Chika Ikenga, the Group Managing Director of Recare, a company that manufactures beauty products, is driven by the vision to revolutionise the beauty industry with plant-based solutions specifically made for Africans.
In 2004, he acquired Hair Savvy Cosmetics, a South African cosmetics company, and changed it to Recare Cosmetics South Africa.
In this interview, he speaks about his exploits in cosmetics and his passion to make a mark in the dynamic Nigerian beauty industry.
What inspired your choice of cosmetics line of business?
Before venturing into any business, one has to be prepared. Being prepared entails ability to identify a need that must be met. The challenges experienced by African women, particularly Nigerian women, in maintaining a healthy natural hair prepared me for this business. I discovered that it was difficult for Nigerian women to effectively manage their natural hair. I devoted my time to studying research on these challenges and came up with solutions.
How did the journey into hair care business begin?
It all began in 1993 when I discovered that many Nigerian women were complaining about hair damage, breakage, dryness, slow growth and scalp itch. Going to the salon for relaxer application was an unpleasant experience for them. The truth is that African women living in Africa require specific hair care products because of their unique hair condition, which is affected by African weather, diet and hair texture. So, with my interest in natural products chemistry, I began to investigate how I could help women overcome these problems.
I also recognised the fact that people sought for a more natural approach to their hair and scalp treatments, expressing a desire for healthier, natural and authentic ingredients in their hair and beauty treatments that would enhance their personal style.
Many people presume that hair care business is meant for the female folks. Do you sometimes feel odd that you are in this line of business?
I have always had problem-solving skills and I am always eager to proffer solution to every challenge I come across. Rather than feeling odd in this business, I feel honoured and blessed that I am able to provide solutions to different hair and scalp challenges experienced by African women.
Did you get all the encouragement needed to go on when you began or did people try to discourage you?
The journey to success is never easy. All that matters is your personal determination and drive. When you have a goal, you push forward towards achieving that goal and you do not rest until that goal is actualised.
How did you manage to overcome all the negativities, if there were any?
In life, not everybody would appreciate you and what you do. To overcome negativity, I listen to the good, the bad and the ugly. I distinguish the good from the bad and strive towards attaining the best.
Would you say you’ve achieved the aim of delving into this business?
The aim of starting this business was to solve a challenge: develop natural products that would help maintain healthy hair and scalp as well as solve hair and scalp related problems experienced by Nigerian women. So far so good, this aim has been achieved because our products have been tested and proven to maintain healthy hair, solve hair and scalp challenges and make our customers look and feel great.
Many people perceive Nature Gentle Touch (NGT) products as luxury products in terms of price. What is your take on that?
Recare is about more than beauty products; educating and empowering consumers is a cornerstone of our organisation. We help you reveal your inner style, your way on your terms. We focus on identifying challenges and providing solutions to those challenges. Our products are made with extracts from plants and natural ingredients, and as we know, these natural ingredients don’t come cheap. We are focused on delivery and on ensuring we consistently deliver our brand promise to our consumers over and over again.
What is your assessment of the beauty industry in Nigeria, particularly the hair care?
The Nigerian beauty industry is evolving, particularly the hair care industry. Women have started to embrace their natural afro, which is a campaign we started a number of years ago when the brand began. The industry is majorly dominated by foreign brands with products that were not scientifically configured for the African woman living in Africa.
Our weather and diet is a major contributor to our hair texture, look and feel. Majority of our population have hair challenges and are in search for solutions. Unfortunately, most of the hair care brands on the shelf are not able to provide these solutions. That is why our Nigerian women run after foreign products in search of these solutions which do not put into consideration our diet, environment and weather. We have a lot of work to do.
Considering that NGT is strictly a ‘Made in Nigeria’ product, how and where do you source your materials?
The natural ingredient market in Nigeria is very large, and this is one of the ways we as a brand give back to these communities. We buy from these rural communities at the standard market price with the hope that this would enable them cover their expenses and make some gains.
What are the challenges of doing business in Nigeria?
The Nigerian economy today is really demanding. There are a lot of challenges faced, ranging from infrastructural to social amenities such as light, water, good roads and other factors that support production generally.
Challenges generally are the usual economic, regulatory and physical challenges, whether it is power supply, whether it is purchasing power, whether it is the way government agencies do harass manufacturers. We generally run on alternate source of power all day and the exchange rate, crude prices going up, and diesel coming in at a higher price than it used to be in the past. We also have many different agencies harassing us, some legal and some illegal, whether it is in the factory, whether it is in terms of product registration. These are some of the challenges that we have been having.
Would you say the company is where you dreamt it would be?
We are not where we want to be, but we thank God that we are not where we used to be. We are working on expanding. We are getting there.
On a personal note, tell us about growing up?
Growing up was interesting. I grew up in Enugu. I attended Government Secondary School, Owerri and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where I studied Industrial Chemistry. We played games and read novels since there was no Internet then. The Internet has killed our reading culture.
What influenced your choice of course?
My choice of course was influenced by my discovery that Chemistry was life and that many products were created from Chemistry.
You are a very busy man. If you are not thinking about how to improve on your products, what else do you do?
If I am not working, I am spending time with my family. I socialise and do sports, including lawn tennis. I exercise a lot too.
What is your best food?
I can no longer talk about my best food. I eat to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Where is your best holiday destination?
My best holiday destination is my village, Ohafia.
Why your village in this era of rich Nigerians travelling abroad?
The same reason I support local football. I like to grow and support our own. Besides, if you come to my village, you will understand why. It’s a fun spot for us all. We like to go to our village.
Who are your role models?
I don’t have any. I don’t have to look up to anybody.
Then, what motivates you?
The urge to achieve things, to make a success of whatever I do and restore dignity to humanity. I like to impact people and solve problems that I may encounter.
What’s your advice for young ones who may want to get into this business?
I advise young people who may want to get into this business and any other business to be prepared to work hard. – Culled from The Nation.