Meet the Founder of Sahara Sunrise | Exclusive Interview
Sahara Sunrise founder and CEO Eme Ugwuegbu, a.k.a, The Shea Butter Lady, is such a likeable person. Not only is she an advocate of Natural healthy hair and body care, but she is also dedicated towards ensuring you have the best care. You certainly have a lot to learn from her, hence why Bellafricana is always bringing to you Exclusive Interviews of founders in the Creative Industry in Nigeria (Africa). Let’s meet her…
- Please introduce yourself and your background.
My name is Eme Ugwuegbu, AKA, TheSheaButterLady, CEO of Sahara Sunrise. I am an Accountant turned entrepreneur, from Akwa Ibom State, born in Washington D.C., married to a ruggedly handsome man from Rivers State, a mother to six (6) wonderful souls, three (3) of which are biological, a Master’s degree holder in Accounting from the University of Southern California (USC) and a Certificate in Entrepreneurial Management from Enterprise Development Center (EDC) through the WomenX program.
- Please tell us about your work. How did Sahara Sunrise start?
In 1993, I started a hobby making hand painted, African themed, T-Shirts and African dance jewellery during my undergraduate studies; this hobby transformed into a registered business in 1998 called Sahara Sunrise, below is how the transformation happened.
In the early 90’s, African items were hot sellers in the States, so in addition to traveling home to Nigeria to get African goods like clothing and bags, I hand painted ‘Africanesque’ T-Shirts and made African dance beads and adornments for sale and giveaways.
In 1998, I made another trip to Nigeria but this time I decided to stop over in Lagos and catch up with an old secondary school mate of mine instead of going straight to Akwa Ibom. It was a decision that changed my life forever.
While bathing the next day, I noticed my friend had some strange looking black stuff in a jar; when I inquired, I found out that it was Black Soap and she seemed to think it was great stuff. I decided to try it and I thought so too.
She also introduced to me to Shea Butter which she swore by. Needless to say, I added both items to my repertoire of ‘all things African’ and headed back to Los Angeles with them when my holidays were over.
My twenty four small jars of Shea Butter and of Black Soap sold faster than any of the other African products I had ever sold. I learnt so much from my customers how effective these two products which I call the building blocks of the Nigerian natural body care industry, were.
Customers were testifying almost daily of how great these products were on their skin and hair. So I made the decision to learn more about these two products and their benefits. I was so intrigued that I went cold turkey on my hand painted T-shirts, dance jewellery, etc and focused on Shea Butter and Black Soap…Sahara Sunrise was born.
- What motivated the idea of Sahara Sunrise? Where do you find the inspiration for your natural products?
When I learnt how much my few jars of Shea Butter and Black Soap changed my customers’ lives; from combating Eczema, to relieving Arthritis, to dry skin, to acne, to hair loss, even razors bumps, I knew I had to learn more about our skin and I had to make these two African gems more accessible to the world.
The more I learnt about our skin, the more I was convinced it was an unsung hero, it is basically the first line of defence against attacks on the body. Therefore it is very important to ensure its integrity by providing it with proper care.
I realized that if you gave the skin what it needed – natural nourishment, it would flourish and glow – Sahara Sunrise had found purpose! I chose the name ‘Sahara’ because it was easily identifiable as African and ‘Sunrise’ which to me typified an awakening, awareness or a new dawn.
Sahara Sunrise is the vehicle by which the world will be made aware of the great things that come out of Africa and it is also the vehicle that the world will be provided with the best natural products for skin & hair.
I get the inspiration for my products from nature – no big surprise! When I come across an oil, butter, herb, bark, even by-products like nut shells, I immediately ask myself, how can this nourish, protect or repair the skin and hair?
I immediately switch into research mode. I have come to know that the skin responds quickly and favourably to natural products.
Natural products are food for the skin, therefore I am always on the lookout for that next healthy meal for the skin and also the hair.
- Can you remember one of the first things you hand crafted? What makes it memorable?
Absolutely, without a doubt! Shea Butter and Black Soap. What makes it memorable was the customer feedback. I have to say, in the early days, I learnt so much about how great these products were from my customers.
Back then, there wasn’t a lot of information out there on Shea Butter and Black Soap so I literally learnt of their effectiveness first, from my customers.
I remember a customer telling me she brushed her teeth with my Black Soap and it removed the coffee stains on her teeth. I was happy for her but after that I had to start putting ‘for external use only’ on my jars!
I also get inspired from talking to elders about what they used or their forebears used for skin & hair care and without fail I am always amazed at their knowledge of the benefits of natural products and how spot on they are even without the benefit of science.
More intriguing even, is the process in which they use to produce these oils, butters, etc.
- How long does it take to formulate a product?
It can take anywhere from a day to a month depending on the product. If I have worked with the raw materials before and can determine how well their properties work with each other, then a day is all I need.
On the other hand if I haven’t worked with the raw materials or their combination before, there is a lot of tests and re-trials that take place to bring out a product worthy of the Sahara Sunrise brand name. This could take up to a month.
- What are the challenges you face in business?
NAFDAC, NAFDAC & NAFDAC!!! When I started this business in Los Angeles, it was from my kitchen. Last year I read of a Nigerian lady in Inc. business magazine who has toppled the US billion dollar skin care industry from her kitchen in the United States.
If it were in Nigeria, NAFDAC wouldn’t allow it. Today the creative space I am in is 1000 times better than my kitchen in Los Angeles but NAFDAC still says no.
The name NAFDAC alone is enough to stifle creativity but I am determined to surmount this challenge. There are other challenges but in my opinion they pale in comparison to NAFDAC for example, ease of doing business, power, and finance.
- What is your most popular item?
Sahara Sunrise African Black Soap w/ Lemon & Honey – Sahara Sunrise African Black Soap is formulated to be a deep cleansing yet non-drying to the skin. It is excellent for acne, breakouts, whiteheads, black heads and it helps to tighten your pores. We have it in 3 variations. Original formula, Lemon & Honey and Turmeric & Tea Tree Oil. The most popular variation being Sahara Sunrise Black Soap with Lemon & Honey.
- To what extent do you draw upon your Nigerian (African) heritage for your work?
Sahara Sunrise started as a result of my connection to Nigeria. If I hadn’t come home to visit, I probably would not have known of Shea Butter and Black Soap at that particular time.
In discovering new raw materials, I always look inward first. It is so much easier to find ingredients that will work effectively on the body if you start with indigenous alternatives.
Of course we work with other ingredients that are not indigenous like Argan oil, Jojoba oil, etc but we tend to gravitate towards and use more of the indigenous ones first, like Shea Butter, Atili oil, Coconut oil, Neem oil, etc.
- What are your goals for the future, both work wise and life?
My goal is to build a global corporation short and simple and once that is done continue building more.
My life goal is to create a balanced life. Three things are very important to me, my faith, my family & my business in that order.
I am passionate about all three and my goal is to ensure I excel in all three without anyone of them being short-changed – by God’s Grace.
- What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I’m actually smiling at this question. I once jumped on stage at a soukouss/makosa concert by Awilo in Los Angeles, California and danced with Awilo – youthful exuberance I guess! I still love to dance!
- If you could give one piece of advice to youths who want to start their own company, what would it be?
Always remember it is not about you, it is about serving your customer.
- And finally, I would like to give you this opportunity to share some of your work and tell us a little about each.
Sahara Sunrise LoveRocks Body Butter – This rich & luxuriant body butter is formulated to moisturize, nourish and protect the skin. It softens the skin and gives you and even tone. It contains nine (9) oils, butters & extracts carefully selected for their properties and benefits on the skin. To top it all off, it is seductively scented and guaranteed to draw ooh’s and ahh’s!
Sahara Sunrise Beard Oil – Bearded men tend to fall into two categories, those who are trying to grow a beard and those who are trying to maintain their mane. Sahara Sunrise Classic Shag Beard Oil is for those who desire growth and is formulated with oils & essential oils that nourish the hair follicles and stimulate growth. On the other hand, Sahara Sunrise Get Closer Beard Oil is for those with a full mane who both themselves and their loved ones wish were softer, less dry, less tangled and manageable. It is formulated to lock in moisture, detangle and condition the beard and most of all to soften the beard.
Sahara Sunrise Irresistible Woman Soap: This soap is formulated to soften, smoothen and detoxify the skin. With ten (10) oils & additives, it is a premium luxury soap and an excellent nourishing soap. In our opinion any woman with clear, soft & smooth skin is IRRESISTIBLE!
Sahara Sunrise Thirsty Hair Mist – Natural hair tends to be dry, brittle and prone to breakage. Sahara Sunrise Thirsty Hair Mist hydrates and softens your hair, thereby reducing breakage. Use any Sahara Sunrise Hair Butter or Oil after using the Mist to lock in the moisture even longer. If you only get one product for your natural hair then Sahara Sunrise Thirsty Hair Mist is your best bet. It comes in Lavender, Lemongrass, Peppermint and Tea Tree Oil.
Thank you Eme for sharing with us.
I am sure you learnt one or two things from her.
To Contact Eme;