Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, my name is Harley Valneus. I am the founder of Lewa Botanics. Lewa Botanics was founded in September 2019 but officially launched on March 7, 2020.
Lewa Botanics is a natural skincare line to create natural skin care products that cater to the most sensitive skin types. To avoid limitations and exclusion, our products are Vegan Friendly-Nut Free- Paraben Free-Fragrance free and natural. I hand make each product so I personally know what is entered in each jar. With a theme of romance, our products are packaged beautifully so it works great and looks amazing in your home.
Lewa Botanics is known for our amazing body butters. Rather than using fragrance oils, we use essential oils at a low percentage rate. Each essential oil is carefully and thoughtfully picked and matched with butter and name. Our classic butters include Peppermint, Lavender, Vanilla, and Lemongrass. Peppermint essential oil, for example, is popularly known for giving energy and can be used for muscle aches, Lavender essential oil is known for its calming properties so lavender body oil is better used before bed. We originally started with body butters but have grown and now make body butters, body shimmer, and body scrubs.
Lewa Botanics launched right before covid and we reached 15k in revenue within the first year!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
During my years in high school, I used to be depressed because I felt like I never had a talent or passion. Close friends of mine enjoyed baking, cooking, running, etc. However, I was always one to go with the flow and it bothered me a lot. When Youtube became popular, I unintentionally began watching more DIY projects. One day I stumbled across a DIY body butters video. In the video, I remember hearing it for people with sensitive skin.
At the time, I did not know anything about body butters or shea butter. I was fairly new to this concept and attending college. I bought the ingredients and just attempted my first body butters and shared them with a friend. It was awful! Looking back, it wasn’t for anyone with sensitive skin at all, I did not measure my ingredients, there was way too much tea tree oil and it was hard as a rock. However, I kept aiming to perfect this body butters because they caught my interest and I enjoyed working on them.
Trying to perfect this DIY taught me a lot about my skin and oils. Still, I had no intentions of selling my product, I just wanted to create my own product to have for my body. One day I finally came up with the perfect formula and shared it with close friends and family that have shown interest throughout my journey. I received positive feedback. I was told that it was helping them with their conditions such as eczema, dried skin, razor bumps, etc. I was shocked. I received a lot of feedback regarding the texture as well and the feedback only made me want to perfect my craft.
Then, one day someone popped the big question “Why don’t you sell this?” As a shy girl who only made a product to find a hobby and make something for her skin, I never thought of sharing it with the world. I never thought to profit off something. I began by watching one youtube video. I had many reasons to say no, so I did for a few years and continued to share with close ones.
One day after work in 2017, I went to an old friend's house and he had about 100 empty jars in his kitchen. He told me they were mine and I can do whatever I want to do with them. So I made 100 jars of body butters and named them Harley’s Uzuri. I was new. I did not know anything about selling but I just told a few friends, and they told a few friends and the word got around. Harley is selling body butters! My sister brought some to work and told her coworkers. It was an amazing feeling. I bought more jars and continued as long as I could.
In June 2019 I reached out to another close friend who runs a family business and asked her if she was willing to provide me any information on how to run a business. I did not know anything about running a business and was willing to take any kind of information. She was willing to meet me at a Starbucks and she was not stingy with any information! That is the day I learned about having an official name, scaling a product, branding, branding colors, website fees, and more!
Do not be afraid to ask for help. Join Facebook groups and surround yourself with like-minded individuals. Trust yourself and your ideas, you are the boss.
I remember also feeling stressed because I didn’t think I would be able to afford any of the things she suggested to me. Luckily, my friend wanted to begin a branding business and we decided to help one another. She would do my branding for free if I let her practice on my brand… Sold! At that time I was only selling my body butters for $12 and did not have much income. So I thought I was the winner in this deal.
I left Starbucks that day leaving like a new woman! The next step was to pick a new business name.. Harley’s Uzuri was no longer suiting me. I needed something that gave the feeling of romance but airy but romantic but also natural. I brainstormed for weeks!
This name will be the name that sticks around. I used google translate, I phoned friends, I prayed, I cried then AHA! Lewa Botanics. Lewa means beautiful in Yoruba (An African language). Botanics means nature, earth, nature. Lewa Botanics means naturally beautiful. That's it, my baby has been named. I quickly called my friend Ashley and told her my business name and she loved it also.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I had a business name and business branding package but no packaging for my actual body butters. My previous packaging came from dollar dree and was very time-consuming.
At this point, it was October and I had a few months to figure out packing before my event. I had to hurry so I could order supplies if needed. Do I keep the glass jars or go plastic? I couldn’t make up my mind. Glass jars were 2x the amount of plastic jars, but the plastic jars did not feel right in my hand. The plastic jars did not speak to me. It did not feel right, but the customers. What about my customers. Should I charge them extra? Why not just ask them.
Throughout the process, I created polls on Instagram. “Glass jars or plastic jars? (disclaimer: the glass jars increase the price.” I let my customer’s opinions be heard. I was transparent. I created group chats with friends and family, they began to get annoyed with me because my ideas weren’t organized, they weren’t solidified. I was advised to get a Pinterest account. “Pay attention to what stands out and see what they all have in common.” That may have been the best advice given.
I then created my vision board on Pinterest and what do we know. I like brown! Not just brown, craft paper. A natural botanic look. I wanted my products to look expensive and well produced. It wasn’t a 3-day process, more like 2 weeks or more. After the packaging was designed I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders.
Until this day, I still think about packaging as it is very important to me. I will not release an item until I feel like the packaging is beautiful. Every detail plays a part. The craft logo gives a welcoming organic look. The ingredients label is in the shape of a lollipop, so when placed over the lid, the jar looks like it can be something edible, maybe jam? I then use a twine string to tie on a spoon. The spoon is to be used when hands are wet. Our body butters are oil-based and do not require a preservative but if water touches the product, it can expire quicker.
Describe the process of launching the business.
After I picked the right name for my business and met with Ashley to create the perfect branding packet, I had to work on my LLC. I was not able to afford it so I had a fundraiser. I went on my Instagram page and announced that I was going to change my business name and needed assistance to afford an LLC. I had a sale and named it “Bye Harley Uzuri.” My customers and friends believed in me so they began purchasing the last Harley Uzuri until I sold out.
I officially become Lewa Botanics LLC in September 2019. I was satisfied but wanted to celebrate, so I planned a launch event for March 7, 2020. The goal of my launch event was to separate my income from the business income. Lewa Botanics had $0. I invested in this business and began to plan!
I sold tickets that came with body butters and tickets that only included entry. I asked close friends and families to help cook. My brother assisted with the decor, the more I asked for help the more I received. My event was a success! I was able to raise about 5K for the business. Looking back that isn’t much but it was something!
What I really gained from the event was confidence. I was finally public with my business and everyone in that room was a customer. I had at least 100 guests and every guest was a customer, not just family or friends. They gave me words of encouragement and promoted me as well.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
About two weeks after I launched, COVID officially came to America and we were on lockdown. I did not know what to do. I made extra body butters because I had a craft show planned and it was obviously canceled.
The next step was to create a website and a business Instagram and ask everyone I know to like and share my business page. I did not know anything about building a website. Absolutely nothing, so once again I reached out to another friend so we can learn together. We created a decent page.
Unfortunately, I did not take pictures of my website and I regret it. But it was green. I remember that it was green, I can attach the header picture below.
Throughout the pandemic, I tried to find creative ways to keep customers engaged via social media. In July, I teamed up with a business partner, and we created content videos that I proceeded to use on my Instagram. I made one comedy video that seemed to grasp a lot of attention because it was relatable. The video was about a friend that is always late and ashy, and his friend told him he cannot be late and ashy. As the “ashy” friend was turning around to go back into his home to moisturize, his friend introduced him to Lewa Botanics and stated it can be kept in his bag for moments like these.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today, I have customers in more than 25 states. I have been able to create ads for my videos and post everything on Instagram. I am still growing and learning new ways to increase revenue.
80% of sales come from my Instagram but orders are still placed through my website.
I started with the idea that I will not grow and make anything more than body butters because I have not been able to attend school and study herbs like I would like, however, now I make body scrubs, and body shimmer also! When I attend craft shows, customers approach me and trust my advice. I receive private messages from customers often and have been asked to customize products.
One of my biggest long-term goals is to become popularly known. I would like to sell to customers in all 50 states and become a trusted well-known brand. I still hope to be connected to my products and still be in the production team. I thoroughly enjoy making and packaging orders myself. I enjoy when customers reach out to me and engage. Lewa Botanics really cares about our customers and potential customers' skin. I would love for Lewa Botanics to have a large team and become popular.
A short-term goal is to officially be set with a business coach. I would like to work with a business coach to finalize Lewa Botanic’s vision statement and niche. After that is finalized, I will then work on my pitch to land grants and deals. Sadly, I have not been able to win any grants that can assist Lewa to move forward.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
When I first started my business, I was aware that I needed a website but I can say I was not ready for all the stress that comes with running a business. My specialty was making the product, body butters. However, I also needed to learn how to send emails, build email lists and work on content.
I learned to reach out when I needed assistance and not talk negatively about myself for not knowing what I didn’t know. Negative self-talk played a major part in my business not doing as well as it could. I was too embarrassed to say I did not know anything. However, once I started to admit it and speak my truth, doors began to open for me. I was able to receive resources. My friends began to send me links to workshops they would come across.
I am still not as successful as I would like to be but for a business that is less than 2 years old, I pat myself on the back and say YAY! I started a business from scratch and I am doing it!
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I sell my products on Shopify. Shopify is a great eCommerce tool for me because it provides the shipping price. When I add a product on the website, I also add the weight and it automatically calculates a shipping price, therefore, I do not have to weigh each package separately which saves a lot of time.
During the meeting with my friend, she introduced me to Canva. Canva has to be one of the most useful business tools. Canva has templates for email headers, Instagram stories, Facebook headers, and more! Canva allows a creative mind to explore and be free and if creativity isn’t your talent they also have free pre-designed templates.
To help me with posting on Instagram, I recently began using planoly. With Planoly I can download all my pictures on this app. I also connect my Instagram to the website and it shows my Instagram feed. I can play around with the pictures and create a caption and schedule for the pictures to post when I am ready so if I am too busy to be on my phone one day, I won’t forget to post because Planoly already posted on my behalf which is amazing!
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I haven’t been able to read as many books as I normally want to. What has been influential to me is a positive mind. Meditating and looking at nice places and reminding myself that I can get there one day.
A positive mind brings a positive day, positive days bring positive year(s). It is important to remember to look to yourself for self-motivation first so the external resources can jump at you rather than go looking for them.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
This may sound cliche but if there is any advice for anyone who wants to begin a business. Just do it. No one’s business will be like your business. There is a reason why you started, that will be the same reason you continue to push through. If possible try to create a support system, pay attention to those who encourage you, and continue to motivate you. They mean it, they are not just saying it.
Once you begin your business understand that it is your business, it is your baby no one will love it as much as you do. But it does not mean they do not care, do not be afraid to ask for help. Join Facebook groups and surround yourself with like-minded individuals. Trust yourself and your ideas, you are the boss.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Unfortunately, I am unable to afford to hire any professionals at the moment but I would love to grow to be able to afford a writer who can send out emails for our email market listing and/or a social media manager. Creating content can be one of the toughest parts of running a business, especially for introverts.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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