It seems that everything she touches gets results, much like her innovative vegan beauty products.
Clare Anyiam-Osigwe, awarding winning entrepreneur and allergist, is the CEO and founder of the Premae Skincare brand and also co-founder of Jo Clare PR (along with her younger sister Jo). We recently featured her Premae Christmas range of allergy free and vegan skincare, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to attend the 5th anniversary celebrations of the business on 1 December to find out more about Clare’s journey and how budding entrepreneurs can follow in her footsteps.
The venue for the intimate soiree took place at the Premae headquarters, 1 Harley Street, London. As soon as you walked into the room, you couldn’t miss the bubbly, confident figure of Clare, in the centre of the room, holding court. The warmth and goodwill from the guests was clearly evident as we all shared our congratulations on her achievement, five years in business. She soon excused herself and we settled down to the interview.
Melan Mag: Melan What inspired you to venture into the allergy free and vegan skin care business?
Clare Anyiam-Osigwe: At 16 years old, I suffered with a number of skin allergies which got progressively worse. I also had intolerances to dairy, wheat, gluten and yeast. It was the journey of eliminating these items from my diet, but still seeing that my skin was persistent with eczema and ache, which made me wonder. It wasn’t until I was 21, that I began to learn more about what I needed to do. Back then I worked as a make-up artist and it was vital that I looked good, so I began studying ingredients in creams. I noticed that a lot of creams shared ingredients like wheat germ oil and lanolin. That’s when my quest to make a range that was free from those ingredients began.
MM: What do you think are the basic and fundamental tools for starting a business?
CAO: Start with a big vision as your blueprint! Always have the customer in mind; make the product attractive and sexy for them.
Also, don’t be afraid to be the face of your brand. I actually spent a lot of time ahem! (laughs) ‘not being around’ when my early videos were being shot.
I think I was just lacking in confidence really. I was confident at the business end but not about being the face of it, and putting myself out there, so I would use ambassadors or cover girls. But look at Oprah, she’s always the face of her magazine, she doesn’t put anybody on there!
You need to be able to take risks and be resilient because you will spend a lot of time waiting for things to happen. People will see the overnight success, your products, the magazines, but they won’t see the many times you are told ‘no’, the challenges, the times when people let you down, or the days when you’re literally one cheque away from being broke and you’re thinking ‘I pray someone places an order today.’
But you also need to replenish yourself, rest, eat good food, and surround yourself with positive people, and celebrate all the small successes too!
MM: Have you had any major setbacks during your five years of running Premae?
CAO: Yes, one setback sticks out the most. I had an order of 30k units of my scrub from BirchBox but the factory involved did 15k and then went bust. They then gave my order to another factory, who promptly tried to charge me double, but I couldn’t afford it. From that disaster came my decision to open our flagship store in Whiteley’s. We spent the first month filling out the scrubs in the front of the shop. I felt so unprofessional but I had no choice really.
MM: Did you have any mentors to guide you in the beginning?
CAO: No, because what I’m doing is so niche, there was simply nobody really there. So, I watched YouTube clips and, (laughs) I had meetings in my head with Richard Branson, Anita Roddick and Oprah – what would they think? How would they do it? But, I’m getting a mentor from January (2017), as I’m keen to take my brand to the next level.
MM: Looking back over the last five years, what would you have done differently?
CAO: I would have taken less money from the bank, and tried to be a lot more resourceful – but having said that, you have to spend money to make money, so it is difficult! It was expensive to set up a website before, but now you can get a good WordPress site for a couple hundred quid.
MM: Do you see yourself as someone that can influence young women (and men) to start their own business?
CAO: Yes! Absolutely! When God gives you something big to do, he wants you to do it. He wants you to be a leader, a champion. I’m sure that my visibility has given a lot of young and mature black individuals to believe ‘If she can do it, so can I’! Big and small success are just relative terms – it’s what it means to you. But at least there is someone there for them now, so they can say yes, I’m going to give it a go too, and if I get stuck I can reach out to Clare for some advice and some encouragement.
MM: Do you feel that your business will leave a legacy for the next generation?
CAO: Yes I do. During a recent visit to Italy, I met and spent time with the amazing Angela Davis. She told me: “Clare what you are doing is so important, especially for black people. You’re ahead of your time – know that and know that it’s going to be lonely. It may not make sense to people but you’re starting your legacy early, and that’s the way to do it.”
MM: What are your most proud moments?
CAO: I would say being featured in Forbes Africa was a really amazing moment because I was flown out to Nigeria, and I wasn’t told that I was going to be featured. I just thought I was being flown to speak at an event! And then they said: “We’re picking five of the strongest entrepreneurs”, and there was like 45 other women there! I was thinking, well its probably not going to be me… (laughs), and then they said it was me! I’m one of the top five entrepreneurs of African descent! And I was the youngest black woman to be featured!
MM: Growing up, have you always wanted your own business?
CAO: Yes. At five years old I started selling homemade chips on my mum’s front door, and sold them to my friends for 20p. And when I was nine I started selling scoops of ice cream for 45p, to beat the ice cream van man who was selling one scoop for 50p!
MM: If you weren’t in the skincare business, what would you be doing?
CAO: I’d be acting and directing, (smiles), I’d be like Michaela Coel, and I still might be in the next two years! I’ve already got a production company with my husband, so you’re probably going to see my name on the credits in the next couple of years!
MM: Is it true that you’ve had a hard time getting the brand onto the high street due to its unique selling point?
CAO: Yes. At first I was really upset, but then I realised that it meant that I’m really on to something, and I just need to go about it in a different way. Nobody can really stop me from doing what I’m doing. Amazon Luxury took my products on 15 minutes after I emailed them, which was hugely reassuring. If you think globally, there is so much opportunity.
To get your way around your products being blocked, use your networks, create a system that enables you to thrive. There are people creating crazy business just from YouTube and Instagram. You need to use the tools around you to your advantage. When I started five years ago, there was no Instagram! Every year technology is improving, which means more opportunities for those who are smart enough to use it.
MM: You have a doctorate in Bio-chemistry and Modern Science, has this given you a more complex understanding of allergies and skincare?
CAO: I actually completed my doctorate after I started my brand. I felt like I was experiencing some resistance within the skincare industry. As a young black woman, I didn’t really have anybody to look up to, as there wasn’t anyone before me who had done what I’m doing, so sometimes I would get journalists say to me “What do you know?”. So I submitted my thesis to a university and they awarded me an honorary doctorate. From that point on I could say – don’t ever question me again!
Before all of that though, I’d qualified as an allergy practitioner, so I’m qualified to treat and test people for allergies. I think there’s a level of insecurity that we black practitioners or entrepreneurs have because there are less black role models in business. Sometimes you will be the world’s first or the first person to do it in your family or community and that can be a heavy crown to bear.
MM: What does your family think of your success?
CAO: My husband is an entrepreneur too! His brand is BUFF (British Urban Film Festival), and Premae sponsors his film festival award ceremonies with goodies bags, and he puts Premae adverts on Sky TV. It’s funny, people didn’t understand the coloration at first as Premae is a luxury brand and BUFF is about urban film, and then they realise we’re married!
My family are very proud. We lived together until I was nine and then I went into the care system with my two sisters, so our childhood was quite dysfunctional. My family have always supported my tenacious vision though. They fuel my drive and I can’t do much without my husband, brothers and sisters. But, I think they knew I was always going to do something spectacular. I was the crazy child really – I don’t take no for an answer!