Changing The Afrocentric Narrative, One African Crown At A Time – Mkamboi Mwakale, Founder of Saru Organics

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To say that I find Mkamboi Mwakale enthralling would honestly be a disservice to her and what she has accomplished so far. Looking at how far Saru Organics has come, considering they’re clocking a year of business with her partners, is a testament to what happens when your customers agree with what your doing. They even have their footprints set in stone in Uganda!

So what exactly is Saru Organics?

Saru Organics is a startup manufacturing plant at the frontiers of luxurious organic beauty care, delighting their consumers worldwide with result driven transformative products and experiences, inspiring them to express their uniqueness confidently. Their products are all silicone free, paraben free, sulfate free and most importantly they source their ingredients from nature!

If you’ve ever taken a whiff of their products, you can almost smell [and taste] the raw Shea butter, the lush Avocado oil, Moringa oil from the Moringa oleifera tree, Macadamia Nut oil and a whole range of other plant extracts and organic oils!

For once when asked about who she is, she did not make it about herself and instead brought a bigger being. According to visionary, Mkamboi, she proudly describes Saru Organics to have grown to become synonymous with premium quality, earth-friendly botanical ingredients and the ultimate in delivering stunning hair styling results!

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Here’s her story!

Please tell us who you are and what you do

I am a child of God and I found my identity in Christ, prior to that I was not sure of who I am and my purpose. Everyday, there is something new I am learning and relearning about myself in the journey of self-discovery as a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend and an entrepreneur.

I am currently in the business of changing the Afrocentric hair narrative, in how we view it and helping my fellow ethnic sisters embrace our very tight coily and kinky crowns with pride and passion.

Tell us about your business. What led you to start Saru Organics?

Saru Organics begun accidentally, nothing had been pre-meditated towards it. I did mention I am a mum, and a doting one for that matter to one very smart, talented and beautiful princess called Shani.

It happened that when she was joining school for her pre-primary, she kept on getting very bad colds/flu. We kept on running to the medics for help which came in form of antibiotic prescriptions. I was getting tired and concerned about the much antibiotics she seemed to be taking and I prayed and wished for something friendlier yet effective, like a natural cure and the believer in me couldn’t help but decree and believe for complete healing.

Then, on one of the days when I was visiting Gertrude children hospital, a Nigerian friend was calling, and she needed me to accompany her for some errands, but I had to let her down because my child was unwell, and she casually mentioned I should try Moringa powder.
I had heard about it, but without much interest on what it was. I was at a point where anything else other than antibiotics was very much welcome for trial…so I did a google research before making up my mind to give it a try.

To say I was surprised by the results after trying the powder to my child would be an understatement, my curiosity about Moringa was heightened after my child responded very positively to it and regaining health. I found out the Moringa tree has been our farmers’ crop back in my village in Taita-Taveta county and let’s say things became more interesting.

I wanted to learn everything about this tree from its roots to seeds just what else could my wonder tree do? I engaged farmers back at home about it and their response was quite discouraging, despite the tree being of vast benefits to humanity, it yielded very little to their pockets. Realizing this, I was more motivated to be a solution provider to the Moringa farmers and I knew I just had to do something and to cut a long story short I ended up recognizing the potent benefits of Moringa oil to beauty care needs – and right there I chose to harness that potentiality.

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Mkamboi with her customers at Hairitage Chronicles. Image Courtesy of Jesse’s photography

As an entrepreneur, how has it been so far setting up your business?

We will proudly be turning one in June this year in business with my partners and frankly I am so grateful the far God has brought us. It seems like yesterday when I was making friends with chemical engineers on a bid to gain knowledge about formulation.

Starting is always the hardest season but you know what the Swahili say “Kuzaa sio kazi, kulea ndio kazi”.

Once I was over the hurdle of identifying what I want, what I want the products to do and achieve & our brand identity, I was ready to run with the vision despite very limited resources – It was just me and the currency of Faith, just believing one step at a time; from formulation to testing to formulating again – this is a process that never ends, especially if you are keen on giving your customers the best, plus research is always ongoing with better stuff being realized and you have got to be in the know – and finally being confident of the product to introduce to the market.

It has been a roller-coaster of emotions, from pushing beyond limits and challenges and believing you can do it, to moments of excitement and pure joy when you receive a genuine feedback from a customer on how wonderful the products have treated her hair. I count it all joy at the end of the day. I always have to be of good courage, that is what I do not leave behind.

Was there/is there a good reception for your products in Kenya?

Well I look at it this way, if a customer comes back for a restock and she is not afraid to tell the world about their new found love, then we must be doing a transformational job to our customers and yes, there has been lots of good positive vibes about our products but that does not mean we should relax! We always keep innovating to give our customers the best!

Has it been hard especially as a woman to rise up the ranks in the manufacturing/production industry?

I’ll start by saying that I look up to so many women in the manufacturing industry who have been there and done it so excellently; from Mrs. Flora Mutahi founder/director of Melvins Tea and she did it way back then when only Asians dominated the manufacturing sector to Mrs Tabitha Karanja of Keroche Industries! I mean this is a woman who came through to shake up a monopoly and create her very own niche that is now a household name, and bringing it much closer is not forgetting the awesome duo Michelle Ntalami and Niyati Patel co-founders of Marini Naturals & Lucy King’ori brand owner of Bu.Ke products  who has been kind enough to hold my hand in this streets and what all these women tell me is that Mkamboi you can definitely chase your dream and realize your vision.

It is considered harder for women to penetrate the shackles that society has put on them but in my case, with all these mentors around, it has shown me that with the right vision and the right people around you to pull you up, there’s nothing you cannot achieve!

What has being in business taught you?

Resilience and a resolve not to give up. There are times that it can be really tough and all you can think about is how to just get back to being employed & enjoy an 8-5 kind of job where you do not have to worry where the salaries will come from, or how the business bills are going to be sorted; but then you remember why you came in, the vision and you just have to be of good courage, anchoring yourself firmly in Christ knowing He’s got you and He is faithful to complete that which he said He will do.

I have grown much deeper in my faith because most are the times between me and the next day I only need a God send miracle no connections whatsoever can solve. I have also learned I can’t satisfy everyone and that’s okay!

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in setting your own career and even expanding your business?

There are limitations I have faced from the heavy capital you need to have for example to have package line with an identity. You get to learn MOQs and realizing the cash at hand is not enough.

Getting caught in between where suppliers cannot give you credit terms despite the many times you have been buying from them and that most of your stockists will ask for an extended credit period. It requires you to have good cash flow that can meet both the suppliers needs for your raw materials and keep your business afloat as you create partnerships with retailers and distributors.

How has your natural hair journey been like?

I like keeping it as simple as I can and I do not stress much about it. I have been natural since 2012. My style has always been combing it or styling it to a fro and at night I have to sleep in ‘matutas’ and a satin scarf or bonnet that I got from Apparels and Accessories ke and my nappy hair became much happier. To me, it’s about moisture, as long as my hair is well moisturized, I’m good to go.

I’m curious, what’s your current hair regimen?

I love doing a spritz spray where I have aloe juice, water and peppermint oil for my hair in the morning, then rub in avocado oil and finish with Saru Organics 3 in 1 leave in conditioner, the tangles just melt away and it’s a breeze.

On a weekly basis, I will do a shampoo wash or co-wash alternating it with a deep conditioning treatment.

Maintaining natural hair requires a certain amount of discipline. Has that spilled over into your normal routine?

Yes, every Saturday evening I must schedule for some TLC, it comes very natural with the journey which actually makes you love yourself more and the rewards are quite be enviable!

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I always say that for you to want anything wortwhile, you want you must invest on it and the same applies to you having fabulous hair!

Should we expect any new products this year?

Definitely! We have been very busy in the labs.

What are your future plans for Saru Organics?

We are working smart to not only become a household name but also to have a global footprint as a luxurious organic beauty care brand!

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