All Woman

Ettenio: From kitchen experiment to successful hair, skincare business

BY JAVENE SKYERS Observer writer skyersj@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 03, 2014    

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Emancipation from institutionalised slavery and independence from colonial rulers are as much about a physical/legal status as they are about the spirit of the people involved. As Jamaica observes both historical events, the Jamaica Observer toasts local manufacturers of consumer products who, through their innovation, raw talent, and enterprising spirit are helping build Brand Jamaica -- a brand that helps define us as a nation of beautiful, creative, resilient people. Follow our Made in Jamaica series and be inspired.

WHAT started out as an experiment with rosemary, nettle, thyme, and peppermint in Antoinette Davis's kitchen back in 2010, has blossomed into a thriving hair and skincare product line made from natural products.

Called Ettenio -- from Davis' first name spelled backward without the last three letters -- the products are all-natural and were developed especially for women of colour who wear their hair natural, relaxed or locked.

"I started experimenting in my kitchen," Davis told the Jamaica Observer, pointing out that her first-ever product, a scalp restorer, was made at the request of a friend whose daughter's hair wouldn't grow.

"The first batch was very crude. I had thyme oil in there (and) peppermint, and you could actually see some of the thyme leaves, but it worked!" Davis exclaimed.

She also made the product for close family and friends whenever it was needed, but she left it there and continued to purchase products for use in her own hair, which she described as "finicky".

Research to find the right growth formula led her to an Italian-made product, which impressed her so much she travelled to Florida to meet with the distributors and buy a year's supply.

Davis said the distributor was shocked at the quantity she ordered and suggested that she distribute the product in Jamaica. Her personal stylist encouraged her to go for the opportunity, but only on condition that the Italians were willing to come to Jamaica and train hairdressers.

"A new business idea came about. I said 'OK, I can distribute this product line in Jamaica'," said Davis.

She told the Sunday Observer that she completed the relevant paper and groundwork that would enable her to successfully import and market the products, but that repeated e-mails to the distributor asking if he would train local hairdressers went unanswered.

"[When he finally answered,] he said 'oh, you know it's Jamaica... the crime... and we don't want to expose our people to that sort of thing'," Davis said, recalling the conversation between the two.

That was all the fillip she needed, as there and then she decided to launch her own line and forget about the Italian brand.

"I went home that night and said to my God: 'I'm going to do this, God, so you going to tell me what [to use] and where to go'," she recalled.

And so the experimentation began.

Davis, who holds a bachelor's and a master's degree in computing and management and did chemistry up until her second year in university, which she said gave her a solid background for the venture she was about to undertake.

For months, the businesswoman would go to her 9-5 job as the owner of a tiling company, then go home and work up until 3:00 in the morning researching and testing until she got it right.

"That anti-Jamaica thing really pushed me in the right direction," Davis said.

The brand launched in 2012 with one line of products -- the Classics -- but has since added the Nurtured and the Body Care lines.

The Classics, which was developed for women with damaged hair, features shampoos that are sulphate-free and which have ingredients such as Jamaican black castor oil and tea tree oil. There are also two deep conditioners, a leave-in conditioner treatment, and two daily moisturisers.

Her signature product -- a scalp restorer -- is also among the Classics. It promises to treat balding, itchy, eczema-prone scalp and hairline loss with its moringa oil, coconut oil and Jamaican black castor oil.

The Nurtured line has two cleansers, a clarifying shampoo that contains white willowbark and apple cider vinegar, along with a detoxifying clay wash, among other products.

Ettenio's Body Care line contains three different fragrances, including the best-selling black raspberry, body emulsion skin creams such as Simply Divine, and Irresistible Macho for men. There is also the Jamaican Brown Sugar Scrub, which Davis said differs from others as it is not "sugar and oil", so no lotion is needed after showering with the scrub. There are also body butters for dry and ageing skin, which have also helped with stretch marks. This, Davis said, was not a medical claim, but was based on observation of the product used in focus group testing. Another popular product in this line is the Balm in Gilead.

"People are finding use for it in the form of razor bumps, eczema, eczema in the scalp, cystic acne," Davis said, reiterating that the claims were based on focus group tests.

All her ingredients are not sourced locally, she said, but she does get all her bottles locally and has local graphic artists do the designs.

Davis operates out of a 1,700-square foot basement, but is seeking to move into an actual factory. She has two or three full-time workers as well as her employees from the tiling business who work at Ettenio when they are available on weekends and during slow periods.

When it comes to formulating the products, however, Davis works alone.

"I am the only person, the sole formulator, who works in the lab. Nobody touches my formula," she insisted.

With the exception of eastern parishes, the Ettenio range of products is available across the island and is also sold in the Cayman Islands. There are plans, Davis said, to expand this to St Thomas and Portland, as well as to other islands across the region.

"One of the first distributors who was really into it was Fontana, as well as Natural Health and Earth Elements... so those guys believed in it from the get-go... I started a Facebook page and it just went viral," Davis said, referring to some of the local Ettenio distributors.

Sure, there were obstacles along the way, but once she hurdled those related to the Scientific Research Council, the Ministry of Health, Bureau of Standards Jamaica, and applied a marketing mix she thought was appropriate, the rest fell into place.

Of her success to date, Davis appeared incredulous.

"I had no clue it would have got to this point," she said. "I started it as a hobby."

When asked why people should buy into the Ettenio brand, Davis responded that Ettenio is a 'green' company which believes in taking care of the environment and as such does not use harmful chemicals in its products.

"...Our products are all natural. They do what they say they'll do; you can take our products, our work to the bank," a confident and evidently proud Davis concluded.

See Wednesday's Business Observer for the second in this series.

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