Thirty-year-old Ellen Vannessa Chironga, already has an interesting trail of business ventures. One would think with her own designer handbags (LGS bags), lingerie (Peep Collection) and a day-care center for children (Aayah’s Play Centre in Waterfalls, a suburb of Harare), Chironga has her hands full.
But, the young Zimbabwean entrepreneur is also the beautiful brains behind the natural skincare product NaturElle, specifically made for people who suffer from acne. Vannessa, who refers to herself as a skin specialist, is daughter to the prominent business man, Phillip Chiyangwa.
Contrary to popular belief, things were not handed to her on a silver platter and her business was not a hand me down from her father. We caught up with Vannessa in Harare to hear about NaturElle.
Tell me about NaturElle
NaturElle is a skincare product made from natural ingredients, which I started from my kitchen after my battle with acne. It is one of the few products that I have used which has shown results in a short time. Not only does it target acne, it targets other skin conditions like eczema and over time evens out the skin tone.
I started making the product at the end of November (2015) and because it was Christmas time, we packaged it as a soap ball in wrapping paper. I started advertising my product and found out that people received it very well and so I officially started distributing in 2016.
My target market is mainly teenagers, but I have other clients in their late 20’s and mid to late 30’s who also suffer from adult acne. To date, I can say I have seen 90% positive results from my clients and only 10% were not satisfied, or they were not patient enough to wait for their results. It’s heart-breaking when you have someone tell you that your product is not working.
Currently, NaturElle has at least one distributor in the cities and towns of Bulawayo, Kwekwe, Gweru. Harare, the capital city, has two including myself. We have other distributors in South Africa and the UK. NaturElle is the best way to make money on the side as a distributor.
What inspired you to start NaturElle?
I was going through an acne phase and had resorted to using natural-based products on my face, mixing up things in my kitchen and trying to make something that worked for me.
So I bumped into a locally produced ingredient (my secret ingredient) which worked really great on my skin but was too harsh. I decided to create a milder version of it by adding a little bit of aloe vera, honey, and cocoa to the special ingredient and that’s how NaturElle was born.
I tried the mixture for two months and I saw a great improvement in my skins texture and appearance. It’s important to understand that we all have different skin types and results differ from one person to the other.
Why did you decide to set up in Zimbabwe?
I came back from the UK three years ago. I thought about the next best thing and how I can maximise on the environment I was in. So after my wedding, and having quit my job, I decided to go for it.
I have always dreamt of working for myself and being successful. Working for my dad was a pivotal foundation for me. I learnt a lot from him about business and life in general.
We all can’t run away from Zimbabwe, someone has to stay and make things right. I would consider leaving only for the kids, and because I want the best for them. But if and when things get better, I will definitely be the pioneer of whatever it is that is to come.
What is your business day like?
Well, we all know that in Zimbabwe you cannot afford to sleep, you always have to think of ways of being innovative. I am always thinking of new ways of being creative.
On a typical day, I look at trends, social media and ways of diversifying my product. Especially since I also recently launched the day moisturiser. I introduced this product after noticing that a lot of my clients always asked me what they could apply after using the face wash.
Is there anything in your educational background that helps you in managing your business?
Definitely. I did a double Major in Drama Theory and Business Management at Bath Spa University and a Masters in Marketing and Advertising at Coventry University both in the UK. These have helped me greatly in doing my business.
I believe in quality and producing something fresh. One area that we lack in Zimbabwe is advertising. It’s still very expensive, because not many people do it. One can get a ridiculous price such as $25 per second for adverts in the broadcast media.
How do you keep Vannessa grounded?
I have an outspoken personality and a drive like my dad, so I need my family to keep me in check. Mostly, my husband reigns me in and he is super humble.
Most of all, I remember that God is my source and strength. I realise that without Him, I am nothing and would never have come up with these ideas on my own.
What are the challenges of running your own company at such a young age in Zimbabwe?
It’s been a long journey and a lot of hard work. People assume that the journey was easy for me because my father is Philip Chiyangwa. But not at all.
As soon as I started my own family, I became a woman and had to hustle my way through. There was no backing of finances for me to start the business, I just had to think outside the box.
What lessons or advice would you give to other young women wanting to start their business in a difficult economic context like Zimbabwe?
Look past the fact that you do not have enough money. Not having starting capital always demotivates people and makes them think they are poor. Start small. What can you do to generate enough money to do what you need to do? You can start anything; you don’t have to have studied it.
I didn’t learn how to make soap in college, I started small. So start with whatever, and start wherever you are. Broaden your mind set, capitalise on whatever skill you have. Stop thinking too much about what it should be, but more of what you have and then go to the next level.
It’s important to understand the business that you are getting into. If you are going to contribute, what is your competitive advantage and unique selling point?
Lastly, what can we expect from NaturElle in the next five years?
In the next five years, I plan to branch into ‘a skin drink’ —NaturElle Juice— and create employment. I want the business to self-sustain to a point where we stop manufacturing in the kitchen.
As I intend to be more professional, and actually open a skin spa where I have consultations. I am dealing with a Zimbabwean market, so at the moment the way I operate works very well. I cannot afford to be fancy at the moment especially with the current economic conditions or else I run the risk of losing money.
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