The NAYA Queen Speaks - By Bright Nwokefor

After an amazing year of interning with NAYA I interviewed the NAYA Queen herself. Meet Nana Ama Yankah, the founder of NAYA
1. WHEN DID YOU THINK OF STARTING A COMPANY?

I got bored with my life as a consultant and I wanted a new experience. I initially wanted another career but I realized that after 8 years of technology consulting, most of the other offers I was getting were the same. So I did my MBA at the prestigious Goizueta Business School in Atlanta, moved to Ghana, and it took almost another year after that to convince myself that starting a business was a good idea. So in short, I wanted a new, different experience, so I created one.

2. WHAT WAS YOUR MAJOR INSPIRATION?

I always find this question interesting because I didn’t wake up one morning and decide to start a business. I have been playing with Shea butter formulations since 2009 when I became conversant of the natural organic craze in US which also helped usher the natural hair movement and the love for all things Shea Butter. Together with a couple of friends we sold Shea Butter at different small events when we had time.

I believe the inspiration came when the interest grew, when I was able to develop products that people liked and paid for and asked for more; When I moved to Ghana and realized the non-existence of variety in our personal care products (industry is dominated by imports); When I realized how much we didn’t value Shea Butter, Cocoa Butter, Coconut Oil, Black Soap(Alata Samina) among others, that have been part of our culture for generations.

Having had the opportunity to see a whole lifestyle develop out of a craze for Shea Butter in the US, I believe we can do more and better for ourselves. There are thousands of variations of personal care products developed in US, Europe and Asia from our raw materials that we never get to see or touch or can even afford. I believe we can create authentic, healthy, premium quality and variety in personal care products for ourselves. If I want the change, then I have to create the change. That’s what inspires me.

3. BEFORE LEAVING YOUR PREVIOUS CAREER, DID YOU HAVE ANY SECOND THOUGHTS OR DOUBT?

Yes, I had doubt and worries and I still do. It took 3 years for me transition. I don’t think anyone is ever 100% sure. I believe you take a leap of faith and let God take care of the rest.

4. HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE COMPANY’S NAME?

NAYA came from the shortened form of my name “NAYANKAH” that I use all the time. Then I found out that it means “NEW” in Arabic and “RENEW” in Indian(Sanskrit) origin and I loved that because I wanted to create something new from something old.

5. HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE NAYA AS A BRAND?

I think of NAYA as my own creative twist to old traditions of making soap and other skin and hair care products locally. My vision is to travel the continent to find other traditional African butters, oils, spices, clays, extracts and ideas and stories that have healing, therapeutic and aromatic essences, and create cool, fun and great products that our current generation would love to use everyday. I believe the current generation is looking for ways to maintain our natural hair and beautiful skin tones and NAYA is here to ensure that we go shopping; we can find products made to suit us.

6. WHAT ARE YOUR MAIN CHALLENGES?

Getting people to understand our brand is one of my major challenges. We have been brought up to believe that foreign products are better. As a result, being a local brand, we have to prove ourselves. We have to do a lot of education, even on Shea Butter and Black Soap that have been here for centuries, to get people to understand and buy our products locally. The drastic change in dollar exchange rate in the last 2 years has affected prices as we import quality packaging and essential oils.

7. HOW DO YOU FIND THE GHANA MARKET?

To be honest, I’m still learning the market every day. The market changes a lot and reacts very quickly to small things. But customers understand good, consistent quality and will pay for it at the right price. People get disappointed we don’t have retail locations in their cities or neighborhoods, but retail space is expensive in Ghana especially for a small business. We attend a lot of events to promote We are taking our time to grow and using deliveries until we can afford more retail locations.

8. WHAT NEW PRODUCTS DO YOU HAVE IN THE PIPELINE?

We are looking at scrubs, lip balms and hair products in the coming year.

9. WHERE DO YOU SEE NAYA IN THE NEXT 5 YEARS?

As one of the most innovative companies in the world, that has had significant social and economic impact on the African continent. I would like to take NAYA to the rest of Africa first then to the world. I want our growth to spring up new industries on the continent, improve our use of scientific research in farming and agribusiness and encourage the youth to study and use their STEM Degrees for the development of Africa.

10. YOU SEEM TO BE WORKING ALL THE TIME, WHEN DO YOU TAKE A BREAK?

My favorite leisure activity is to do nothing. Every so often I get to do that. I also enjoy traveling for new experiences, watch movies and listen to live music.

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