MONIQUE Farquharson has always been fascinated with Japan. While growing up in Mile Gully, Manchester, she started learning about the country's culture and advancements in technology, and she was determined to visit the country someday. She did not know what route she would take to get there yet, but she had one clear destination — Japan.
“I was very surprised when I finally got here and found out that it was basically like coming back to Jamaica,” the actuarial scientist, teacher and entrepreneur laughed as she spoke with All Woman virtually from Okinawa, a prefecture just off the Japanese mainland. “We have almost the same weather. I've come to love it as a different country. It's not what I expected, but I am still happy with the placement because I get to enjoy Japan and still feel like I'm at home.”
When Farquharson was graduating from Manchester High School, she was still unsure what she wanted to do professionally, but her mother encouraged her to enrol at Church Teachers' College.
“I just thought I might as well go, since I had learned about the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, and a teaching degree could help to get me there,” she said, chuckling.
Her lecturers soon noticed her aptitude for mathematics, and suggested that she pursue a degree in actuarial science when she was through.
“So after I completed my training, I spent a year teaching mathematics and science at Black River High school, and saved up as much as I could and applied for The University of the West Indies' (UWI) actuarial science programme.”
It was in the final year of her degree programme at The UWI that she encountered challenges that allowed her to meet her 'Matcha'.
“I was very active,” she recalled. “In my third year I started the Global Etiquette Society, and that pushed me to become a peer advisor, and I was also very active on hall. I was doing so much, and then my major was very heavy, so I became super tired and frustrated.”
In her capacity as peer advisor, Farquharson was invited to a meeting where two women introduced her to Matcha — a finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea leaves, traditionally consumed in East Asia.
“I was like, 'What is this green thing? It doesn't taste good.' Then I found out that it was from Japan, and because of my bias, I started thinking that if it came from Japan then it must have some good qualities, so I started to do some research,” she laughed.
After learning more about Matcha and experiencing the health benefits firsthand, including increased energy, weight loss and a boosted metabolism, Farquharson became a believer.
“At the time I was also doing a lot of baking, and I had entered an entrepreneurship competition with my PetitSquares business idea, because I enjoyed making healthy, tiny square desserts. I almost dropped out of the competition because I wasn't finding that edge with my squares, so after I discovered Matcha, I shipped it in and started to experiment.”
Not only did she win the competition with her Matcha-boosted products, but the more she used it, the more she fell in love with the substance.
“I just could not stop drinking Matcha,” she said. “I felt energised and very focused. I had so many things on my plate that year, but I still had my best grades yet.”
Farquharson still had her sights set on Japan when she completed her studies in 2016, and she was accepted for the JET programme that year, but the fear of the vast unknown kept her tethered to her island home.
“I decided to work as a business development and planning specialist at a start-up company, which was also great for me, because that position gave me a lot of insight into how to go about launching my business,” she recalled.
A year later she resigned from that job on a leap of faith and decided to dive headfirst into entrepreneurship.
“I launched my business... and then I realised that I was going to starve,” she laughed. “But I had sent out some applications while I was preparing to resign, just in case, so I got called by two financial institutions for the position of business analyst, and I chose NCB.”
She serendipitously met Bruce Loshusan, the CEO of Kenneth Loshusan & Sons, while celebrating her birthday that year.
“I didn't know who he was, but we were all just there chatting and I caught his name. When I went back to work, I was talking to my supervisor and I said I would really like to have my products being sold in supermarkets, and he said, 'Why don't you try Loshusan?' That's when I looked up who Bruce Loshusan was on Instagram and sent him a message.”
Her haphazard Instagram pitch opened the door for her to do some mixes at the juice bar at Loshusan supermarket, while doubling with her day job. She was doing very well, until tragedy struck.
“The day after I launched my Petit Poppers, my grandma died. She was like a mother to me. It was devastating,” she reflected. “A few days after the funeral I had to go to surgery because I had some health complications as well. I had a business partner at the time, and I told him that he would have to take over things for me for a while.”
Not only did her business start to go south, but her supervisor at her day job resigned, so she had more responsibilities. The icing on the cake was when her first car got completely written off in an accident.
“The silver lining at the time was that I had been approved once again to participate in the JET programme. I thought maybe a change of scenery was really needed for me at the time, and I saw how I could get to know my product a lot more by visiting its source, so I finally decided to come to Japan,” she explained.
The plan was to visit Japan for two years and learn more about the product and the culture there, then return to Jamaica, but not long after she got there, a friend sent her a link to apply for the Aston Enterprise Scholarship, which enables entrepreneurs to launch their business in Birmingham.
“I won it,” she said, almost as if she was still in disbelief. “It's a full scholarship, so I will be starting school this month online, after which I will be leaving to go to Birmingham next year to continue my studies and launch my business there as well,” she beamed.
The 27-year-old is looking forward to seeing her business at its full potential, and she anticipates that it will involve a lot of travelling in Jamaica, Japan and England in the near future.
“I am excited to see whatever is in store, but once I achieve that, I think I will be content,” she smiled. “I always tell myself that if I don't do something, then someone else will, so it's better to just feel the fear and do it anyway. So I just do what I want to. If I fail; I fail, but if I don't, that's awesome.”