How visits to a doctor gave birth to skin care business


Claire Mugendi, the founder of Claire Naturals Health and Beauty. PHOTO | POOL

Claire Mugendi always felt like her name, Claire, was a brand. Every time she came across Marie Claire, the French-British magazine, the question she had for herself was what she could do with her beautiful name. Well, now she runs her own brand, Claire Naturals Health and Beauty.

From the comfort of her home, using everyday kitchen ingredients and utensils, Ms Mugendi has made a name for herself in the beauty and skincare industry. The entrepreneur’s three-year-old company specialises in making products that improve and manage skin infections such as eczema, psoriasis, dark sports, and acne.

Founded in 2019, the idea for the business was planted in the most unlikely place – a doctor’s office. Half of her family suffered from eczema, a condition that drained the family’s purses and souls.

“Once again I was seated across a doctor holding my last born son whose head was full of ringworms. After prescribing treatment, the doctor suggested I either let the boy outgrow the ringworms or seek home remedies instead of pumping him with medication,” says the mother of four.

That conversation together with the instability of her job as a conference organiser provided a fertile ground for the idea to develop roots and grow. She began by researching on natural soaps. She eventually found a producer whose soap soothed her son’s skin.

Not knowing anything about soap-making, she entered into a partnership with the maker of the soap, which she would rebrand and sell.

“This worked well but as time went by, I started questioning the quality and the content of the soap. I couldn’t understand why soap that ought to be cream in colour came in yellow,” she says.

This inability to confidently vouch for the soap pushed her to start her business, after putting money together from her savings and obtaining a short-term loan.

The entrepreneur says everybody can make soap, but the catch is in getting a working formula. It took her one year to find what worked for her.

The first product she made was a turmeric soap, followed by one made from oats. Currently, they have nine varieties and each serves its own purpose in managing eczema.

Settling in her newfound career path as a businesswoman, she began to explore new opportunities. As a result, she expanded her product offering to include Shea butter and shampoos in response to her clients’ needs.

“They (clients) would ask if they should continue using their regular face oil after using the soap. This posed a problem because if the face oil was the one irritating the skin, they would render my soap ineffective,” Ms Mugendi says.

“To eliminate this and still provide care for their skin, I started making my own Shea butter oils, to complement the soap’s use.”

Her butter formula incorporates ingredients that are anti-aging, anti-bacterial and result in glowing skin.

From selling five soaps a week at the start, Claire Naturals averages sales of 60 Shea butter containers and 35 soaps per week. She credits this growth to offering an effective and credible product, which is critical to building a healthy clientele base.

Furthermore, her products cater to a wide range of skin types and are fully certified. they are also natural and organic, and environmentally friendly. This makes them attractive to today’s discerning customers.

The bulk of the company’s clients are individuals with skincare challenges and those with sensitive skin. She gets orders also from hotels.

The use of social media sites has helped her grow her business, although most of her sales come through referrals and one-on-one marketing.

To expand her reach even further, she has collaborated with stockists around Nairobi.

It was as her business grew that she realised her marriage to Mr. Mugendi was a “divine connection”.

“My husband is an advertising guru who holds a chemistry degree. For the longest time, I teased him about this. Yet it is his knowledge of chemistry that makes our products usable,” she says of her husband of more than 15 years.

Her spouse handles the chemistry side of the production process.

When she got into the business, it was to make people feel better through better management of their skin conditions. However, they have found they do much more than that.

“We hadn’t imagined it would be life-changing. I have received photos, calls and messages of how the quality of our customers' lives have improved simply because of having healthy, good-looking skin,” the entrepreneur says.

“The skin is the largest body organ in the body and the most visible. Having good skin is ideal. People, therefore, want to have good skin. If our skin is happy, we’re happy.”

The impact her business has on people’s lives has made her turn down investors who don’t align with the vision of the company.

“My product must be affordable to those who really need it and it must be made in Kenya. I’ll not lose my vision and brand in search of profits,” she says.

Her immediate plan is to grow her hospitality industry clientele and in the future, have Claire Naturals Health and Beauty stores where people can walk in and get what they need “for healthy, glowing skin”.

For those aspiring to be entrepreneurs, she has these nuggets of advice, “Start. Just start. Secondly, have a product of exceptional quality and thirdly, allow your product to grow organically. Be patient and work towards a natural growth curve.”