When Evelyn had her daughter Ellie 13 years ago, she knew she had found her ‘why?’ She had found her reason to want to excel. Now, all she needed was to find the ‘how?’ Initially, it was terrifying for her. She was a 24-year-old woman from Kisii county, pursuing a degree in environmental sciences in Canada.
“I dreamed of being a great scientist. I grew up in Kisii seeing species of birds and mushrooms disappearing and I wanted to solve some of the world’s environmental problems. Getting Ellie renewed this drive. I worked hard to graduate,” she recalls.
Over the next decade, Evelyn worked her way up in the world of environmental consulting and engineering. At 34, she was a senior project manager for the whole of Canada in a large company. “It wasn’t easy. I remember at one point I had a day job, I was delivering newspapers for extra cash during the night and at the same time, I was working on my masters’ thesis. I wanted to buy a house for us,” she recalls.
Her hard work paid off and she bought that house. Also, just as she had planned to, she retired from employment at 35. “I set my eyes on retiring at that point because I felt a recess in the oil and gas industry globally. I wanted out while I was still ahead.”
THE BIRTH OF HER PASSION PROJECT
Now with a lot of time on her hands, she took on consulting jobs. One such gig saw her overseeing the building of a road and pipeline in Chad in 2012. “One day, I bought some mangoes from a woman who was selling them but was shocked when I went to pay her and was told that I couldn’t. I could only pay a man even if it was the woman that had done the work,” she recalls.
This open oppression of women took her back to her days working in engineering when she would be the only woman in the room. “A lot of times, people would wonder out loud why I wasn’t taking notes at meetings. Others would ask why my boss had sent someone else, not knowing that I was the boss.”
She knew that for herself and for her young daughter, she needed to do something to change lives of women. So she began soul searching.
“Another thing I had noticed about Chad was how incredibly beautiful the women’s skin was. When I asked, I was told that they used natural shea butter. So I began thinking: What if I could manufacture skin care products using shea butter that I bought from them? I would have my own company and I would also improve the lives of these women.”
BUILDING A COMPANY
And just like that, she began exploring the idea. Not everyone she met saw her dream the same way as she. She particularly recalls a financial adviser she met at her bank in Canada who tried to discourage her. He wondered why she was getting into the beauty industry and yet it is so competitive.
“I clearly saw what I wanted to achieve at the end of it. I was also seeking a challenge,” she says.
Her new business was also a chance for her to utilise the chemistry she had learnt at the university. All through, as they manufactured and tested the products, she was actively involved.
The first batch of Ellie Bianca products, lip balms made from shea butter sourced from women in Chad, was launched in 2016. Now the product range has grown to include body oils, baths salts and skin serums. Her products are sold in 30 locations in Canada. She is looking to launch in Kenya.
Along the way, Evelyn believes that she has learnt quite a bit regarding being employed and entrepreneurship. So, to give back, she is bringing women together to learn from each other. Every month, a group of women meets at her store in Canada to have conversations on women empowerment. She has also launched a network in Chad which is mentoring women in entrepreneurship.
“My ultimate dream is for Ellie Bianca to become a billion dollar company. Along the way, I want to raise 1,000,000 women to be dollar millionaires. I want to leave a mark. I want to change lives.”
EVELYN’S WORDS OF WISDOM
• Before setting about starting a business, seek some clarity first. Have the what, the why, and the how.
• Do not believe the ‘fake it till you make it’ idea. People see fakeness. Be authentic.
• Cultivate relationships along the way, they will help you immensely once you set up your business.
• You have to show up at your own meeting.
• For an entrepreneur, for any woman, there is a lot of power in intention.
• If your dreams do not sometimes scare you, they are probably not big enough.