Celebrating our Founder’s 30th birthday & 4.6 years at Okoko Cosmétiques. Discover her story & journey. A lesson in courage, determination, resilience, inspiration, and excellence in everything you do.
Words from Oyéta Kokoroko, Founder & CEO
I kind of made it my mission that if I'm going to be here, I will try to make a meaningful difference with my brand… Here’s my story and entrepreneurial journey so far, which I invite you to read it if you have a few minutes. I hope it will inspire you on your journey to achieving your dreams.
My name is Oyéta, I am CEO and Founder of the Okoko brand and today I would like to share my entrepreneurial story and journey so far. If you think that being a CEO is glamourous, the reality is well beyond the title. But let me tell you, every minute of this effort was worthwhile.
I am the daughter of a well-educated, entrepreneurial-minded family that came to Canada in their youth to build their career and raise their children. They had high hopes for their children and it's always been clear to me that I would grow up to honor their hard work and the sacrifices they made for us, that I would want to build something meaningful and share it with the world. So, from a young age, I set my mind to do exactly that.
Let me expand a bit on some of the challenges associated with this journey (even before the launch of the company). These challenges are specific to my own experiences but may be useful for someone that is considering starting a new business. The fundamental thing that I learned, that may be useful to you like start your journey, is that there are no challenges or obstacles that cannot be overcome if you believe in yourself and your goals. If I can do it, so can you. You need to believe, persevere, and be resilient.
I was faced with major challenges that forced me to get out of my comfort zone.
At age 5, I moved from Togo to Montreal to rejoin my family (I was raised by my grandmother until I was 5) and live in a country where I had no idea of what to expect… climate, social customs, and interactions, language, culture…everything was new for me. The challenges were considerable: learning a new language, cultural and social challenges was what I would qualify as my first significant emotional event. Although still young it helped to shape who I am today and strengthened my ability to be resilient.
The start of the Okoko journey From Montreal to Vancouver
Many years later I lived a very similar experience when I decided to move out west and start a new chapter of my life and live my dream. In the 18th century, it was “Go West Young Man!", in my case, it was Going West Young Woman, and Vancouver is where I decided to go. I didn't know many people and it started from there. So, this was the start line of my adventure.
I wanted to start a company that would provide high-quality beauty products that are 100% natural, luxurious to use and that tackle frustrating problems to bring glow and radiance. It was through embracing a balanced diet and overhauling my personal care products that I was able to improve my health and my skin, and I decided to pursue my passion by taking classes on skincare formulation.
When I launched my brand, I recognized a need in the green beauty industry for more diversity in the products available. We still don’t see as much innovation in the green beauty industry, or truly luxurious formulations (yet still 100% natural) that are results-focused & that offers great performance as we see in the mainstream world.
High-performance, results-driven skincare that combines traditionally used natural plant based ingredients with clinical ingredients to tackle frustrating skin problems & reduce the aesthetic skin effect of living in an urban city is a newer but growing niche. I founded Okoko in 2016 intending to provide this type of product that is often missing and help my customers increase their confidence and wellbeing by improving the state of their skin, finding solutions that work and seeing fresh, clear and healthy skin. But also by adding a little bit of self-care in their daily lives.
When I first moved to Vancouver, I kind of made it my mission that if I'm going to be here, I will try to make a difference with my brand.
So I landed in Vancouver with a dream project. I didn’t have everything figured out but I knew I would. I had no choice after all. So here it goes, here's my story, and here's how it unfolds…
Every startup needs a vision, consistency and hard work
For the first 2 years, I was wearing many hats, probably all of them, from formulating to making every batch myself, then shipping, marketing, managing social media, customer service, working with stockists, etc. Let me share my honest opinion, this was not easy nor glamorous; it was overwhelming. But, when you truly believe in something, and you have a purpose, you give it your all. And that's what I did.
I learned early in life, to be resilient. Resilience is necessary for every entrepreneur and brand that wishes to succeed. Being one of the few women of color, yet alone a black woman running a luxury beauty brand is a big thing for me. It is a lot of pressure too because I am fully aware that I am a minority in a competitive, overwhelming market sector and sometimes, I feel that I have to work harder to achieve the level of success that I desire.
On a different note, it is also an opportunity to break barriers and promote diversity in the beauty industry, and that's alright too. When I think about those who have done it before me and those who might get inspired by my journey, it gives me the strength to continue looking ahead. Whenever others say you can or can't achieve because you are “X”, because you are a certain age or based on your looks or skin color or ethnicity, don't let that stop you. Instead, that should inspire strength within you. Because anything is possible…
Resilience is not giving up when you come across challenges but finding ways to overcome them. There will always be challenges, many of them, and you have to be ready for that. The truth is, every step you take, brings you closer to your goals. Action is progress. By doing, you learn and grow, and empower yourself and can transform yourself and your life. Don't ignore your potential.
This has inspired the illustrations on the back of our packaging. If you put the full collection together, you will get inspired by the journey, a journey to achieving excellence. One that can be interpreted in many ways.
My first team members, you build people, then people build the business
In 2017, I hired the first employees at Okoko Cosmétiques (and let me tell you that this entrepreneurial journey has been a challenge for them too). It's been such a transformational experience for all of us. We realized the opportunity to do things we have never done before, overcome fears, and achieve greatness at work and in our individual lives as well. It is not a journey for everyone, but those who can take on the challenge will be transformed and will gain immense strength and resilience.
Looking back and realizing I started this alone and this business is now providing jobs for many and empowering other businesses, is powerful stuff. I don't know if back in 2016 when I launched this, I would have thought I would be able to build an internationally known brand with customers all over the world, motivated employees with an entrepreneurial spirit and even bigger things ahead coming for us.
What I can say is that: mindset is everything. We realize that the biggest challenge is getting yourself into the right mindset to achieve your goals. We have grown a lot from this experience, it has made us stronger mentally and has strengthened our bond as a team.
Where we are at today? A successful international business & the launch of a new store in 2020!
My team and I are excited to announce the upcoming launch of our new storefront in historical Gastown, Vancouver BC. Our vision is to create an amazing experience for our clientele by offering a variety of exclusive services. We are hoping to launch it by Fall 2020. This is a big step for the brand, and we are excited to see what’s coming up!
Today I am celebrating a new milestone and my 5th year running the Okoko brand. This transformational experience has allowed me to:
I believe that it makes sense to invest in women from all backgrounds and all people can achieve great things worth talking about. I think that anyone who's willing, dedicated and has a clear vision, can achieve their dreams too.
If you have a vision, courage, and perseverance, anything is possible. Don’t ignore your potential
I have come to realize that the impact of this journey and my company goes beyond just selling beauty products, it's an opportunity to leverage myself and my peers, uplift, and empower others as well. Okoko is about courage, determination, inspiration, but also leadership and empowerment. I am sharing this experience with you to inspire those who want to turn a passion into a career to go ahead and dare to dream. Be inspired. Be brave. When you have a dream and a vision, go for it. Dare to dream and create magic. You will be so proud of what you have achieved in the end.
This write up is dedicated to my wonderful parents, my family, my team, and partners. I hope that when you read this, it will make you proud. You have inspired me to get ahead in life and build something meaningful. This is the start of what I hope, will be a long and memorable journey, one of a visionary brand with many wins to come.
The lesson? Don't let fear and challenges stop you. Instead, they should inspire strength within you. Because anything is possible. The truth is, every step you take, brings you closer to your goal. Action is progress. By doing, you learn and grow, and empower yourself and become more confident. The rest ensues... It is possible! Remember that :)
Until the next chapter,
About the author
Oyéta Kokoroko is an experienced cosmetic formulator, product designer & creator of eco-luxury cosmetics. She is a recent nominee of RBC 2020 Canadian Entrepreneur Awards. She is known for her ingredient knowledge, formulation expertise, and commitment to research and development in the green beauty arena. She specializes in R & D for natural cosmetics and technical product formulation. Oyéta offers private consulting for professional formulators, DIY workshops, and private labeling services for professional boutiques and spas.
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