Nov 12, 2014, 10:11 AM
The world has seen the likes of Lux, Palmolive and other well packaged and branded commercial (chemical) soaps found in supermarkets around the world including The Gambia’s, but what is on steam in the Smiling Coast of Africa ready to enhance the beauty and health of the world is a new brand of soap products manufactured in The Gambia by Jorjo Organics, a soap manufacturing enterprise owned by Elizabeth Ena Jorjo Carayol-Ndong, a native of The Gambia.
Founded in December 2011, Jorjo Organics operates in The Gambia making soaps from various indigenous African oils and currently has five varieties, suitable for various skin types. These include Shea Butter Soap, Neem Tree Oil Soap, Coconut Oil Soap, Honey Soap and Palm Oil & Palm Kernel Oil Soap.
Under the trade name Jorjo Organics, the products were introduced for the first time at the Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) Trade Fair in December 2011.
“The response was overwhelming and the result: an award from GCCI for ‘the Best Made-in-The Gambia product’,” says Mrs Carayol-Ndong, who is so proud of GCCI for its assistance to business growth and development, especially start-ups and small and medium-scale enterprises. Jorjo Organics was also nominated for ‘Start-up of the Year’ in the GCCI 2011 Business Awards and Gala Dinner.
For the past three years, there has been a worldwide increase in the demand for natural skin products. This is due to raised awareness on the health benefits of natural products, the promotion of sustainable materials, and Western promotion of fair trade in developing countries.
Soaps made by Jorjo Organics stand out from its competitors due to their unique designs, labeling and packaging. More importantly, the soaps are handmade and 100% natural, which makes them highly beneficial to the skin as they improve its health and elasticity.
“Customers see similarities between soaps made by Jorjo Organics and those of Carol’s Daughter (in the USA) while others see the beginning of ‘The Body Shop’ in The Gambia,” says Mrs Carayol-Ndong, a professional architect, whose passion for medicinal soap production was fuelled by a desperate search for solution to a body rash condition that affected one of her three kids.
Giving the genesis of the business, she said: “We started this business in February 2011 in Lamin. It happened by accident actually. Some time ago, I came across a Shea butter hair product from Mali and it looked crude but it was very effective, around the same time my daughter was suffering from a particular kind of skin ailment. I took her to several clinics and I was told there was no cure for it. So in the end somebody introduced me to the African black soap; I tried it, in a desperate attempt, to see if it would work on her skin and within a month it cleared. So suddenly I started thinking of the idea of making Shea butter soap because I knew of the properties of Shea butter. It took a long time for us to conduct experiment and to be quite honest I had never laid hands on Shea butter soap prior to that time. My first encounter with the soap itself, aside from what I have made, was at a trade fair where a lady was selling it opposite me at the trade fair.
“So we did several experiments and eventually we were happy with our product, and then I started looking at other oils that we have locally available here in The Gambia. We started with the Neem tree oil and after several experiments we were satisfied with the product; we went on to do the Coconut oil soap, the honey and finally the palm oil and palm kernel oil. So that’s how we started.”
Another strength of Jorjo Organics is that it can harness almost all its raw materials from The Gambia. “Yes, in fact in the beginning, after we conducted the experiment, we started looking at how to get our raw materials in the quantities that we would need them, and we had to go round all the way to the Fonis,” the young Gambian entrepreneur said. “For instance, the palm kernel oil we source them largely in the Fonis; for the honey, it is actually in Lamin and Bajulinding; the Shea butter we get from someone who comes from Mali but the Neem is widely available and we get it from Abuko; the coconut we buy from the market and then we extract them ourselves.”
Mrs Carayol-Ndong, who returned to The Gambia four years ago after six years of work in the UK, where she studied architecture at the University of Central England in Birmingham, says Jorjo Organics is yet to do much marketing since the GCCI 2011 trade fair “but hopefully within a month we want to start advertising over the radio, television, billboards, newspapers and a website”.
“We hope that we will have all that ready before the start of the tourism season, because we want to target the tourist market and promote our soaps as ‘Made-in-The Gambia’ product, as well as the Gambian market.”
The advertising campaign by Jorjo Organics will be going on in tandem with the company’s plan for growth in production and distribution, as well as expansion in market, to reach the heights of big manufacturers.
“In fact that’s the stage that we are in at the moment; it’s the next level where we market it fully. We hope to have two outlets: one at the airport at the VIP section and another on the Garba Jahumpa Road. We are also targeting all supermarkets and craft markets within hotels, as we are currently supplying during the tourist season to Kairaba Beach Hotel, Lemon Creek and Atlantic Hotel. We want to target every hotel out there and most supermarket outlets and shops, selling wholesale as well as retail from our outlets.”
Jorjo Organics’ highly medicinal soaps are currently selling at D75 per soap for retail and D55 for wholesale, and the company has said, for the local market, it has started manufacturing specific kinds of varieties of soaps which do not have the olive oil and are much cheaper.
“As we speak now we have manufactured some soaps, which we hope we can sell much cheaper at the local market; so that would all happen in conjunction with when we start marketing out there,” she explained.
“We would like to say that all those who have been buying our products have had to come back to buy more because they are highly medicinal. For instance, the fragrances that we put in them are not just fragrances; they are called essential oil for the simple fact that they are highly medicinal, and they complement the soaps in that, for instance, they cure skin diseases, skin illnesses, dryness, rashes, all sorts of skin problems; so we produce these essential oils and we put them together with the different varieties of soaps that we have and they complement them to a great deal, and they are very expensive in the international market – we import them; that’s why they are so expensive.”
As 100% natural soaps, Jorjo Organics’ products do not contain any artificial ingredients or chemicals, preservatives or additives which tend to clog poses and cause skin irritation and dryness.
As handmade soaps, they are more ideal for skin as they contain natural glycerin (which is formed as a by-product of the soap-making process); a humectant, which draws moisture from the air and brings it closer to the skin, thereby minimizing dryness. In commercial soaps, all the glycerin is stripped away and the skin is left feeling dry.
As medicated soaps, Jorjo Organics’ products perform various functions. The Shea Butter Soap is good for eczema and has high moisturizing and softening properties while the Neem Tree Oil Soap is antiseptic and very effective on skin rashes. The Coconut Soap has anti-aging properties and is good for oily skin while the Honey Soap is good for dry skin. The Palm Oil & Palm Kernel Oil Soap is rich in Vitamins, which help to protect the skin.
The young entrepreneur also urges the Gambian public to practise taking risks and venturing into new productive business enterprises.