The global pandemic has hit all of us hard, not least small businesses - many of which have had to call it quits. One of our favourite beauty brands R&R luxury is a natural, plant-based skincare brand from Africa and is still (thankfully for us all) thriving. We virtually sat down with Valerie Obaze, founder of R&R Luxury, to discuss how Covid-19 has affected her business, her mindset and what she foresees for the future of the brand.
Speaking generally about the past six months but also being introduced to the new product in shop; R&R Luxury's hand santiser. Now, we're all pretty familiar with cleaning our hands 24/7 and we all understand the priority hygiene has right now. But it's undeniable that our poor hands are feeling the effects. Now R&R Luxury's hand santiser is still primarily made our of alcohol - 72 per cent, to be exact, ensuring it is 99 per cent effective in killing germs. But the unique formulation includes shea butter and aloe vera, to ensure your hands don't get too dried out. If dry hands is something you're experiencing, Valerie recommends moisturising them with R&R Luxury's Baobab Oil or Whipped Shea Butter after sanitising them. Both will offer your skin hydrating and ultra-moisturising after care.
How have you found the lockdown or effects of Covid-19 on your company?
It's tough because we don't tend to ship products out by DHL but if stocks are running low, then we need to and because companies like DHL are the ones running at the moment for trade, their prices have sky-rocketed. It's really expensive to send samples. Also our shop in Ghana at the airport is a real money-turner and that's been shut. It's been tough on our staff; we've been trying to help them out as much as possible. But we have been really busy so thankfully that's carrying us.
With so many small business having had to close doors, was or is that a worry for you?
It's a lesson for us all, to become versatile. You realise you can't just rely on one stream of income - even if it's one business, you need to diversify so that if something like this happens, you've got alternatives. All those people who closed as soon as the lockdown started, I worry about that kind of business because I think how were you running that that was your only option, one month in.
It is going to be really interesting, from an entrpreneurial perspective, surely? To come out of this stronger must be appreciated?
Definitely. It just means we spend wisely. There is a limit to how long you can go on for - we're six months in and things haven't really changed. But we're still in it; we just have to diversify; be quick and innovative. Our shop in Nigeria is open again. If you don't learn from this, you're never going to learn. I'm just glad we had certain structures in place before Covid-19 happened. Even though we didn't know it was going to happen, the little things really helped us.
Having a foot in each pond, where does your opinion lie with shops being closed or reopening?
I think you have to be somewhere in between because when things started opening up again, I had to think whether risking the health of my staff and my team or taking a hit was the choice to be made. What we did was scale back massively so we were running shifts, with less people in the factory, so social distancing is more feasible. We made our shop in Nigeria a pick-up point only so people had to order online and had select days and times to go pick up their items. No exchange of cash or card was possible. Now in Ghana, we do delivery but here, masks are mandatory; even in your car - if there's two people in the car, you have to wear a mask. They're very strict about that here and fines are in place so people are being more careful. There's also only two people in our distribution centre here at any one time.
So being a small business meant that the adjustments weren't so drastic?
Exactly. With our senior management team, everyone can work from home so I'm not making anyone go in. That being said, our office is quite big so there's enough space to social distance if someone did need to go in. It's fine, slowly things will pick up. I'm positive. In the meantime, we just have to think of new ways to reach our customers.
And obviously, regarding the other pandemic that was recently highlighted; have you found the Black Lives Matter movement resurfacing affecting your business?
It's been good, actually. Suddenly there was this moment of awakening for everybody, where, even for some of us...we're Africans living in Africa so it's a completely different experience.
Black Lives Matter was meant to happen when it did. It's sad people had to die for it but because of lockdown, peoples' emotions were enraged and volatile. It was so undeniably racist and publicised so the majority of people looked at that and this amazing conversation was created. People woke up and realised life isn't this rose-tinted glasses situation. People started being anti-racist - and it was the first time I'd heard this phrase - but parents telling children they simply cannot be racist which is amazing and that is what really needed to happen.
But yeah, it spotlighted black-owned businesses which was great - we were featured in Vogue and other high-end places. I just hope that it's not just a moment and it continues. I mean, you can see, companies are making more adjustments, particularly with employees in C-Suite - so not just diversity hires but ensuring that their application process is really transparent. I also loved the 'Pull Up or Shut Up' movement as you realised how many companies were actually not diverse. It was a great conversation and I just don't want it to die out.
Did you find there was a surge in your sales? Obviously with Black Pound Day etc.?
Yes, it definitely brought more sales and I think that was a reflection of what was in the media - people being introduced to more black-owned brands. We did have a surge of sales but our customers tend to be long-term, returning customers. It's died down a bit but, generally, they tend to keep coming back.
We had to rally; I mean I've lived in London so I understand what it's like to live as an ethnic minority. Both London and Ghana are home to me; up until the age of 29, I lived in London and I was constantly back and forth to Ghana. So many of my friends who used to live in London have moved to Ghana or Nigeria too. It doesn't feel strange anymore, coming to London, except that most of my friends have since left. It still feels like home. It is interesting to compare; I used to have a PR company in London and when we first set up, we dealt with startup beauty and fashion brands because the bigger brands were already with the bigger agencies. But when I moved to Nigeria, my experience from working in the UK put me in such a great position in Nigeria. So I had the biggest jewellery designers and musicians as clients. Not that I had the scraps in London but I when I moved, all of a sudden, I was able to go for the top clients and get them. So that was a moment of awakening for me.
It's hard with beauty though, to wean customers off their cult favourites, no?
Absolutely but I still think it'sgood to get the exposure, to get the look-in, as an indy brand. It's hardly ever the independents and even rarer to be the black-owned brands. So it's great to get some air-time, regardless, and to have peoples' eyes opened. Even myself, I had no idea there were so many feamle-owned, black-owned businesses. The fact that beauty subscription boxes exist shows that people in the beauty industry are always looking to try a new product.
Let's talk about your new product: the hand santisier...
Yes, we have our hand santiser now. Ours has our DNA infused into it so it has shea and aloe vera to moisturise and hydrate the skin. Even a little drop of shea is going to soothe and moisturise your skin. It's also handbag-sized so you can pop it in your bag or pocket. You have to move with the times and at first, I was worried that there were too many hand sanitising products and how it would fit in with our brand. It's 72 per cent alcohol which is not what our products are about but we used ethanol so it's made from natural fibres, fitting in with our brand concept and featuring shea, aloe vera and lemongrass (for the scent) so it's definitely an R&R Luxury product.
What are your thoughts on 'Maskne'?
If people are getting maskne, surely there's a fundamental problem with your skin? I don't know but if people are wearing it all the time and they're not getting air circulated there, I guess it becomes an issue. But it's about keeping both your skin and the mask clean. If you have sensitive skin, use fragrance-free skincare proucts, as always.
Are there any R&R Luxury products you'd recommend for breakouts in this instance?
I'd definitely say that our Liquid Black Soap is a really good cleanser. You don't have to leave it on for that long, just use it day and night and finish with some baoab oil to moisturise afterwards. Maybe the mask is chafing peoples' faces? A good moisturiser, complete with omega fatty acids will help with that.