Would you be willing to give up a corporate job to pursue your dreams and create a revolutionary product? This is exactly what Annabel Biggar-David did to create her very own project: Oco Life.
Oco Life is a South African brand producing innovative and natural health solutions. Their products are sourced from organic farming and sustainability is core to this company.
Doing business in South Africa is quite challenging but Annabel seems to have built successful products with a strong base of loyal consumers. The next steps are now growing even more and being able to export abroad.
Impakter had to opportunity to ask some questions to Annabel about her brand, her project and how to help other women to start their own business
Why did you decide to start Oco Life?
Annabel Biggar – David: I grew up in Mitchells Plain, a gang infested suburb on the Cape Flats in Cape Town in a dysfunctional family environment. Home was not a safe a place.
As a woman of mixed race, being able to cast my vote at our first democratic election on the 27th April 1994 in South Africa was a massive moment in my life. Though I’ve been an entrepreneur most of my life, with a short stint in the formal corporate environment I realized no amount of security was worth the suffering of a mediocre life.
Tensions are high in our country and communities. South Africa’s incredibly high unemployment rate with more than 50% of South Africans living in poverty is appalling.
I wanted to contribute to something bigger than myself. I did not want to be imprisoned by a haunting thought of “I wish I had” so was willing to risk almost everything I own to make a difference in society and create employment in South Africa.
I sold almost everything, used everything from our access bond and when money ran out would barter furniture for services. With a deep need to provide the public with safe, effective, natural health solutions and the dramatic spike in demand for plant-based, organic products Oco Life, was born.
What kind of products does Oco Life produce?
A. B-D. : Oco Life is an award winning brand pioneering the Health Industry with a revolutionary and effective range of organic essential oil blends, ultrasonic aroma diffusers. Being a brand born in Africa, we proudly offer traditional medicine which includes the African Sacred Herb: the Imphepho.
If you’ve ever enjoyed the scent of a rose, you have experienced the aromatic qualities of essential oils. These naturally occurring, aromatic compounds are found in the seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers and other parts of plants. They are both beautifully and powerfully fragrant with healing properties.
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Soon we would like to begin distilling the essential oil from Africa’s Sacred Herb “Imphepho”. Popularly known for its traditional uses, this beautiful African Botanical has amazing health benefits. It’s an anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and so much more. We want it to be another South African gem of an export, bring it to the world to create global awareness and make it as popular internationally.
We’ve created a lifestyle product, where a balance and collaboration exist between people and nature. We source essential oils harvested in their native regions and climates to get the best quality oils available.
How many clients do you have? Have you seen the interest in your company growing in the last couple of years?
A. B-D. : We serve our clients nationwide across South Africa, via our own online store, doing trade shows in various cities throughout the year and advertising on S.A’s largest online store. We’ve recently exported Imphepho to the UK and are very excited to be bringing attention to this wonderful African herb.
The interest in our company has been exponential after recently winning two noteworthy entrepreneurial awards. Ultimately, however, I truly believe it is our transparency as a company, our wanting to help people feel better and making a social impact by creating employment is why we are receiving phenomenal support from the public. We are becoming known as a brand one can trust which is evident by the feedback we receive on social media and via email. We would rather lose money than have a dissatisfied customer.
2018 was the year of opportunities, setbacks and comebacks. We had been invited by the South African department of Trade and Industry to visit Austria and Germany. The trip garnered a huge amount of interest and an opportunity to export, however with very limited resources and no machinery, we could not satisfy the quantities they required. An opportunity to supply a massive South African retailer knocked on our door, but once again, our limited resources put a hold on that. Everything to date has been self funded so company growth is organic, slower paced but steady.
Later in 2018 we made a catastrophic discovery when applying for our trademarks when we learnt a corporate giant in South Africa worth hundreds of millions owned our company’s name as a trademark. After speaking to the CEO, we sighed huge amounts of relief when he agreed to co-exist. Believing all was well, the exuberance of the team could be felt. We confidently spent a fortune on branding material that included very specific designed labels for our bottles.
Within a week of paying our supplier for the marketing material, this corporate juggernaut reneged on their agreement to co-exist.
With one phone call, 2 years of really hard work, marketing Organico as a brand and garnering a remarkable reputation in our industry was over in an instant.
It was devastating, not only because I failed my team but it nearly destroyed us financially. Hence the name change to “Oco Life by Organico”. We have clawed our way back and opened my eyes to how naïve I was.
With that being said I do believe this situation as disappointing as it was, is not the norm. I choose to believe that most businesses, however big or small, live by the integrity communicated in their mission statement.
We are back on track and would love to grow to the point of distilling Imphepho and exporting the essential oil as well as the rest of our beautiful oil blends across the world. Making Traditional African medicine available to the world. We would love to collaborate with businesses in Africa, be on the shelves of our national retailers and a few international retailers too.
What do you think need to be done to have more women entrepreneur like you in Africa?
A. B-D. : Governments across Africa need to realize the importance of women entrepreneurs in their economy and to inspire entrepreneurial attitudes.
Women in business, sometimes feel invisible. African Women have a voice that can no longer be silenced. We are wanting to be the change and help create employment.
It starts with with young girls at home: instill in them a love for reading and learning which will lead her to a sense of curiosity about the world.
As the sayings go: “ Little girls with dreams become women with vision and “It is easier to build strong children than repair broken adults”
Create links between entrepreneurs and African Corporate. Have these corporate giants pledge their support to include women entrepreneurs in their supply chain and governments to be equally committed to keep those conversations alive.
For successful African woman, it is your duty as a woman to help another woman. Mentor, give of your time and your experience. When women support each other incredible things happen. Together with our governments support, we can make Africa great again.
What are your thoughts about the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals)
A. B-D. : SDG’s are the blueprint to achieving a better and more sustainable future for us all and generations to come. The global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, environmental degradation may seem insurmountable to overcome but it lies with us, we are the change. It is up to all of us.
At Oco Life, our social responsibility is not only an integral part of our business model; it is our natural way of doing things. We believe in People and Planet Before Profit. Buy organic as you are also assisting in reducing the amount of pesticides used on our planet. These toxic chemicals have far-reaching effects on our bodies, wildlife, and the environment.
Everyone deserves a life of abundance, peace, happiness and wellness. Let us be kinder and more tolerant and respectful of each other, our different cultures and traditions. Let’s have more conversations and express love and compassion openly.
Be earth conscious, an Eco-consumer and support sustainable farming practices. This is it, we have only one earth, there is no Planet B
In the cover picture: Oco Life. Photo Credits: Oco Life.