JOY PHALA: On switching careers and starting afresh

“One gets to a point where you feel as though the work you do is not fulfilling. When one dreads getting out of bed to go to work, you pretty much know something needs to change!”

After years of being a Management Consultant with a Bachelor of Commerce degree, Joy Phala left the security of her job to venture into what captivated and excited her, in a whole new industry.

She switched careers from management consultancy to landscape design and growing fresh produce. She is now a landscape designer and founder of Organic Kitchen Gardens.

We got into her psyche and asked her for some pointers on starting afresh.


 Tell us about Organic Kitchen Gardens and what you do for your clients.

Organic Kitchen Gardens is an edible landscape design company for chefs, restaurants, and private residents through a design, installation and maintenance process. We create organic edible exterior spaces that reflect our client’s style and personal aesthetic.

The concept came about as a result of wanting to create edible gardens that would fit into the urban and suburban environment without the typical farm look associated with fruit and vegetable gardening. Gardens that would reflect sustainable food production while demonstrating good landscape design.

 

How did you know it was the right time to switch careers and how can one be sure of when to take such a bold step?

For me, it was more a case of circumstances forcing me to take a particular direction in life more than it was timing.  But if I was to generalize, I believe one gets to a point where you feel as though the work you do is not fulfilling. When one dreads getting out of bed to go to work, you pretty much know something needs to change.

There’s no surety when it comes to making a change. The biggest risk is that it might not work, and that’s ok because it leaves room for one to gain a deeper understanding of who they are and where their creative genius lies.

It’s ok to be completely terrified because so is everyone else who starts out on the road less traveled. Click To Tweet

What advice do you have for those who want to switch careers, perhaps to a completely different industry too, but are too intimidated? 

It’s ok to be completely terrified because so is everyone else who starts out on the road less traveled. The realization that doing work that matters to me is more important than the fear that I’ll fail is what keeps me going.

The only way to know that your venture will work is how the market responds to it. So I literally just started... Click To Tweet

 

What steps did you take to prepare for entering a new industry and being successful in your new venture?

It’s a great idea to understand the legal framework that governs the industry one is embarking on. It’s also a good idea to understand the existing market, the possible competition, and how the industry works, as long as we don’t use this preparation as a reason to hide from doing the work we know we are capable of doing.

The nice thing about being an entrepreneur is that you just start. No one other than the marketplace has to qualify or validate your venture.  I was one of those that did not get their ducks in a row before introducing my service to the market.

The only way to know that your venture will work is how the market responds to it. So I literally just started.  I did not learn about the industry while sitting on the sidelines preparing to get in, I learned while on the job and discovered there’s so much more to learn still. Also, I took informal courses and studied Landscape Design.

I want to remind Africans that we were practising organics before pre-colonialism days and way before Organic became a trend... Click To Tweet

 

What is your vision for Organic Kitchen Gardens? Do you see yourself changing the landscape of agriculture in the rest of Africa in the years to come?

I want to create exterior outdoor spaces that people love to eat from, but also enjoy living in, outdoor spaces influenced by design and the lifestyles my clients lead

I want to also remind Africans that we were practicing organics before pre-colonialism days and way before Organic became a trend and we need to pick up where our ancestors left off and take center stage when it comes to issues of sustainability, biodiversity, and organic land care.

There’s no surety when it comes to making a change. The biggest risk is that it might not work, and that’s ok... Click To Tweet

Let’s talk about ‘Grow Organic’, your organic gardening course. What does it offer students?

Grow Organic is a three-part course consisting of a fundamentals level, an Intermediary level, and an Advance level course.

The aim is to educate delegates on how they can create their own edible oasis with organically grown vegetables, fruits, flowers, and herbs in an urban setting while supporting the development and success of the ecological environment around them. For now, the classes are conducted through a face-to-face interaction.

You have two lovely boys; what is your fondest, and perhaps funniest memory to date of you, them and getting your hands dirty in your home garden?

My boys are always experimenting with tasting leaves of herbs and edible flowers. My fondest memory is when I had asked them to pick and taste the flowers of Pineapple Sage Herb. It was the first time they had these edible flowers and they exclaimed, “Mommy, it tastes like sweeties!”

I remember thinking how honored I am to be sharing this part of my life with them. Hopefully, they’ll pass it on to their children and children’s children.


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Nneji Akunne: We are truly passionate about each customer

Nneji Akunne - Ilera Apothecary

Inspiration can come from anywhere and when Nneji Akunne and siblings weren’t satisfied with the skin care options that were available to them, they decided to develop their own. With experience as a Sustainability Fellow for H&M Germany and marketing consultant for smaller startup brands, Nneji has used her experience to develop ILERA Apothecary, a luxury personal organic skin care line.


Why did you start ILERA Apothecary?

We started ILERA Apothecary because we sought transparency in the personal care industry. Making our own products for personal use and seeing how effective they were made us wonder why other products within the industry needed so many ingredients to do the same job.

We looked as far back as 10,000 BC on more traditional practices, where Ancient Egyptians used elements from the earth to heal and protect their skin, and realised that the foundation of natural beauty came from the ingredients in the products used each day.

Why do you think organic and natural personal care is important and matters in the beauty industry?

What you put in your body is just as important as what you put on it. We are so blinded by big corporations marketing and advertising that sell us “younger looking skin” that we don’t pay attention to the ingredients used in each product. Because the FDA does not currently regulate the ingredients of beauty products in the U.S. with the same thoroughness done in the E.U., it’s up to consumers to read and understand each product’s labels; which in reality is something that’s not always done.

When you choose organic skincare, you’re choosing products whose ingredients work with the natural systems of your skin, not the scientific formulas that have been tested on animals to produce results unrelated to human beings. Organic and natural personal care companies like ours that are truly passionate about each customer, carefully spell out the ingredients used in all products offered and the reasoning behind them.

What makes ILERA Apothecary different from other personal care startups?

ILERA Apothecary aims to educate our customers about their overall health. It’s one thing to simply promote a more natural skincare regimen but, as stated before, what goes inside of your body is important as well. We take a more hands-on approach and speak about the health of the individual from all areas like diets, mental health and lifestyle.

All skin types are not created equal and while it would be easy to sell the same product to every customer as they come, we offer consultation services where we can get to know the customer better and understand their skin and lifestyle needs.

What is your favourite product and why?

Both of our personal favourites is the unscented body butter. I (Nneji) am all about the touch and feel of the skin along with being able to determine my scent for the day. For Chinonye, the body butter leaves her skin feeling so rich and smooth day and night which is very important since she has dry skin.

For your business to get to the next level, would you prefer funding or a high-value mentor?

High-Value Mentor. I say this because funding would only be able to take us so far. With a mentor, not only would the individual be able to provide us with networks we may not have been granted access to, but also the insight and experience of a seasoned mentor are worth way more than money can buy.

ilera_-_uscented_body_cream

What can we expect from ILERA Apothecary over the next 6 months?

We are looking to expand the brand into international markets and entering into more retail spaces. We are also working to expand our product offerings to include a separate men’s line. While our products are currently unisex, we want to cater to the specifics of a man at all life stages.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned on your journey towards healthy skin and body care?

Understanding the importance of planning for the future right now has shifted our lives tremendously. We always heard that your body is your temple and it should be treated as such but it wasn’t until we began testing products to sell that we truly understood that notion.

Skin is the body’s largest organ that serves to protect your insides from the outside world. Where you live, what you eat, and what you do on a daily basis can determine the type of life you’ll live once you get further in age. Living healthy and active lifestyles are our goals as we age and taking care of our skin is one of the first steps in making that happen.


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