How adversity spawned a businessWednesday, July 07, 2021
BY GARFIELD MYERS
SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — Jacquneil Spooner gesticulated animatedly and her eyes sparkled as she spoke about her fledgling nature-based business, Havilah Organics, which produces skin-friendly soaps and scrubs.
“Traditional soaps have a lot of chemicals but organic soaps don't have any chemicals to damage your skin, it cleans your skin but it will not damage your skin,” she told the Jamaica Observer at her home in Warminster, a farming community a few miles south-east of Santa Cruz.
Yet, Jacquneil, sitting alongside her sister Asheki — whom the former describes as a “full partner” — says she only developed an interest in doing her own business recently.
Up to May 2017, when she was doing her Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams at Manchester High School, her burning ambition was to join the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF). Jacquneil explained that she wanted to be “part of a team that would serve and help to make the country a better place”.
But her life changed on May 22, 2017 as she was returning home from school after sitting the CSEC accounts paper.
Jacquneil remembers being in the back of a three-seater taxi on the Goshen main road in St Elizabeth, which was under repair at the time. Flagmen indicated for the driver to stop, and he obeyed. The next thing she knew, she was being flung violently forward.
The taxi had been rear-ended or, as she puts it, “the vehicle behind us stopped in the back of the taxi”.
She recalls that pandemonium followed, with people “cursing and collecting fare” as she stayed stuck in her seat, unable to move. Jacquneil was eventually helped from the vehicle by a friendly woman.
What followed remains a daze. She visited the Santa Cruz Police Station to give a statement but ended up spending hours there, eventually being told that since she was a minor, an adult needed to be with her. Phone calls to her mother, Jacqueline, led to a church brother arriving to act as her guardian as she gave the statement.
But, by then, she was feeling severe pain and it was decided she needed to see a doctor. She then discovered that she couldn't take the stairs to the doctor's office. Lifting hands had to help her.
The doctor prescribed painkillers and sent her home to rest. But, her condition got worse. At home, she discovered she couldn't move without help. The situation worsened, with paralysis setting in.
“I started having spasms, lost control over the lower half of my body … I was basically paralysed for eight months, wheelchair-bound, walking with crutches... At home, persons had to be lifting me, bathing me, everything was like I was at a baby stage again,” she recounted.
Some doctors theorised that she would never walk again. Exhaustive tests eventually revealed damage to her spine. Yet, rehabilitative work, alongside strong will and determination, helped her to gradually recover.
She credits her mother and Asheki — her only sibling — for helping her to find the strength.
“I have a very supportive sister, and if I didn't have my mother I don't think I would be here … most of all my mother. She is the one who said, 'A never so you born, yu haffi get up, yu haffi walk, yu haffi mek sure say yu a move again',” recalled Jacquneil.
Though she is now able to move around normally most times, occasionally Jacquneil will still suffer spasms that can render her immobile, sometimes for days at a time. That meant joining the army was no longer an option. It also hindered job seeking in the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector. Although she offered to work from home, if and when she was unable to move about, she was turned down.
Haunted by the high costs of medication — amounting to thousands of dollars weekly — during her illness and the job rejections after her gradual recovery, Jacquneil says she almost gave up. Yet again, her mother intervened.
“I was really upset. I was at a point where I just felt like I would give up with this life thing… I came home crying [after yet another job rejection] and my mother said: 'Is not giving up time, find something to do that can make you happy…'” she recalled.
With her mother's words ringing in her ear, Jacquneil recalls that she was watching a video one day when she saw a demonstration of soaps being made, using turmeric and other organic products.
She was fascinated and “started writing down everything the lady said”.
There and then, she decided she had found her calling. She told her sister Asheki that she intended to start producing and selling organic soaps.
Supported by her sister, Jacquneil cast about for a name. She stumbled on it when a friend called her by what should have been her middle name, Havilah.
“That was the middle name my mother gave me, but the nurse made a mistake in the registration and I ended up with 'Havial',” Jacquneil said with a laugh.
The company name, Havilah Organics, was duly registered and Jacquneil launched out by gaining permission from a wholesaler of organic soaps to place her label on their products.
Sales went well, with relatives and friends making up her clientele. But she needed to make her own products, so Jacquneil joined online courses providing guidance on how to make organic soaps and other skincare items using a range of natural products. They include turmeric, olive oil, palm oil, aloe vera, ginger, garlic, charcoal powder, and moringa.
Sodium hydroxide, also called lye, which Jacquneil described as a “must” for soaps, is the only chemical used in the production process.
With the help of an uncle abroad, Jerome Green, she acquired the relevant moulds which allowed her to start making soaps along with other skincare products on the verandah of her house at Warminster. Jacquneil and Asheki say the response from their small but growing clientele continues to be very positive, but they are being cautious.
“We are big on brand quality … We want to make sure none of our clients will have a problem with the product when we start to expand,” explained Asheki.
As part of immediate plans going forward, a building in front of their house, which used to be run as a shop, will be converted to a mini factory and storage area, “properly shelved and compartmentalised”.
Jacquneil says that as Havilah Organics is prepared for the “next phase”, the company website is being “reconstructed” to facilitate more efficient promotion.
It's early days yet, but a dreamy-eyed Jacquneil says the sky is the limit for Havilah Organics.