumer base living in Africa and the remaining 40% being the African diaspora. It also ships worldwide through its own website.
Aspirations for a global brand
Having started the business in Senegal, Sarr Awuah was fortunate to have strong brand support locally. “People were so proud that a Senegalese was building a brand. They wanted to help spread awareness of the brand and make it their own, share on social media, talk about us, invite us to television.
“I am Senegalese and proud of my origin, but I want the brand to be global. I want it to be African. I want every woman of color to be proud of the brand and find us everywhere and use our product. This is the vision. Even in the black diaspora, living in France or Canada, it is the same feeling of being proud to consume good products from an African company.
Sarr Awuah moved the company headquarters to Accra in 2017 after marrying her Ghanaian husband. The Lyvv Cosmetics team now has 12 employees: five employees are in Dakar, five in Accra and two others move between Côte d’Ivoire and France.
The move to Accra was not easy. There are more makeup brands in Ghana than in Senegal, and no one knew Sarr Awuah in Ghana, which meant two difficult first years in his adopted country. “Last year I partnered up with a popular local makeup artist in Ghana who owns a studio and beauty shops and she is the brand ambassador there. It uses our products on its customers and sells them at its points of sale. This is the strategy in Ghana at the moment and it works better than at the beginning.
The company has been featured in popular magazines such as Charm and Young Africa. The publicity led to talks with a major French beauty retailer to carry the Lyvv brand. In Senegal, a large supermarket chain now offers Lyvv products.
While the ingredients and formulations of the products come from Senegal and Ghana, the manufacturing takes place in Canada. “Interestingly, most makeup brands are produced elsewhere, not in Africa. We wanted to produce the makeup product here, but it was not possible, ”explains Sarr Awauh.
The challenges Sarr Awuah faced have changed over the years. “At the beginning, it was more of a mental and societal challenge because no one believed in me. My family is very education oriented; my father is a telecom engineer and focuses on statistics. Everyone thought that I would continue to work in companies. Then I decided to quit my job at L’Oréal because I felt I needed a new challenge. People thought I was crazy. I went through a period in my life where I had to support myself and do a lot of personal work to overcome this doubt.
Sarr Awuah’s confidence is no longer a problem. The challenges these days arise from the issues of expanding and acquiring talent. “Two years ago our growth was faster than expected. With only five employees, too many roles were covered by too few people. At first you want to be everywhere. We were in Senegal, Ghana, Ivory Coast and France. It was difficult to manage. So I tried different recruiting agencies. Initially, we had a high turnover of staff. For 18 months, we have been working with an agency and now I have a good team around me. I can trust and delegate more.
Adapt to market conditions
Before the pandemic, Lyvv Cosmetics’ revenue model was around 80% B2B (selling to wholesalers) and 20% through online sales and live events, which took place four times a year. “Now, instead of events, we do everything online. We use influencers to direct people to our website and have many ecommerce website partners selling for us all over the world. This is how we have been making money since the start of the pandemic. Influencer marketing has been huge; a crucial strategic change that we had to make in order to survive.
Sarr Awuah’s target consumer is niche – “the working woman between the ages of 25 and 45, who travels the world and is used to shopping online” – and represents only a small percentage of the population in Senegal and in Ghana. “We have a long way to go to reach the full potential of e-commerce, which is linked to the capabilities of the banking industry, fintech solutions and the quality of internet connections. I don’t see it as a challenge but as an opportunity for growth, because if we are already making money in a niche consumer market, it means we will be making more money in the years to come as things go wrong. ‘improve.
Change is on the horizon for Lyvv Cosmetics. For starters, the company will launch a line of skincare products that are more in demand by Ghanaian consumers than makeup. Based on the market reaction in Ghana, the company will determine what needs to be changed to accommodate other markets. Additionally, Sarr Awuah is keen to leverage digital tools to improve the consumer experience. Specifically, she will use artificial intelligence so that customers can see if a shade of lipstick is right for them.
Firmly focused on the future and aspiring to innovation, Sarr Awauh is convinced that his business will continue to grow.
Contact details of the founder of Lyvv Cosmetics, Victorine Sarr Awuah
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